Ivan Maisel finds a pattern.
When an offense goes up-tempo, the defense pays the price. Not just the opposing defense, either. The defenses at Arizona and No. 2 Oregon are playing 82 and 76 plays, respectively, per game. The wear-and-tear is exacting a toll in mid-November. The Ducks are playing freshmen on their defensive line, and Arizona is playing four walk-ons and two true freshmen on its defense. They are playing because that’s who’s healthy.
Two teams strike me as a small sample size, so I headed over to cfbstats.com to see if there was anything to Maisel’s point on a larger scale. The list of defensive play numbers is here, and yeah, you’ll find a lot of schools running spread, hurry-up offenses populating the lower part of that list. (You’ll also find a lot of teams with crappy defenses populating the lower part of that list. But I digress.) So maybe he has a point.
But, wait a minute. Here’s something Groo wrote in his Auburn wrap-up that may have you wondering where the happy medium is in this story:
I’ve seen a bit of talk about leaving the defensive starters in so long. Yes, there’s the risk of injury, but that would be my only concern. If you have an opportunity for a shutout, I’m not going to complain about making a little extra effort to keep it going. But there’s a more important reason for leaving them in. If Georgia has a chance in the SEC championship game, it’s going to be a physical game every bit as demanding on the defense as the Florida game was. The defense needs to be conditioned to play at top form all four quarters, and it’s not helping them to sit. I expect we’ll see them play longer than we’d expect against Georgia Southern also. If you want to see an excellent defense not used to finishing games, look at Bama over the past two weeks.
Hmm. Is it possible that Georgia’s the happy medium here? The Dawgs are playing almost 67 defensive snaps a game, which is certainly a lot fewer than the teams Maisel cites and is the third-fewest number in the SEC. (By the way, there’s a pretty consistent correlation between the conference’s best defenses and the number of plays defended.) But because of the way many of Georgia’s games have played out this season, its starters have been on the field for a significant majority of those snaps. It’s also worth remembering that certain of those starters were suspended early and needed those snaps to shake off the rust. Maybe that’s something else that’s paying off later in the season.
Given the scholarship numbers Georgia chose to play with this year, there’s certainly been a little luck in dodging the injury bullet. But the coaching staff perhaps deserves a little credit here for managing the defensive depth well. (Maybe the S&C folks should take a bow, too.) Post suspension, the only game I can recall where Grantham had to press a walk-on into service was against Kentucky when Rambo got dinged up for a few plays and Connor Norman subbed for him. And at this point, it’s a stretch to call Norman a mere walk-on, if you want to be fair about it. Other than that, if Grantham’s played a freshman it’s been because he wanted to, not because he had to.
The $64,000 question is will that pay off at the SECCG? Stay tuned.