Since the season ended, I’ve been grappling with what to make of was to everyone’s eyes except those of Todd “Backbone” Grantham a disappointing defense. More specifically, I guess you could say I’m trying to apportion blame. Not just the whole coaching vs. execution thing – some of that’s been mooted in the last week, hopefully – but also the bigger picture stuff. Have we entered an era when the defenses really are falling that far behind the offenses?
I can’t say that I’m smart enough to know for sure, but I do feel that this isn’t an exercise in excuse making. If you’ll recall, as we got into the season, there was evidence of defensive drop off going around conference-wide. (Also, note that Georgia’s defensive ypp improved from the time of that post, to 5.41. Alabama actually wound up suffering a bigger fall in defensive ypp from 2012 to 2013 than Georgia did.)
If we’re seeing something akin to what we watched when the Fun ‘n’ Gun rolled into town, we’ll be looking at a wild ride until the defenses start catching up to what offenses are throwing at them, assuming that the NCAA doesn’t tinker with the rules any further. (See the last paragraph of this post for illustration of that assumption.) My question is where defensive coaches start hunting to regain the ground they’ve lost.
Hunting around, I found this post (h/t brophy), which provided me with some food for thought. I can’t say that I agree with everything he posts – I’m certainly not willing to shovel dirt on Saban’s career just yet, for one thing – and, again, I may not be well-versed enough to question some of what he writes there, but it’s hard for me to argue with some of the broader points he makes, such as:
- “There is no, and will never be any, substitute for fundamentals.” Amen to that, brother. If anything, in defending spread attacks which have as their goal isolating playmakers in space, fundamentals are even more important than before.
- “Schematically, I honestly feel man to man coverage HAS to make a major return to college football.” I think so, too, and for a couple of reasons. A defense has to be able to disrupt timing in the passing game; some of that has to come in giving receivers less space to operate. Also, as he goes on to mention, there’s going to be a greater premium on defenses disguising coverages. You’re going to have to show some ability to play man to man to sell it to the opponent even when you intend to run zone on a given play.
- “… developing simple defensive concepts that can be communicated effectively and quickly are going to become more and more the norm in at least college football.” This is the defensive analog to what we see successful spread offenses do – run everything out of a few base sets that can be easily taught and practiced so that the kids have a great degree of proficiency in them. Once you’ve got that down, you can then refine the ways in which you disguise those sets. In any event, the goal is to put your playmakers in the best situations you can for them to make plays, just like the Malzahns and Leaches of the world are trying to.
Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out where Pruitt goes from here. There’s talent that’s got to be coached up, but I’ll be very curious to see what he does differently from a schematic standpoint than his predecessor did. I’d also like to hear what you guys think about this.