End of an era?

David Wunderlich’s latest post is interesting to me, not because of its now anodyne “Dan Mullen must recruit better” theme (although I am enamored of his “23rd nationally in the 247 Sports Composite, right below South Carolina and Georgia Tech and just ahead of Iowa State and Rutgers” note on Florida’s current recruiting status), but because he makes an argument that, generally, college football has entered a new phase, offensively speaking.

It’s because college football is in a phase where talent is largely winning out over scheme.

… The decade from about 2004-2013 was the era when spread schemes of all kinds from the Meyer-style option attacks to the very simple pass attack at Baylor that spread the field literally as wide as is possible. That was a time when Chip Kelly could take Oregon to the national title game in 2010 while sporting a four-year recruiting average of 18.75 according to Rivals, and everyone thought the other team in the game was the flukey performer.

Era definitions are always fuzzy, but that time was when Dan Mullen rose to prominence as quarterbacks coach at Utah, offensive coordinator at Florida, and head coach at Mississippi State.

I marked 2014 as the beginning of a new era because that’s when Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin to run his offense. One of the most successful run-and-defense coaches gave in and decided to ride the new wave of offense.

… The big powers have subsumed all of the spread’s tricks. What comes after the spread is unclear…

But while offenses are still ahead of defenses, there are no attacks that are so schematically unique anymore that they can lift up a team that averages a recruiting ranking in the teens to true national contention.

Or, to put it more succinctly, in the words of Kirby Smart, “… Guys, if you don’t recruit, there’s no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting. I don’t care who you are. The best coach to ever play the game better be a good recruiter because no coaching is going to out-coach players.”

I’m not sure I buy the argument in its totality.  For one thing, nobody else is duplicating Georgia’s defensive success this season.  But I will say that I think David’s right about defenses starting to catch up to offenses again and if we are in fact entering a time where the strategic playing field is leveled to some extent between the two, then, yes, talent returns to playing its longstanding role before the spread upset the general state of affairs.



Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

35 responses to “End of an era?

  1. The pendulum has FINALLY swung back to where defensive minds have figured out some viable counters to the recent offensive explosion. It seems to be as simple as get the biggest, fastest front 7 you can to push back the line of scrimmage and make the QB miserable. I’m oversimplifying of course b/c I’m just a fan, not a coach in the arena.

    I also think the overall quality of athletes has leaped forward in the last 10 years due to training, nutrition, superior scouting via the internet, etc. So the talent gap is potentially much more extreme.

    Fortunately for us, we have a coach who is:

    1) An incredible recruiter of players AND coaches.
    2) A good on the field coach.
    3) People LIKE working for him.
    4) He’s at his alma mater.
    5) He’s got his alma mater on board with spending money.

    I think we are about to go on a 10 year run that’s going to be very sweet. I’m just glad I’m alive to finally see it.

    15-0. This is our year.

    Liked by 20 people

  2. fisheriesdawg

    So…a thought exercise. Let’s say you give Paul Johnson or Jeff Monken the full Alabama, Georgia, or Ohio State roster in 2022. How does that play out? It’ll never happen because that system is itself an impediment to recruiting (on both sides of the ball), but it would be fascinating to see how it would work with a barn full of talented players because nobody is built to stop it on defense and the ball control aspect limits the other side’s opportunities to be explosive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek

      Year 1 or year 5?

      You give CPJ the right qb and a loaded roster and he’s laying people to waste, initially. And then it will trail off because it isn’t attractive to the best players out there.

      His first year, 2008, was the high water mark for tech under CPJ for a reason.

      Liked by 2 people

    • J.R. Clark

      Easy answer – go watch 1973-1979 Alabama football games on YouTube.


  3. David D

    “Mullen needs to realize the cyclical sport of college football is in a new cycle. He can scheme a win against Georgia in 2020 when the Bulldogs are caught without a good quarterback and have several key defensive players out. That’s not a consistent path to victory.”

    This is the FIRST time I’ve ever seen in writing a Gator-centric writer (or, fan for that matter) acknowledge that Georgia, was indeed, handicapped last year. And I still believe had Stetson not gone down we had a punchers chance of coming back in that game ’cause we had chances.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kirby was giving credit to his players over coaching with a touch of truth / reality. Ed O and his LSU staff would take the UGA squad to the SECCG, but I would not be confident of the outcome and beyond. Kirby or Saban (and their staffs) could probably not get this year’s LSU team to the SECCG.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. stoopnagle

    OK, but Kirby learned his mantra from Saban as long ago as 2003 at LSU. Saban has been out-recruiting everyone since then. Yes, there are some schematic things going on, but by and large, Alabama has won everything all the damn time. I’m not sure there’s been much of a sea change really.


    • 79dawg

      You are not looking at the right horizon – Saban left LSU for his interlude in Miami shortly thereafter – when he returned to CFB and Bama, it took him a few years to build the death star, and people really began to catch on to what was going on… It’s pretty easy to see Oscar and Day, Dabo and now Kirby have copied/accelerated it the past 5-8 years or so….


  6. theotherdoug

    Mullen’s offense is successful enough. Sure he could use a better QB and an elite WR, but they’re putting up points.

    The Jimmys and Joes really matter on defense and that’s where the Gators are truly awful.


