|Thanks to its high-powered offense, West Virginia isn't as concerned with its leaky defense this season. (US Presswire)|
We should also recognize that teams powered by their offenses are a threat not only to win games but win titles. That's one takeaway from a Saturday that saw West Virginia step up and pass its biggest test of the young season. Oregon rolled over a previously-ranked Washington squad to solidify its hold on the No. 2 ranking, and other offense-first coaches took home wins across the country. Teams have talent advantages -- a loaded SEC squad is going to win far more often than not -- but what we're seeing as of late is that smart coaches with offenses that put pressure on their opponents in all three phases are changing the dynamics of having a talent deficiency. No longer is the best defense the only defense being played.
Neither is the game of college football all about who has the best athletes; it hasn't been that way for years. But as speed and more accurate quarterbacks have transformed teams, the ability to get players one-on-one in space has worried the old guard that wants to control the clock, play defense and out-physical other teams.
"[The no-huddle]'s obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we're averaging 49.5 points a game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said last week. "With people that do those kinds of things, more and more people are going to do it.
"I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, 'Is this what we want football to be?'"
For some, it absolutely is. It's easier to find a 5-foot-11 wide receiver who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash than one who's 6-foot-3 and does the same thing. To combat that, it's easier to find a speedy linebacker and put him at defensive end to chase the quarterback. Saban will always be successful with his "process" of reloading and replacing, but the underlying concern about the comments he made is rooted in the fact that even that might not be enough some years. We're really about to see if pace and spreading people out can work at the highest level of football as Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin start using some pretty explosive athletes with a version of the Air Raid offense in the SEC.
|Dana Holgorsen is not just about throwing the ball all over, he's willing to run if that's what the defense gives him. (US Presswire)|
For this season, though, what Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia are doing is causing people to take note and think that maybe they can wind up in Miami this January. What makes him different from a few of his predecessors is the commitment to taking whatever the defense gives and if that means run, well … run.
After the game, several Longhorns defensive players admitted how surprised they were at how much -- and how well -- the Mountaineers ran the ball. Playing two high safeties to prevent long passes like the ones that tripped up Baylor's secondary time-after-time, Texas created the very advantage that West Virginia exploited all night long in its upset victory -- turning tailback Andrew Buie into a breakout star in the process.
Holgorsen, genuinely, wasn't surprised at how well Buie did as he ran for 207 yards and two scores because it was all part of the plan if Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wanted to limit big plays in the passing game.
"What is surprising for me is to see him carry it 31 times," Holgorsen mentioned. "We did commit to the run; that was something that we talked about earlier in the week. There weren't any tricks, either. We just lined up and ran it right at them."
Across the country there is another (old) ball coach who likes to throw a time or 50 but is just fine taking what opponents are giving him on the ground now. As colleague Jeremy Fowler wrote from Columbia, Steve Spurrier has gone from Fun-N-Gun to Fun-N-Run. It sure helps to have backs like Marcus Lattimore, but in today's game running the ball with an effective quarterback (Connor Shaw went 6-of-10 with two touchdowns) is the way to beat anybody who lines up across from you. It's a philosophy that has been great to say in the past. But with the kind of athletes who are on the offensive side of the ball now, it's making non-traditional powers look like world-beaters.
That new thinking on offense has, on the flip side, had an effect on defensive success as well. As much as statistics are boiled down to total yardage and scoring defense by many, the evolution on offense has forced defensive-minded coaches to change how they think defense should be played and measured.
"Our goal is to make them kick field goals, win by one point," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You have to score one more point. I know everybody hates the one point rhetoric, but it's true."
Holding teams to under 20 can still be done; it's just a lot harder when there are more plays, more speed and more pressure. Consider that five years ago, only two teams took more than 100 snaps in a game. This season, through six games (or fewer), it has been done eight times. That means it's not all about yards given up but yards per play. It's not about points allowed but scoring margin.
|Oregon has learned it's not about the yards given up but getting stops when it counts. (US Presswire)|
Oregon, which has played backups in just about every game of the season (all blowouts, average margin of victory in its past three games: 35 points), is limiting opponents to 4.55 yards per play and has given up just three of longer than 30 yards. The Ducks are tied for second in the country in takeaways and average nearly three a game. Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense is putting the players out on the field more and giving his defense more opportunities to make plays.
Defense wins championships, but it's timely defense that is winning games for more teams than not nowadays. Consider that Auburn's national title-winning defense in 2010 was ranked right in the middle of the pack nationally but gave up 5.36 yards per play. West Virginia's is in the 100s nationally on defense but is closer to Kansas State than most realize when taking into account the number of snaps, yards allowed, turnovers and sacks.
There are still plenty who will go against the grain to key turnarounds -- Stanford comes to mind immediately -- but the fact that teams don't need as good of a defense to win thanks to offense is a difficult reality for some to come to grips with.
