Dan Mullen wanted a fully packed stadium this week.
He might want to focus on being able to field a team first.
Dan Mullen wanted a fully packed stadium this week.
He might want to focus on being able to field a team first.
Oh, look. It’s Stetson again.
This is a helluva throw.
Good thing Georgia has better inside linebackers than Ole Miss. They’ll need ’em.
When you’re talking about the Georgia-Alabama game, one thing you don’t want to think is that it’s just like the last two games those two have played.
It’s not a question of whether Georgia’s been man enough to take on Saban’s team. It’s whether the Dawgs have had enough gas in the tank to finish. So what are they focused on this week? Ask Jamaree Salyer ($$).
“Making sure we compete for four quarters — five quarters, even,” Salyer said, with a chuckle.
Or Eric Stokes.
“I’m just trying to go 1-0 every week,” Stokes said. “I see they are our next opponent, and we’ve just got to do our business.”
There may be reasons to think that mindset isn’t just cheap talk. For one thing, the setting is different. Neither team is facing the other in an elimination game. Instead, at least at this juncture in the season, both are looking like the class of their respective divisions and the loser stands a strong chance of making it to the SECCG.
Another reason may be more of a stretch on my part: Jim Chaney isn’t going to be calling plays for Georgia in Tuscaloosa. ‘Bama is a great team with what is at the moment the best offense in college football. If Georgia somehow finds itself with a fourth-quarter lead (again!), the last thing it needs to do is take its foot off the gas in the hope it can grind its way to the finish. Hopefully, Todd Monken will approach the situation with a more aggressive mindset.
What do y’all think?
Simply saying “Alabama has a more explosive offense but Georgia dominates the defense” doesn’t really do justice to how the early stats break down for both teams. Take a look.
Which does a better job on the imposing its will front Saturday night?
It’s not just more effective offensive schemes being blamed for the sharp decline in SEC defensive prowess in 2020. SEC coaches themselves are doing a lot of soul searching (not that I blame them for that).
“Maybe it’s COVID and missing spring ball and missing the tackling and the fundamentals, and that has something to do with it,” Kiffin said, “but I would have never guessed this.”
He’s not the only one to indulge in that sort of speculation.
“You’re talking about missing 6 months of prep,” one SEC strength and conditioning coach told me. Remember, these are the coaches who are with players more than any other outside of the 3-month season window.
“Think about this,” he continued. “We’re talking about 15 practices in the spring where any install change is made, and most individual improvement occurs. Spring has always been more hands-on, individual work. Then you have team building and summer conditioning, and you’ve got guys working together and building trust with the guy next to them. All of that is gone now.
“You see guys trying to do other guys’ job during a play. That means two guys are out of position. There’s no trust out there. Whenever you hear a guy on TV say, ‘he’s out of position,’ it’s usually because he’s trying to do two jobs. Defense is about being in position to make a play, and making it – and trusting your teammate will do the same. When you don’t have that chemistry, the whole system breaks down.”
Eh, maybe. But Georgia and Mississippi State are both playing good defense so far, and while you can argue that Georgia had continuity in spades, MSU worked from an entirely new coaching staff and installed a 3-3-5 scheme on defense, to boot.
Another excuse is a familiar one.
“A lot of it has to do with the way the passing game is officiated,” one SEC coach told me. “If your head isn’t turned and looking at the ball in coverage, you’re getting flagged. If you’re fighting for position while the ball is in the air, you’re getting flagged. If you touch a guy after the initial jam, you’re going to get flagged.
“The game is structured to give offenses specific advantages. It’s (BS), if you ask me. But it’s where we are, and we, as coaches, have to find a way around it.”
It’s true, but it’s also nothing new. In other words, where was the decline before?
Then we come to reason number three. And I have to admit this one resonates a little.
“This is on all of us,” one SEC coach told me. “These are basic mistakes players are making in the front seven and the back end, and a lot of that is because of bad coaching, to be honest. It’s like we’re just giving into the idea that the offense is going to score and there’s nothing we can do as coaches to mitigate it. I refuse to believe that.”
Bo Pelini was overrated when he left LSU for Nebraska. Grantham is a one-trick pony and that trick wasn’t meant for spread passing games. Ole Miss has personnel issues on defense, to be sure, but I haven’t seen anything so far to suggest that D.J. Durkin is competent in how he deploys them. Judging from the grumbling of the Tide faithful, Pete Golding is nothing to write home about, either.
However you want to look at it, there are four SEC defenses ranked in the top 30 in defensive yards per play, so at least some of these coaches have a clue. So far, anyway — six SEC quarterbacks rank in the top 20 nationally in passer rating, including three of the top five. We’ll see who gets traction as the season continues.
College football punditry, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so it should come as no surprise that folks are rushing to take note of the rapid decline (or is it demise?) of SEC defenses, seemingly across the board, and providing explanations for the same. Let’s go through one of those.
Let’s look at offense. Facts, unfortunately, are facts.
SEC offenses are finally figuring this out, and it’s something that the Big 12 has been doing for years. In conference games since 2017, Big 12 offenses have thrown the ball on more than 55% of their snaps.
