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.