"It's really frustrating," Texas defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. "We try to get the guys off the field so our offense can have the ball more, but they converted the big fourth downs. There's nothing we could do."
Against Texas, West Virginia came up with two stops late in the game to give the ball back to the offense to finish things off. Like in tennis, breaking an opponent just once can be big not only in terms of momentum but becomes essential in shootouts like the one last Saturday in Austin. West Virginia scored on all seven trips to the red zone; Texas missed once.
"The offense knew that we were going to have to produce," Texas running back Joe Bergeron said. "West Virginia has a high-powered offense, and we are producing. But there's no room for minor mistakes."
All week, the thinking was a decent defense like Texas could slow down Geno Smith and company enough to where the Longhorns' offense could take advantage of the West Virginia defenders. After all, the Mountaineers won by seven the week before and gave up 63 points. Yet it's time to realize that getting to Miami might mean it doesn't take a defense but a simple defensive stop.
"It was a tough week mentally because it's hard to bounce back from a game like [Baylor]," said West Virginia corner Pat Miller, who broke up a David Ash pass on fourth down. "There were a lot of people criticizing me personally but, you know, we just feed off that. We knew what we had to do, and we knew it was going to be a hard task."
|Urban Meyer and Ohio State are one big reason why the state of Ohio is rolling in football. (US Presswire)|
Stat of the week
Stats to chew on
- Since 2004, Oklahoma is 19-0 in games immediately following a regular-season loss. The Sooners haven't lost consecutive games in the same season since the final two contests of the 2003 campaign. They have still never suffered back-to-back Big 12 conference losses under Bob Stoops.
- Notre Dame's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters and is the only team in the country to not allow a rushing touchdown.
- It's a wee bit tough to throw the ball in the SEC; The league has the three top pass efficiency defenses in the country: Alabama, Florida and LSU.
- Florida has scored 41 points in the fourth quarter while not allowing any on defense.
- Interestingly, both the SEC and Big 12 named a player from a losing team as defensive or co-defensive player of the week (Texas' Alex Okafor and LSU's Kevin Minter, who set a school record with 17 solo tackles).
- Duke receiver Conner Vernon became the ACC's all-time leading pass receiver last week with 239 career receptions. He broke the record on a pass that lost two yards. In four-plus seasons in Durham, coach David Cutcliffe has 20 victories after Saturday's blowout over Virginia. That's one more win than Duke had in 12 years before he took over.
- Louisiana Tech is the only team in the country to score at least 40 points in every game this season against all-FBS competition.
- Geno Smith has thrown 30 touchdowns since his last interception.
- North Carolina's Sean Tapley returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, the first score Virginia Tech had allowed on a kickoff return since Nov. 13, 1993. With a span of 237 games, that was the longest active streak in the country.
Tweet of the week
Georgia doesn't rebuild soft underachieving teams. It just reloads.— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) October 7, 2012
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2. South Carolina
5. West Virginia
6. Kansas State
7. Notre Dame
8. Ohio State
Where we'll be this week
I'm going to pull a double-dip Saturday and hit the Red River Rivalry early in the morning (11 a.m. central) between Texas and Oklahoma and then head to Shreveport for the make up game between BCS-buster Louisiana Tech and Texas A&M. Dennis Dodd is just down the highway to see if South Carolina can keep things rolling and top LSU in Death Valley while Jeremy Fowler heads to South Bend for Notre Dame-Stanford.
Leaning this way
Stanford at Notre Dame
With all due respect to the Irish's previous opponents, this is their first big test even though the Cardinal passing game is far from elite. The front seven has been terrific so far and they'll have another battle on their hands against a team that will gladly run it nine times out of 10. On the flip side, the Stanford defense didn't look sharp against Arizona last week but faces an offensive attack that still has issues despite what happened in Chicago. It's going to be close but should be a heck of an atmosphere.
Pick: Notre Dame
South Carolina at LSU
The Gamecocks looked like a team ready to challenge anybody for the national title while the Tigers were lifeless down in the Swamp. Death Valley at night is a whole different creature, however, and this is South Carolina's first big road test (it has struggled the past two trips) coming off an emotional win. I'm guessing LSU comes out mad and looking for revenge with an offense that is able to move the ball much better.
Texas A&M vs. Louisiana Tech
I would be somewhat surprised if the over/under in this game isn't hit by the third quarter given the way these two offenses can pump out touchdowns. The Aggies went on the road and squeaked out a win against Ole Miss, and perhaps that seasoning (combined with the lessons they learned in the second half against Florida) will do them good in a tough match up with LaTech. The Bulldogs will put up points, but I'm not sure the defense can get the right number of stops to win against an improving A&M team.
Pick: Texas A&M