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Kevin Lyttle | Austin American-Statesman | October 12, 2016

Big 12 defenses reflect new reality in college football

  Oklahoma State head coach says days of dominate defenses are over.

Big 12 coaches offer a blunt message to critics pummeling them about their teams' porous defenses.

Deal with it.

Six of the NCAA's top-21 scoring and total offenses reside in the Big 12. On the flip side, four conference teams rank 101st or lower in scoring defense and six are 86th or worst.

Terrific offenses and terrible defenses? It's not that simple, coaches say.

"The game has changed," said Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy. "Rules favor the offense, receivers are more developed and quarterbacks better equipped along the way."

"I see fantastic quarterbacks who are going to roll up 400 to 500 yards and more skill players that get the ball in space than ever before. Defensive statistics aren't what they used to be -- and they're never going back. Those days are long gone."

While some Big 12 coaches acknowledge that SEC powers lure bigger, stronger, tougher defensive linemen to play smash-mouth ball, they don't see much difference between their front sevens and typical Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC teams. They like their defensive backs just as much as other leagues' recruits.

The difference, the coaches say, is the style of play. Kansas State's Bill Snyder is the only one in the Big 12 who still tries to go old school, utilizing ball control and clock management. Yet he's noticed how much tougher that is to pull off. Last Saturday, the Wildcats beat Texas Tech 44-38 despite the Red Raiders running 91 plays and gaining 592 yards.

"The offenses are snapping the ball 85 to 100 times. It used to be 55 to 65," Snyder said. "Our conference is up to about 16 possessions per game. It used to be 11 or 12.

"The game is played out in space, all the tackling is one on one. There is more speed on the perimeter. As significant as anything, coaches and players are going against tempos varying from fast to faster so they have to be able to process information quicker than ever."

Even the SEC is trending toward spread offenses. Granted Texas A&M and Tennessee went into double overtime, but the Aggies allowed 684 yards in their victory.

With burgeoning camps, year-round training and the appeal of 45-40 games to the Xbox generation, coaches notice a difference in recruits.

"The offensive skill coming out of high school is better," said West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen. "The 7-on-7 drills and competitions have a lot to do with it. The whole 'basketball on grass' thing has taken hold. We all know it's been happening in Texas for years, but I notice it on the East Coast now."

Several coaches pointed out that defenses cannot load up on rushing the quarterback because most Big 12 running games are potent.

"Offenses are doing a great job of taking advantage of what you give them," said Charlie Strong of Texas. "If you load up on one side, they go to the other. If you take guys out of the box, they run."

That notion still rankles some traditional defensive minds.

"It's our job to stop people, but there's no good answer to it," said TCU's Gary Patterson. "At least one part of your defense has to be strong so you can overplay other things.

"As for pass rush, some of these guys get the ball out of their hands in less than two seconds. I don't know how you get there that fast. And there's no such thing any more as just a run play. The vast majority of those have pass options. You're making the whole defense defend the whole field."

Coaches are re-thinking what is a good defensive day. Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury suggested one could consist of making three or four stops, forcing a couple of turnovers and limiting a few drives to field goals.

"We want to be good tacklers," Gundy said, "but defensive statistics from years ago, you can just throw those numbers out the window."


This article was written by Kevin Lyttle from Austin American-Statesman and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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