|Geno Smith put up big numbers Saturday but he's not the only Big 12 quarterback that has defenses on their heels. (US Presswire)|
If one was catching up on the week's college football action, there was no avoiding highlights of Geno Smith and West Virginia against Baylor. In what someone could have mistaken for a basketball game at first glance of the score, the record-setting day in Morgantown was, rightfully so, the talk of the country after an offensive explosion of 1,507 total yards between the two schools.
Smith, the Heisman front-runner, threw eight touchdown passes against just six incompletions in West Virginia's 70-63 win. In a losing effort, Bears quarterback Nick Florence set a school record by passing for 581 yards and was nearly as good as his counterpart in a game that tied an FBS record for touchdowns (19). It's hard to score 63 points; it's even harder to lose when doing so, though.
“The goal is to score more than the opponent,” Florence said after the game. “And we didn't do that today.”
In picking up their first ever Big 12 win, the Mountaineers were the poster boys for what the league has transformed into over the past few seasons. There has always been the element of wide-open offenses in the conference with the likes of Dana Holgorsen (as an assistant and now head coach), Mike Leach and Mike Gundy putting up big numbers for several years but that's nothing compared to what this year could have in store. The most insane thing about the league at the moment is that nine of the 10 teams are averaging more than 11 yards a completion. At the same time, only two teams (Iowa State and TCU) are averaging fewer than 4.5 yards a carry. It's been a fairly weak non-conference slate for the Big 12 but still, production is production even if it will come back to earth somewhat as the round-robin play begins.
As soon as the coverages started to get blown and the points began running on the scoreboard in Morgantown, the rather large continent of SEC fans started to let their thoughts on the matter be heard: "They don't play defense." In their streak of national championships, the SEC has certainly prided itself on the defense it plays and the lack thereof in Big 12 country was no doubt a good time to remind everyone that down South might be the last vestiges of solid defense left in the country. Though it's hard to generalize that the SEC is the only league that plays defense (Georgia and Tennessee combined for 95 points Saturday after all), it should be noted that schools like Auburn and Florida were known as much for their wide-open offenses as anything and Alabama has produced plenty of NFL starters on that side of the ball. Still, based on production and draft picks it's not hard to agree there's nobody quite like the SEC in college football when it comes to getting a stop. In the Big 12, the best defense has simply become the best offense.
Consider that West Virginia has 21 passing touchdowns through four games. That's more than all but one Big 12 team had all season in 1996 (and the one outlier had just 22).
It's been an interesting transformation for teams that used to be known for big, bruising running games and pressure defenses. Many point to the proliferation of the spread offense over the past few years in the high school game in the league's talent base, the state of Texas, as one root cause; but it's on defense that one of the biggest shifts has come in terms of personnel. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have both been moving toward having smaller linebackers in order to handle spread teams that throw the ball but the former has seen a noticeable drop in the number of big-time defensive tackles that schools have on their rosters in order to get a good pass rush. In the past NFL draft, only one Big 12 defensive tackle was taken -- Texas' Kheeston Randall in the 7th round. The league has produced just 10 picks at the position over the past six drafts, however -- the same number of players the SEC has sent to the pros in just the past two years.
|Even youngsters like David Ash have looked much better passing the ball, giving the Big 12 plenty of detph at quarterback. (US Presswire)|
At the same time, speedier athletes on offense have led to more missed tackles -- and plays like we saw this past Saturday. Texas says it missed 12 tackles against Oklahoma State, two of which directly led to touchdowns by the Cowboys
“I've been watching games all day and there are missed tackles all over the country,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I watched a 70 to 63 game. We can sit around and talk about what we did bad, but we can fix all that.”
"They have some great athletes. They're going to make you miss just like our athletes made them miss," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young lamented. "You get people in space and that happens."
It's not just making people miss but also the quarterbacks getting the ball to players has been a big reason for the success. While seniors like Smith and Florence have put up big numbers, it's surprises like David Ash who have made one of the top leagues for signal-callers even deeper. The Texas quarterback was terrific in leading a game-winning drive late against Oklahoma State, hitting a clutch fourth-down pass to move the chains on his way to completing a career-high 30 passes at an 81 percent clip. When you consider where the sophomore came from -- he threw two interceptions for every touchdown pass last season -- it's not hard to see how every team in the conference now has a guy that can beat you behind center and that this season could be better than ever at the position.
In 2011, with three first-round NFL draft picks on rosters, Big 12 quarterbacks tabbed a 139.85 NCAA quarterback rating. Go back a decade to 2002 and you'll see only one team averaged more than 270 yards per game passing (Mike Leach's Texas Tech) and the quarterback rating for the league was 125.29. The 10-team league of last year put up roughly the aggregate numbers of the 12-team league from a decade ago as well.
