Trust me when I tell you my intent behind this post isn’t to club a dead horse. There’s a point I’ll get to that requires me to journey past that
prostate prostrate equine, though.
Riley’s comments inspired a couple of other posts yesterday, one from Ian Boyd that riffed on what Allen Kenney and I wrote about it, and another from David Ching. Both lead to points that are bigger than the one Riley tried to make in response to Kanell’s question.
Start with Ching:
Aside from the whole thing being a silly conversation, though, Riley’s comments to Kanell might also be incorrect.
“What’s different here is you’re facing those (explosive) offenses every single week. You just don’t have that in any other league,” Riley said. “It’s not that you don’t have good offenses in other leagues – of course you do. You just don’t have the consistency and the challenge that you do week in and week out in this league.”
I’m just not sure the evidence backs up Riley’s statement here. Again, Oklahoma boasted the nation’s best offense last season. The Sooners rank among the best nearly every season. Oklahoma State was also near the top of the leaderboard.
In fact, Oklahoma (8.29 yards per play) and Oklahoma State (7.34) ranked first and fifth nationally last season in yards per play, for my money the best statistical indicator of an offense’s explosiveness. However, they were the only Big 12 offenses to rank in the top 20 in the category. Meanwhile, the SEC had four top-20 teams: Missouri (7.13 ypp), Ole Miss (6.9), Georgia (6.7) and Alabama (6.59).
Both conferences had six offenses rank in the nation’s top 50 in yards per play, and both also had two offenses rank 100th or worse. Pretty even in my book. Outdated, lazy thinking produces the narrative that the Big 12 has somehow cornered the market on innovative offense, while the SEC is playing a brand of football straight out of the 1960s. That is simply no longer the case.
That ties in with a point I made.
I hate to be like this, but the idea that “any team would struggle with the consistency and challenge you do week in and week out in this league” is as indefensible for the Big 12 as it is for any P5 conference (and, yes, that includes the SEC, unless you think I’m totally off base about the greatness of Arkansas and Vanderbilt, for example).
No conference is close to being the way Riley describes, not the Big 12, not the SEC. So that’s one thing.
Another consideration from Ching that’s spot on is this:
… Defending a Big 12 offense is different from defending an SEC offense, although the groups have grown more similar in recent years.
Georgia’s defense is constructed to face bigger opponents who are physical along the line of scrimmage, as those traits characterize the toughest teams the Bulldogs will meet in conference play. Oklahoma’s is smaller and quicker in order to defend offenses that are generally more likely to spread out their defensive opponents with a wide-open passing attack.
You defend to win the conference you play in. That’s where everything starts. If Georgia were in the Big 12, is it that unreasonable to assume Kirby would recruit successfully to build a defense in a way best suited for that type of play? I sure don’t think so, and that’s a reason I don’t think Riley is being as profound making his point as he thinks he is.
As far as Boyd’s post goes, it led to a Twitter exchange where I made a point that I think is being overlooked by Riley and those who defend what he says, although to be fair, it wasn’t the question Kanell was asking.
Georgia wasn’t great last season because it had a top-five defense. For one thing, it didn’t have a top-five defense. What it did have was the best balance between offense, defense and special teams of any national title contender. Take a look at the final S&P+ rankings to see what I mean. Georgia finished 14th on offense, 11th on defense and 3rd on special teams. There wasn’t another team close to that. Ohio State, for example, ranked better on offense and defense, but was 35th on special teams. Alabama’s defense was killer, as we know, but the offense finished 23rd and special teams were a pedestrian 52nd. Clemson, 114th on special teams. Oklahoma, 71st on special teams, 101st on defense… well, you get the idea.
One of Mark Richt’s flaws that frustrated me consistently was the way he’d fix a problem that plagued his team one year, only to see a new problem emerge that led to another season’s shortcomings. That didn’t happen last year. If there’s one thing that should make you optimistic about this team’s future, that’s it, even if it took Lincoln Riley’s comment to make you realize that.