Defense On The Rise In Big 12?
ARLINGTON, Texas – The perception of the Big 12 as a defense-deficient league was a recurrent theme (again) at Big 12 Media Days, and new West Virginia head coach Neal Brown wasn’t alone in getting a couple of queries about that issue. Noted for building solid defenses at Troy, one of his many tasks at WVU will be to rebuild a unit that can slow Big 12 offenses.
Brown, like several coaches at the league’s showcase, at least sense a shift in the “offense only” perception, and note that new coaching hires, some shifting offensive priorities, and perhaps an inevitable downturn in the extraordinary talent at quarterback could all contribute to better defensive results.
“There has been an extremely high level of quarterback play in this league going back to 2008 or so,” said Brown, who has his own experience in the league as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2010-12. “The run of quarterbacks over the last 10 to 12 years has been remarkable. Regardless of what conference you’re in, it’s hard to defend them. It’s hard to defend those type of quarterbacks. I do think the defenses in this league are better than maybe what’s presented on the national stage.”
Defensive end Reese Donahue accurate points out that the fast pace of many Big 12 offenses contributes to high point totals, but that too might be changing. Several coaches hinted, if not said outright, that tight ends, more running, and more balanced offensive attacks could be in the offing. Brown, who has had a six year hiatus from the Big 12, sees the potential for a shift.
“In ’10, ’11 and ’12 when we were at Texas Tech, those are some of the best offenses in the country at that time. I think you change, the game evolves,” Brown explained. “We won’t look the same that we did. Last time I called plays in this league in 2012 at Texas Tech, we’ve evolved. We’ve changed. We are probably a little bit more balanced now than we were at that point. If you look at what’s being done in this league, I think it is changing. I think that with some of the recent hires it will continue to improve.”
That includes new Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch as well as West Virginia’s Vic Koenning, who brings a wealth of experience and a different defensive system to WVU. Will they be able to slow offenses on their own merits?
“Being a play caller in this league three years I do understand what we’re getting into,” Brown said, perhaps unconsciously echoing the sympathy extended by league commissioner Bob Bowlsby a day earlier, who noted he did not envy the task of the new head coaches. “This is a league with a ton of dynamic offensive play callers, quarterbacks and playmakers on the offensive side. You will have to score to win games, but I do think it’s important if you look at the teams that have had the most success it’s been the teams that have been able to run the ball, especially when people know you’re going to run the ball. Those are the teams that have won close games.”