Big 12 pass rate (2014-2020)
Season Total offensive snaps Passing snaps Pass rate 2014 7,054 3,849 54.56% 2015 7,219 3,790 52.50% 2016 7,216 3,795 52.59% 2017 6,824 3,807 55.79% 2018 6,790 3,761 55.39% 2019 6,660 3,762 56.49% 2020 1,987 1,123 56.52%
This had not been the case for SEC offenses in conference games going into this season, as pass rates hovered between 49.32% and 51.7% between 2014 and 2018. Last year saw a sizeable increase — there was a 2.27% one-year rise, putting the conference pass rate at 53.97% — but 2020 has already seen a huge jump from even that. SEC offenses are now passing the ball 57.67% of the time — it’s early yet, but all signs point to the conference breaking the record it set last year.
SEC pass rate (2014-2020)
Season Total offensive snaps Passing snaps Pass rate 2014 8,281 4,201 50.73% 2015 8,145 4,208 51.66% 2016 8,259 4,160 50.37% 2017 8,017 3,954 49.32% 2018 8,077 4,176 51.70% 2019 7,968 4,300 53.97% 2020 3,026 1,745 57.67%
As the SEC passes more, their very pride and joy — their precious defense — has taken a hit.
Not only are SEC offenses throwing more, they’re throwing more on first down and creating more yards per pass. And here comes the depressing part:
This offensive explosion has come just as the spread offense has finally hit the SEC square in the mouth. When Urban Meyer came to Gainesville in 2005, it started that conference down a path to where we are now. Meyer’s Gators were a “spread-to-run” attack that used wider formations and misdirection to run the ball, and we’ve seen a huge shift throughout the SEC in recent years in the use of those single-back formations.
This is not Hal Mumme erasure. The Kentucky Air Raid of the late 1990s, a two-back offense, has just not had the same trickle-down effect that Urban Mayer has had.
It’s bad enough I’ve had to credit Spurrier with revolutionizing SEC offenses in the 1990s. Now I have to give Corch credit? Gag.
But I digress.
The point here is that between increased emphasis on the passing game on all downs, virtually abandoning two-back sets and spreading the field, SEC offensive coordinators have done much to nullify the talent advantage SEC defensive coordinators have enjoyed.
The SEC is still recruiting incredible talent on the defensive end, but the tactics used by these new offenses are mitigating them completely. Spreading defenders out and then continuously throwing into the new voids created by all this space might not just be a trend; it might be the best strategy to use in this sport. We laughed at the Big 12 for years, but they were doing the best they could, given the circumstances. Do we start making “SEC defense is bad” jokes now, or should we wait a couple of years?
It’s already started.
Matt: How about that for a statement game from the Vols, pal? You’ve been doubting us for months. We were beating top 3 Georgia on the road for 2 quarters, and we just couldn’t close it out. Respect us!
Tory: The Vols still haven’t won a game of significance under Jeremy Pruitt. I don’t know any other way to look at it.
If losing by 23 qualifies as a statement game, I have to wonder what Tennessee’s message was.
Bill Connelly dumps all over the best defensive coordinator in college football’s defense and it’s effing glorious.
Week 6 result: Lost to Texas A&M 41-38
Raw statistics: 58th in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), 72nd in total defense (495 yards per game)
SP+ (preseason and present): Third in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 20th after six weeks. As mentioned in Sunday’s SP+ release, a team’s ratings are still derived heavily from preseason projections, so it’s almost impossible for a team projected as high as third to have fallen more than 15-20 spots thus far. If it was possible, the Gators would have done it.
Most damning weakness: Spectacular inefficiency. Florida was seventh in defensive SP+ in 2019, and while the Gators did lose pass-rusher Jonathan Greenard and corner CJ Henderson, most of the two-deep returned, as did defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Maybe you could predict passing-downs issues if the Gators couldn’t sufficiently replace Greenard, but three games into 2020, they have suffered a comprehensive collapse. They are 75th out of 76 teams in success rate allowed — 74th against the run, 70th against the pass. Big plays are random and volatile, but efficiency is predictive, and Florida’s defensive inefficiency has been startling. Texas A&M scored 41 combined points against Vanderbilt and Alabama, then posted 41 on the Gators. The Aggies scored on all but two drives.
Florida just seems a step slow across the board. The Gators are dealing with their fair share of “absent for unspecified reasons” issues on the depth chart, but not more than anyone else. Their biggest issue seems to be that a bunch of players are playing worse than they did last year. That’s semi-encouraging in that we know what they’re capable of, and they could revert to form at some point. But they haven’t yet.
Ray of sunshine: At least they’re not getting gashed deep, too. In 2019, the Gators ranked 21st in my marginal explosiveness measure — my field position-adjusted measure of the magnitude of one’s successful plays — and they’re currently 21st this year, too. For all of A&M’s intermediate success, the Aggies had only two gains of 25-plus yards. None of this matters if you’re giving up constant 15-yard passes, as Florida did in College Station, but it’s at least a sign that the problems could be worse.
I guess we know what needs to be attacked next, then.
I can’t wait to see what happens with Grantham’s annual faux flirtation with the NFL this offseason.
Here are all of his offensive plays against Tennessee.
He missed a few things out there and was lucky the long throw to Pickens wasn’t intercepted. But I’ll say it again — it’s rare when there isn’t at least one open receiving option on a passing play. That is a sea change from what we watched last season. More time, more experience, and this offense should improve.