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.