The current crop of Big 12 quarterbacks in 2012 managed to have a league quarterback rating of 159.99 through four games (Oklahoma has played only three), which is quite simply an amazing mark. Four of the top five signal-callers in terms of passing efficiency -- and seven of the top 20 -- play ball in Big 12 territory. For comparison, the next closest league is the SEC with just four quarterbacks in the top 20. Kansas State's Collin Klein is just one of several to have improved how he throws the football and with other youngsters like the Oklahoma State freshman duo of J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt, it's clear that defenses won't get any sort of reprieve no matter who they play in-conference.
"We've said it all along, great offenses like (Oklahoma State's) you have to win in the red zone," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said after giving up 576 yards but just 36 points. "They're too dynamic, they're too good and they're going to move the ball in between the twenties."
Though he was talking about the Cowboys, the same could be said about any of the teams in the league outside of a handful (Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State being the notable exceptions). Tabbed with one of the better defenses in the country, Diaz's unit hasn't quite lived up to its billing so far this season with the No. 40 scoring defense on top of giving up 180 yards per game rushing. With West Virginia rolling into Austin this week, everything from schemes to missed tackles will need to be shored up if the Longhorns want to stop Smith and company from setting another host of offensive records.
"The whole team has to get a lot better," Texas defensive end Alex Okafor said. "I was a little surprised that we missed a couple of tackles because we were out of position on a couple of plays. But a win is a win, and if we can find a way to get a win then we'll take it."
Do the same against the Mountaineers offense and there may not be a win out there for the taking.
|"Johnny Football" put up record-setting numbers against Arkansas but they were short of what Zac Dysert had against Akron. (US Presswire)|
Stat of the week
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel had a monster Saturday as he passed for 450-plus yards and rushed for 100-plus in the same game. Last season Robert Griffin III came close to those marks by passing for 479 and rushing for 72 in a win against Oklahoma if you need a yardstick to measure the accomplishment. Manziel set an SEC record for total yardage that was previously held by Archie Manning and Rohan Davey but the marks are still short of what Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert racked up on Saturday when he had 516 yards passing and 108 yards rushing in a 56-49 win over Akron
Stats to chew on
- Geno Smith set an FBS efficiency rating record with at least 50 attempts. Strike that, he crushed the record by over 40 points. He had more yards and touchdowns in one game than Army had all of the 2011 season. Hat tip to Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News for noting that Baylor/West Virginia combined for 1,237 passing yards, 16 shy of FBS record by TCU-Houston in 1990.
- Athlon's David Fox said there was a 300-yard receiver just once from 2008-11. There have been three such performances the past two weeks with two (Stedman Bailey and Terrance Williams) coming in the same game.
- Northwestern rolled up a school-record 704 yards against Indiana thanks in large part to multi-purpose threat and part-time quarterback Kain Colter who had 14 rushes for 161 yards and 131 yards receiving. Indiana became the FBS leader in losses as a result.
- Arizona State's win at Cal was the program's first in Berkeley since 1997.
- Hat tip to David Ubben for noting that Oklahoma State's loss to Texas clinched the end of a crazy streak for head coach Mike Gundy, who equaled or improved the program's record in each of his seven seasons.
Tweet of the week
I might need more gun powder for this game— Jon Kimble, Mtnr (@WVUMascot) September 29, 2012
Quote of the week
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5. Kansas State
8. Notre Dame
10. West Virginia
Where we'll be this week
Dennis Dodd heads to Gainesville to see how loud the Swamp will be as LSU rolls into town to face Florida in a battle of SEC undefeateds on CBS. With two top-six teams in action in Columbia, Tony Barnhart will head up to see Georgia at South Carolina in the other big time match up down South. I'm headed to Austin where Heisman Trophy favorite Geno Smith brings high-flying West Virginia in to face a Texas defense that should be its toughest test of the season. New college football insider Jeremy Fowler gets a close look at Notre Dame and Miami in a game that's a lot more interesting than it was a few weeks ago while columnist Gregg Doyel sees if Ohio State can keep its record unblemished as Nebraska comes into Columbus.
Leaning this way
Georgia at South Carolina
Each team has had its defense and offense look superb at times through the first quarter of the season and then have issues for stretches. This looks like one really good offense (Georgia) vs. a really good defense (South Carolina), with both being pretty solid in other areas. I'm not sure how the Bulldogs offensive line will block Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones but I think it'll do enough to move the ball and win a squeaker on the road.
West Virginia at Texas
This will be Geno Smith and West Virginia's biggest test all season and it will be a tough one down in Austin. Though Texas' defense didn't look great with a few missed tackles last weekend, it has a front seven that should put pressure on an untested Mountaineers offensive line. This could wind up another shootout that goes to the team that has the ball last and I'm not sure anybody has a good read on who will win.
Pick: West Virginia
Nebraska at Ohio State
Ohio State looks like the class of the Big Ten but it'll have a big home test against Nebraska to remain undefeated. At this point, the Cornhuskers look like the favorite to get the league's Rose Bowl berth with the Buckeyes ineligible and this game will go a long way to figuring out just how good each team can be in conference play after narrow wins last week.
Pick: Ohio State