I’ve touched on this before, but the idea that the SEC’s loss of so much experienced talent at the quarterback position going into this season may lead to a defensive renaissance needs to be put in context. And that context ain’t that pretty.
The last couple of seasons only continued a trend toward more explosive offense and away from the suffocating defense that was the SEC’s trademark for many years. Just a few seasons ago, nearly every SEC defense ranked among the nation’s top half in terms of yards allowed. That’s no longer the case, as about half of the league’s defenses trended toward the bottom in 2013 — with Arkansas (76th), Missouri (81st), Tennessee (83rd), Auburn (86th), Kentucky (91st) and Texas A&M (109th) all ranking 75th or worse nationally in total defense.
Some of those teams generally sucked, sure, but you’ve also got your two division winners in that group. (And no Todd Grantham. But I digress.) How much of that development can you attribute to great quarterbacking and how much to a broader issue of defensive quality?
Ching thinks that it’s not your father’s SEC anymore and the offenses will still run ahead of the defenses.
Getting rid of some great quarterbacks will certainly help improve those numbers, but this is no longer the smashmouth, pound-the-run league that it once was. It’s not as simple to defend what today’s offenses throw at you as it was during the I-formation days of yore, and several SEC defenses have a long way to go before anyone would consider them competent at containing such attacks.
You have Gus Malzahn’s ground-based spread at Auburn, which led the nation with 328.3 rushing yards per game and nearly carried the Tigers to a BCS crown. There’s Missouri’s version that featured one of the league’s top rushing attacks and some dangerous (and huge) weapons at wideout. Kevin Sumlin’s spread at Texas A&M obviously benefited from having Manziel as the triggerman, but the Aggies are still going to post big numbers even without Johnny Football.
And you’ve still got versatile offensive schemes such as those at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia — all of which will start senior quarterbacks — that will almost certainly continue to produce on the ground and through the air. Wild cards LSU, Florida and Mississippi State also have the potential to be impressive on offense depending on how their quarterbacks and young skill players develop.
It’s the wide array of offensive schemes that are the big challenge to conference defenses now. To succeed over the course of a season, you’ve got to be able to go from handling the HUNH you see from Auburn, Ole Miss and TAMU (all different in philosophy) to the pro style stuff that’s Alabama’s, LSU’s and Georgia’s bread and butter and anything in between. That calls for having enough quality personnel to be versatile. Yeah, teams in the conference recruit very well, but well enough?