Sept. 30, 2013
LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is one of the quarterbacks putting up big numbers this season (USA Today)
By Phillip Marshall
The numbers tell the story. Defense is out of style in the Southeastern Conference.
Maybe it’s talented and experienced quarterbacks like Georgia’s Aaron Murray, LSU Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Maybe it’s up-tempo offenses, spreading like kudzu. Maybe the defenses just aren’t as good. Whatever the reason, SEC teams are scoring points against each other at an unprecedented clip.
Five weeks into the season, 11 conference games are in the books. In five of those games, each team scored 30 points or more. In eight of them, the winning team scored 31 points or more. The average winning team has scored 35.6 points. The average losing team has scored 24.6 points.
Those numbers would be even higher if nonconference games against overmatched opponents were added.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says he sees three primary causes to the explosion of offense in a league known for defense.
He points to experienced quarterbacks and to the defensive players lost to the NFL draft after last season. And then there are those pesky up-tempo offenses.
Auburn, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Missouri, Mississippi State and Kentucky all run versions of hurryup, no-huddle offenses. Other teams use those kinds of schemes part-time. Even Alabama coach Nick Saban, on a one-man crusade for changing rules to slow those offenses down, says he might be forced to consider taking the leap.
“I think it’s taken this conference a little longer to go to tempo type offenses,” Johnson said. “Sometimes that affects both sides of the ball. You are seeing scores go up and yardage go up and turnovers go up and a lot of things go up. You have to be prepared to play against so many different styles of offense in this conference against the greatest athletes in the country. It’s tough to keep people off the board.”
Only three SEC teams rank higher than No. 41 nationally in scoring defense. Florida is No. 8 at 12.8 points per game, Alabama No. 13 at 14.5 points per game and Mississippi State No. 16 at 14.8 points per game. Missouri is next at No. 41, giving up 21 points per game. Auburn is No. 46 at 22 points per game.
Georgia is 3-1 and ranked No. 6 but has given up 30 points or more three times and is last in the SEC in scoring defense. Texas A&M is 3-1 and ranked No. 9 but is 13th in scoring defense.
The two most-watched games in the SEC so far this season have been track meets. Alabama beat Texas A&M 49-42 on Sept. 14. Last Saturday, Georgia beat LSU 44-41.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who was an offensive guru when offense wasn’t cool in the SEC, says coaches need to get used to it.
"The more you look at it the more you see that the offenses are difficult to stop. They really are," Spurrier said. "The offenses do have a little bit of an advantage. I think the really good teams are going to have to play some offense. Defenses may give up a few more points than they used to."
Saban isn’t so sure it’s anything more than a cycle that will eventually turn back to defense.
"I think every year you have different strengths and weaknesses relative to the various teams in your conference,” Saban said. “This year, we have some really high-powered offensive teams. I just think it's a circumstance of this particular year relative to the number of good quarterbacks and good offensive teams that we have in our league.
“There are a lot of explosive players on offense, and maybe there aren’t as many dominant defensive players.”
LSU coach Les Miles says he expects it to change before this season is even over.
“I think it will eventually be a defensive league this year,” Mile said. Of course, he said that three days before Georgia hung 44 on his team.
Johnson says offense evolve constantly, forcing defensive coordinators to adjust season after season and game after game.
“Somebody puts a new wrinkle in those systems,” Johnson said. “Somebody has a little different way of lining up in a formation that puts you in stress in coverage or play-action passes, unbalanced formations. Once you get it schemed up, they come up with something to get you out of place. It’s a never-ending process.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: