The Norman Transcript

October 5, 2012

Defense can’t catch a break in conference


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Being a defensive coordinator is getting tougher every day. Big 12 Conference teams are scoring points at a ridiculous rate. That’s nothing new, but the rest of college football seems to be catching on. Stopping offenses seems to be impossible. Slowing them has now become the goal.

“There are a lot of innovative minds out there. They’ve got too much time on their hands,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “They need to pick up some hobbies or something. “

That likely won’t happen until the offseason. Until then, Stoops has to deal with a conference schedule where offenses are leading the charge. Defenses are struggling to catch up.

There are a lot of reasons for the offense vs. defense mismatch. The quarterbacks and receivers are better than they’ve ever been because they’ve spent their entire football lives playing in spread offenses. They’ve been attending 7-on-7 camps since junior high.

Another issue that has clearly benefited offenses, and hurt defenses, is player safety.

For generations, one of the deterrents to wide receivers crossing the middle of the field was they might get knocked senseless. Linebackers and safeties punished any player who tried to catch a ball in their area. Wide receivers knew catching the ball in the middle came with a price. Some wouldn’t pay.

Rule changes that have penalized helmet-to-helmet hits and targeting defenseless players have greatly reduced the intimidation factor that once existed.

Tackling, which is essential in slowing a short passing attack, seems to get worse every season. Teams do less in practice in an effort to keep players healthy for games.

The speed at which plays are run is another disadvantage to defenses. Offenses get to the line of scrimmage with 30 seconds left on the play clock. Then they try to get defenses to show their hand and audible accordingly. The Sooners have used this trick since 2008.

It’s like a game of chess, but the offense is making two moves while the defense gets one.

Offenses have taken advantage, and athletic directors have noticed. At the FBS level, there were 14 coaches who received their first head coaching jobs in the offseason. Twelve had offensive backgrounds. Only two were defensive coordinators.

Stoops is back at OU because he got fired at Arizona. The Wildcats replaced him with an offensive-minded coach. The trend has offensive minds becoming the dominant force in the game.

However, the trend to win national championships remains entrenched with defense. The SEC has won six national championships. Only one of those teams — Auburn in 2010 — lacked a dominant defense. The rest did.

Mike Stoops firmly believes that’s where OU’s future is heading.

“I still think you win with defense. I just think at some point, to win championships, it comes down to stops, “ he said. “Like any team, they’re going to score points, and you’ve got to shake it off and you’ve got to go back, and you’ve got to get a stop. I think that’s what games are going to come to in critical situations. You can’t let them score every time they get the ball. You’ve got to come up with some stops.”

John ShinnFollow me @john_shinnjshinn@normantranscript.com

For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.