Paul Myerberg has a story in USA Today that suggests college football defenses are starting to catch up with the offenses.
Yet as teams prepare for September, defenses across college football have taken steps toward closing the gap.
Repetition, increased familiarity, tweaked personnel packages and increased communication have helped to turn back time — offenses still rule, but more so than at any point in the last decade, defenses can hold their heads high.
“Defense has adjusted,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “Defense has caught up to the lightning no-huddle, the fast-break no-huddle.”
The most interesting point of view in his article comes from Rich Rodriguez, maybe the guy more than anyone else responsible for putting a lot of the swing towards offense in motion.
For defenses in this era, it’s not about winning the war; the opposition is always going to score points, often in bunches, and rare is the defense that can singlehandedly carry a team to a successful season. It’s about winning individual battles — on third down, for example, or in the red zone.
And no development has played a greater factor in a subtle defensive revival than the proliferation of spread offenses themselves. Ten years ago, a defense might face one or two early adopters of the style during the course of a single season. Now, teams will face an up-tempo opponent more often than not, and in many cases spend an entire year defending the system during practice.
“The more teams that do that, the more defense is going to study it. The more defense studies it, the more variety of schemes you get,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
“What we see now how teams are defending us now are much different than what they were defending 15, 20 years ago just because they see it all the time.”
It’s even affected his recruiting.
This has also led some programs to alter the way they recruit. In the past, Rodriguez would split his team’s 85 scholarships evenly between offense and defense. Recently, however, “it’s been flipping the other way,” he said: Arizona may have as many as 50 scholarships devoted to defense, compared to 30 on offense.
Nobody thinks college football is going to return to the grind it out times of 2006, but it was always a bit of an overreaction to pretend the sport was being irretrievably changed by the onslaught of the HUNH and the spread. Hell, let’s not forget that Mark Richt was playing around with that stuff during his FSU days.
One thing Myerberg doesn’t touch on that I’m curious about is what effect the next wave of technology is going to have on the chess match between offenses and defenses. If communication is one of the things that’s allowed defensive coaches to narrow the gap, what happens when they’re allowed to use computer tablets on the sideline for immediate analysis and when direct miking of players’ helmets becomes a reality?