published Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

SEC defenses struggling to keep up

  • photo
    South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier talks with reporters during the SEC football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When Alabama skunked LSU 21-0 to win the 2011 BCS championship, it capped the most dominant statistical year from a defensive standpoint in Southeastern Conference history.

The Crimson Tide and Tigers not only finished 1-2 in the final polls but in total defense, with South Carolina third in total defense, Georgia fifth and Florida eighth. Just two years later, the once-unyielding SEC has been transformed into a pinball machine spewing out final scores such as 39-35, 41-30 and 49-42.

"The more you look at it, the more you see that the offenses are difficult to stop," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I was talking to [Oklahoma coach] Bobby Stoops about it earlier, and everybody's all spread out now. We're not running the I-formation up the middle, so there is a lot of room on the field for fast players. The ball is going all over the place now.

"It doesn't go into the quarterback's hands, and he hands to the tailback and there's a big wad of people. There is not a wad around tackles much anymore, and individual tackles are hard. It's hard to make one-on-one tackles on a good ball carrier."

Spurrier's "Fun 'N' Gun" offenses at Florida two decades ago were quick to tack on the points, but now everyone is either piling them up or getting left behind.

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    Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Alabama has scored at least 31 points in seven consecutive games. Georgia has scored at least 28 points in nine consecutive games, surpassing 40 in five of those. LSU has scored 35 or more points in all four games this season, while Texas A&M has scored more than 40 points seven consecutive times.

Missouri has scored at least 38 points in every game this season. Ole Miss, which went just 2-10 two years ago, has scored 30 or more points in six straight games.

The SEC's defining game so far this season was Alabama's 49-42 win at Texas A&M on Sept. 14, an explosion that contained 1,196 yards of total offense. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel riddled the Crimson Tide for 464 passing yards and five touchdowns, while Alabama counterpart AJ McCarron inflicted damage, too, with 334 yards and four scores.

The SEC's defining game during the 2011 regular season? LSU's 9-6 overtime win at Alabama.

"I think every year you have different strengths and weaknesses relative to the various teams in your conference," Crimson Tide coach Nick 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."

It is an unusually loaded year in respect to experienced quarterbacks, including seniors McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Bo Wallace of Ole Miss is an experienced junior, and sophomore Manziel won last season's Heisman Trophy.

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    Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Combine those quarterbacks with more up-tempo offenses spreading the field, and it equals tough times for SEC defenses that have stockpiled NFL drafts in recent years. Florida has the only current national top-10 defense in the league; Arkansas ranks 18th but hasn't played an SEC foe yet. The Razorbacks host high-powered Texas A&M on Saturday.

Florida and Auburn won recent BCS championships by using a spread offense, which now is used by half the league and at a very rapid pace.

"I wish there were only a few that did it, and I wish it wouldn't grow too much," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "I firmly believe that it's very advantageous for us at Ole Miss, and I do think it has provided some help for us in recruiting. I know there are many more now going to it that will equal that field somewhat.

"I do believe, firmly, that if you have the best offensive line in the country and the best backs and the best defense, I don't know that this is the best answer for you, but if you don't feel like you're in a place where you're always going to have that, I do think it's a great equalizer."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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