Defense On The Rise In Big 12
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dana Holgorsen called Saturday’s offensive performance by his West Virginia offense in a 30-14 loss to Iowa State the worst he’d seen in 30 years of coaching.
The Mountaineers scored one offensive touchdown and gained only 152 yards while running 42 plays.
Was this a one-day blip on the radar or was it a sign of the times in the Big 12, times that well may have been instigated in no small part by West Virginia itself?
Make no doubt, offenses in the Big 12 are not operating with the race car efficiency of the recent past, as noted Saturday when five of the eight teams who played scored fewer than 20 points — WVU 14, Baylor 17, Oklahoma State 12, Texas Tech 17 and TCU 14.
Only two of the other three teams — Iowa State and Kansas State — scored more than 23 points.
Last year, on the corresponding seventh weekend of the year, 7 of 10 Big 12 teams scored more than 23 points, with four of them more than 35 points.
The question, therefore, is what is going on in the Big 12?
Lower scoring would seem to be the result of two trends merging.
First, the Big 12 said goodbye to a spectacular class of quarterbacks last year, the likes of Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma and Mason Randolph of Oklahoma State, experienced players who would be replaced by much younger players this year.
But it seems far more likely that the defenses are beginning to catch up with the spread offenses in the Big 12, and what Iowa State did to corral WVU’s high-octane offense on Saturday was a blue print for success … a blueprint that they and Tony Gibson at WVU have been writing over the past few years.
No less an authority than Gary Patterson, the second longest tenured coach in the conference and acknowledged as the top defensive mind, says so.
“Iowa State has come up with a formula of how to play against the spread offenses,” Patterson began during Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call. “West Virginia really started it. A lot of our teams now on third down have gone to the three-man front with eight back where you can do a lot of different things.
“I’m not a big three-man front person, but we went to it the last three years. It doesn’t allow the big play. You make people have to run the football. You do that in this conference and you cause a lot of problems.”
The venerable Bill Snyder, who has seen a lot in his 27 years of coaching at Kansas State, sees it as part of the natural order of things in football.
“In general, what goes around comes around,” Snyder said. “Everyone want to have the perception that the Big 12 does wild things and plays wide open on offense. Well, the defenses have worked diligently to do something about what’s going on and eventually it changes.”
Snyder notes that really there isn’t very much new being added on offense, even if they do things out of different formations and with different angles.
“Just watching tape, you look at some of the offenses today and say that’s new,” he said. “Then you look at it and they are running the wishbone in their running game without three backs … just a veer option offense that was here years ago.”
The wishbone grew up in Texas and Oklahoma and dominated football with a run-heavy orientation off triple-option football in the late 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s before defenses caught up with it.
Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State argues that both the changing of the game and loss of top line quarterbacks last year has changed the Big 12 game.
“Both have played a role,” he said. “We sent off some big time skill kids, but there’s quality kids coming up. Defenses in this league are figuring out how to slow down these spread, high power offenses.
“Football is coming full cycle in this league.”
Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech, who runs one of the top offenses every year, sees that a change in offensive football and philosphy is slowing down the up tempo approach many Big 12 teams pioneered.
“It’s a cyclical game,” Kingsbury said. “We’re seeing less possessions. You were getting 16 and 17 possessions before. Now it’s 12 possessions per game.”
Last week WVU had four second half possessions against Iowa State.
The defenses, as well as a slower offensive tempo, has slowed things down.
“There’s a different design of coverage now,” Kingsbury noted. “They try to make you snap the ball 12 times in a drive. Before, it was bombs away at all times.”