    • W Cobb Dawg

      Agree. Grantham was a lousy recruiter. I don’t believe FU has anywhere to go but up when they hire his replacement. But I still have some confidence Mullen will f#*k the hire up. He’s just not a ‘details matter’ kinda guy.


  7. Christopher Moore

    A team’s defensive ceiling is determined by the ability to get pressure from the interior D-line. That’s was Georgia’s limitation in 2019, and why they couldn’t stop LSU from scoring. When Davis and Wyatt are getting and beating double teams the rest of our defense is going 9 on 6. No scheme can bail an offense out of that. Throw in the fact that our linebackers hit like safeties and cover like corners and it makes things even more challenging. I remember the days of Ramik Wilson, Jordan Jenkins, and Amarlo Herrera. Teams would attack them in the passing game… they always had good coverage but could never turn around to play the ball. We don’t have that problem anymore.

    Liked by 3 people

    • W Cobb Dawg

      I said this before, but I think the fact we have the top D linemen is the most obvious reason we’ve moved ahead of Bama. The media may say its the high flying passing attacks that won recent nattys, but just as strong an argument can be made that they were won in the trenches.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. jim1886

    First, Florida is 34th now, after they lost the last several decommits.
    Dan Mullen is a good oc and qb coach, but ABSOLUTELY a lousy head coach.
    It is time that the sports writers recognized it


  9. charlottedawg

    Scheme has never been nor ever will be more important than talent. Scheme can optimize talent and give some advantage to a lesser talented team but scheme alone can only take you so far. This is evidenced by the fact that no national champion has ever emerged from outside the top 10 of the 247 composite talent index which is just a simple ranking of teams based on the recruiting stars on the roster. Talent is a ceiling, you can have a roster full of 4 and 5 stars and suck but you’re not developing a roster full of 3 and 4 stars into a national champion, especially in the CFP era where you now have to beat two top 4 teams as opposed to the bcs or bowl era where you only had to beat one top team and an underdog might benefit from some random luck bounces in one game against a powerhouse. Wunderlich points to the Florida teams when Mullen was offensive coordinator as an example of scheme winning games but conveniently ignores that urban was reeling in top 5 if not #1 classes under urban Meyer.


    Liked by 1 person

    • siskey

      This is correct. I don’t think it takes a real genius to give the ball to Percy or throw deep to Rainey. Combine that with the excellent defenses they had down there in 06, 08-09 and you have the recipe for winning. Tebow was Bennett with better PR and lack of concussion awareness.


  10. dawgphan34

    Can’t out coach talent and you cant out recruit money.

    Scheme is obviously super important when you meet a team that is just as talented as you are. Right now for UGA there are only 2 other teams that compare talent wise and Smart and Co will need to out coach them to win.


  11. Darin Cochran

    I just wonder how long it will be before the majority of cfb teams rise up and say, enough is enough…do something about leveling the playing field in recruiting somehow or there is no sense in any of the rest of us even playing the game. No one can compete with Bama, UGA, Ohio st, and a few others…Notre Dame, Clemson and Oklahoma when it comes to recruiting.. They get the pick of the 5-star litter and everyone else has to scrounge for the leftovers.
    On the flip side of this argument, some might point out that Jordan Davis and Wyatt were both 3 star recruits. So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to have the best DLine the game has ever seen and it NOT be full of five star players. I suppose someone could counter my first paragraph with this argument. But the truth is, our D is full of five stars everywhere else and if it were not for that fact, it wouldn’t be the best D that the has come down the pike in like…forever.


    • Biggen

      I just wonder how long it will be before the majority of cfb teams rise up and say, enough is enough…do something about leveling the playing field in recruiting somehow or there is no sense in any of the rest of us even playing the game

      As long as that sweet conference and TV money keeps rolling in, they keep playing the game.


  12. sundiatagaines

    The fact that nobody is playing defense like us might bolster the argument. We have the Jimmies and Joes that nobody else does. Or maybe, defensive scheming is the new offensive scheming, and Smart/Lanning are the present day equivalent of Chip Kelly. But I think it’s more the former.


  13. Scheme wins games. Talent wins championships.

    Talent isn’t always determined in a kid’s junior/senior year of high school.

    A team of 3-4*s can overshoot by playing a similar talent schedule and then winning a couple of games late against superior talent by outscheming, OR out-lucking.

    Cincy might get their chance this year to test these theories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • siskey

      I would prefer that we not play them first IF we get into the Playoff. I would rather see Cincy play OSU and either uses up all their emotion in that game by winning or lose and be out. I think that they will again play us tough because they have a smart defensive coach. I don’t think they can move the ball on us but their QB is a good runner and he has to be mad about how we shut him down in the 2d half last year.


  14. csmoore2021

    I want OU or Cincy in the first round of the playoff.


  15. signaldawg

    Obviously the Jimmies and Joes are the most important component. The best performing teams are also the best recruiting teams typically. But Kirby is selling himself and his staff short. I can’t say that I’ve seen a more disciplined team at UGA. Have we even had a single targeting call this year? Guys are playing their assignments for the most part. They have done a hell of a job coaching this bunch. When you combine great players with great coaching you get a championship team, which is this team is headed.


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