Offense is out of control.
Points have never been more plentiful in college football. If touchdowns could be weighed they’d be measured in tons. And yards? On some Saturdays it seems you could get to the moon and back with all the ground that gets covered.
Quarterbacks are better trained than ever before and their skills more diverse. The days when a QB was a rare commodity if he could run AND pass are long gone.
Offensive coordinators aren’t afraid to blend eras and philosophies if it’ll get them a first down. A little triple-option here. A little West Coast there. A dash of run-and-shoot for flavor.
”Every Saturday you’re seeing all of football history in every game,” said Chris B. Brown, the author of ”The Essential Smart Football” and the Smart Football blog.
And to top it all off, they’re running plays almost as fast as Usain Bolt can run the 200.
Outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and a few other spots around the country, defenses have become defenseless.
”In the early 90s, the defenses were ahead and Miami was dominating defensively. Things kind of evolved,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, a former defensive coordinator. ”But I will tell you, the last 10 years, man, it’s been steadily, steadily, steadily the offenses having the edge. The game has changed.”
How does a defensive coach deal with it?
”It’s hard,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said, his eyes widening and his voice rising. ”It’s crazy.”
Mora, a former NFL defensive coordinator, is one of the many feeling flummoxed.
Defensive innovators haven’t been able to counter with Xs and Os. They’re hoping a different approach in recruiting might help or possibly doubling down on fundamentals. Something to turn around a trend that’s been developing for years.
In 2008, FBS teams averaged 27 points per game and 371.6 yards. Last year, those figures jumped to 29.5 points per game and 409 yards. Plays per game from scrimmage have increased from 67.7 to 71.5 per team. And yards per play has risen from 5.48 to 5.72.
Even in the Southeastern Conference, which boasts of its defensive prowess, the offenses are taking over. SEC’s teams averaged a league-record 402.4 yards per game and 30.4 points, a bit shy of the record of 31 per game set in 2010.
And with more SEC teams picking up the pace of play these days – despite the protests of Nick Saban and Bret Bielema – don’t be surprised if the record book is rewritten again in 2013.
So what in the name of former SEC defensive guru Joe Lee Dunn can be done to shift the balance of power back the guys on the other side of ball?
Three areas need to be addressed: player development, recruiting/personnel and schemes.
- PLAYER DEVELOPMENT.
The rise of seven-on-seven football, a scaled down version of the game played by high schoolers during the offseason without linemen, full pads or tackling to the ground has coincided with improvements in the passing game.
”It’s all about the development of quarterbacks,” said Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, who rose through the ranks as a defensive assistant at Miami and Texas A&M.
When they get to college campuses, they’re ready to play. Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman last year, but it came just a few years after Tim Tebow was the first sophomore to win it and Sam Bradford became the second.
While quarterbacks are working on their games year-round, defensive players are tackling less and less because of injury concerns.
”The thing I really see in college football is the missed tackles,” said Dunn, who was one of the most successful defensive coordinators in college football in the 1990s and early 2000s. ”So many missed tackles.”
The missed tackles stand out more than ever before because offenses are forcing defenses to defend so much more of the field, stretching them out both vertically and horizontally.
”You have to make a lot more open field tackles,” said Brown, of the Smart Football blog.
Dunn said the answer is stressing the need to run to the ball. But defenders have so far to go, only teams with lineups loaded with elite athletes such as Alabama and LSU have the sheer speed and quickness to close the gaps.
For those teams that can’t pack a roster with blue chip talent, there’s a lot of one-on-one football being played, with the defenses at a disadvantage.
”All the better athletes are going to play wide receiver in high school and they’re not playing defense,” Tuberville said.
Or they’re playing quarterback. Back in the day, for the most part, there were running quarterbacks (think Nebraska great such as Turner Gill, Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch) and there were throwing quarterbacks. And the guys with the good arms who could run well (John Elway, Steve Young, Randall Cunningham) were more scramblers than ball carriers.
Now players such as Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch are just as comfortable running the option as they are reading coverage.
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