September 20, 2013

SEC Defenses Aren't the Brick Walls of Past Years

By - Keith Smith

SEC football is known for plenty of things (not all of them flattering), but it is probably best known year in and year out for having the stingiest defenses, top to bottom, of any conference in the country. However, so far this season, the majority of the conference appears to be trying to popularize a newly created scheme.

The spread defense.

Photo by: Getty Images
Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina were all supposed to be among the best in the country, yet none of them are near the top of the defensive rankings. Last year, five SEC teams finished in the top 20 in total defense. So far this season, there are just three, and the only reason those squads (Florida, Arkansas and LSU) are ranked highly is because they haven't started their SEC schedules yet.

Granted, all these teams have only played two or three games, but when you look at the overall numbers, it's fair to say that the vaunted defenses of the SEC are down this year.

Normal SEC game scores usually look more like baseball finals than football: 9-6, 7-3, 10-7. But to this point, SEC scores are looking like the old WAC ones. In the Georgia-South Carolina game, the teams combined for 71 points and almost 1,000 total yards.

This past weekend, Alabama and Texas A&M hung 91 points on the scoreboard and almost 1,200 yards of total offense. That's not a misprint. The actual total was 1,196 yards. In case you forgot, Alabama was the No. 1 rated defense in college football in 2012, and the rumor was that they would be even better this year.

And do I even need to mention what happened to Tennessee when they visited Oregon? They gave up 59 points and almost 700 yards of offense.

Bear Bryant and General Robert Neyland have to be rolling in their respective graves by now.

The real question is, why are these teams giving up these gaudy numbers? Surely they haven't forgotten how to play defense. I know that aspect of the game is still stressed as a key to winning championships. So what gives?

Personally, I think it has more to do with how SEC teams are changing their offenses than what they are failing to do on the defensive side of the ball. For years, the conference followed the old "3 yards and a cloud of dust" game plan, almost always rushing for more yards in a game than passing. In fact, running plays outnumbered passes as much as two-to-one on a pretty regular basis.

But even these old school teams are changing their philosophies. Many have moved to some form of the spread and run a lot of read option. They're flinging the ball around more than the old San Diego Charger teams of the early 80s.

Even a team like Alabama, who still runs mostly a pro-style type offense and has won three of the last four BCS national championships by pounding the run and throwing efficient passes, have seemingly changed, at least to a degree. Against A&M and the high-powered Johnny Manziel offense, I anticipated the Crimson Tide would go ground and pound, chewing clock and keeping the ball out of Manziel's hands. But they attempted 29 passes to go with their 37 runs, throwing for 100 yards more than they rushed.

When these teams get to the meat of the conference games, and many of the coaches turn conservative as their clubs take a weekly beating, some of these numbers may come back to the norm of expectations, but you never know. The SEC offenses may have finally given in to the belief of the rest of the country; that a shootout is way more fun to watch than a 7-3 defensive struggle.

Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. By the end of the season the stats will probably be closer to what we're used to seeing. A&M and Oregon have two of the best offenses in the country. They would put up big numbers against anyone.