This football season has been characterized by the contrasting styles of football, epitomized so long by Alabama and Oregon.
One key to the upcoming Central Arkansas-Georgia Southern game will be which style will prevail — the Bears’ spread passing attack vs. the Eagles’ triple option.
The truth is both teams need to be at least a little effective at both.
The statement by Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken that "everybody we play is contrasting styles" reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about the Big 12 style of football.
The common perception is that the Big 12 — with most games having basketball-type scores — plays no defense.
And note that the top teams in college football, Notre Dame and Alabama, are probably the two best defensive teams.
Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is now the favorite for the Heisman Trophy because he has zipped through most SEC defenses, including Alabama’s, with the effectiveness Big 12 quarterbacks are doing to rival defenses in that league. Manziel’s scrambling, free-for-all style is not entirely the Big 12 prototype. But the point is that the Big 12 is a quarterback-receiver oriented conference. With few exceptions, the SEC does not have exceptional quarterbacks (particularly at the top). They are more like game-managers and they are making that work.
SEC defenses don’t have to face, game after game, quarterbacks with the offense-generating ability of Texas Tech’s Seth Doege, Baylor’s Nick Florence, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, West Virginia’s Geno Smith, etc. along with their possession of athletic receivers.
But the real key is pace. The traditional SEC powers such as Alabama and LSU, may average 60-something plays a game. It’s not unusual for teams from the Big 12 and other more wide-open conferences to run 90 or 100 plays with scoring drives often at 1:30 or less. Those teams like to snap the ball at about every 17 seconds or faster.
It’s almost like intramural flag football on steroids.
Alabama’s Nick Saban, one of the gurus of college coaching, wants his defense off the field for four- or five-minute segments for optimum efficiency, so the hurry-up style makes the control-freak, defensive genius fidgety. That raises the question of whether it’s best for SEC schools with coaching vacancies to go head-to-head with Saban in style or go for a coach with a style and pace that aggravates him more.
The downside of the fast-paced, Arena football offense is defenses don’t get as much rest time. They get tend to get tired, get caught out of position, don’t play as fundamentally sound and are more vulnerable. And, they tend to use the offense as a crutch.
A "first-team-to-50" or "whoever gets the ball last" mentality ensues. A game comes down to one or two stops rather than one decided on dominating defense.
With that said, three of the top five assistants who are semifinalists for the Broyles Award are defensive coordinators.
Good defense is still winning championships and likely always will. But there is a changing perspective of what good defense is. We’re even seeing this in the SEC that teams such as Texas A&M and Ole Miss may be gradually changing the mindset and intiatiating a new culture.
That means a change of perspective that good defense could be yielding four touchdowns, fewer than 400 yards, making two or three stops. Turnover margin, especially those that produce a short field, becomes magnified — although one could make the argument that turnover margin is a key stat in any philosophy.
We’re definitely seeing a clash. It’s not unlike the confrontation between up-tempo, fast-breaking teams in basketball (with the emphasis on possessions) vs. the half-court, defense-oriented teams (with the emphasis on quality possessions).
New school vs. old school. Most every team tries to find the best mix of both.
The traditional defense-field position style is holding its own at the top, but the faster pace is making major strides.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)