The Big 12’s chicken or the egg conundrum has fully engulfed SEC country: Are the offenses really that good or are the defenses really that bad?
Just a fair warning, SEC: it’s a tired debate that goes in circles. The Big 12 spent years fighting the notion that its teams didn’t play defense. In some respects, it’s still fighting it. But like most answers, the reality was/is somewhere in the middle. Big 12 defenses always should have been graded on a curve given how good the offenses were.
Much of the same can be said for the SEC and the ACC exiting Week 6 with overs on totals hitting in 13 of the 14 games played. Are the offenses that good, or are the defenses that bad? In short: yes.
How could you not look at No. 2 Alabama’s 63-48 win over Ole Miss and not be blown away by the offenses? The 1,370 total yards of offense between the two were the most in the history of a regulation SEC game. There’s first-round talent up and down Alabama’s offense, but Lane Kiffin has Ole Miss’ Xs and Os dialed up for maximum point scoring. There was some truly great football being played.
At the same time, Alabama’s defense is clearly not what it used to be. The Tide have allowed at least 42 points three times in the last eight games. Before that, Alabama had allowed at least 42 in three of its previous 65 games, per CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. And Ole Miss’ defense? Somehow even worse.
Let’s switch to No. 21 Texas A&M’s 41-38 win over No. 4 Florida. Was that good offense? Of course. Quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts have been dominating the stat sheets through the first three games, connecting for seven touchdowns. These two guys are going to be playing in the NFL. Same with Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller, who had 174 yards and two touchdowns. And say what you will about Kellen Mond, but he threw some great passes against the Gators.
At the same time, Florida looked all out of sorts on defense. Bad angles, bad tackling … just a lot of bad in general. That’s something the Gators have been able to mask because they were winning. The same can’t be said for No. 17 LSU, whose defense has now been torched by Mississippi State and Missouri as part of a 1-2 start. The rebuild that the Tigers are undergoing on that side of the ball is proving to be a bigger task than many realized. New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has had an awful start as well.
So, to answer the question. It’s both. And sometimes it’s another thing entirely. In the ACC, No. 19 Virginia Tech was without 15 players against No. 8 North Carolina in a 56-45 loss, including two starting safeties, because of COVID-19 and contact tracing. Depth charts all across the landscape are taking massive hits this year because of it.
This season was always set up to be unconventional because of all the disruptions coupled with annual turnover. The byproduct is sloppy football, but also offenses having the edge more than they normally do. Put in great offensive minds like Dan Mullen, Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, etc, and this is life for the SEC now.
Here’s what else we learned from Week 6.
Miami’s not there yet
Sort of how Louisville wasn’t ready for the spotlight against the Hurricanes in September, No. 7 Miami’s not ready to contend for an ACC championship against Clemson. Not yet. The Canes upgraded their quarterback, but there are still holes evident from the 42-17 loss to top-ranked Clemson. The O-line didn’t give D’Eriq King the best protection, the running game wasn’t a factor and wide receivers had a hard time getting open. Part of that is Clemson’s elite defense. But it showed that even though Miami is more exciting to watch, the gap between itself and college football’s best is still wide.
If Tennessee was going to upset Georgia, it would have to do so leaning on its offensive line and run game. That didn’t happen in the 44-21 loss to the Bulldogs. The Vols had the SEC’s second-best rushing attack heading into Saturday. After 60 minutes, their running backs had 36 yards on 16 carries and no touchdowns. While quarterback Jarrett Guarantano didn’t play well, he also didn’t have a lot of protection. Granted, Georgia’s defense is exceptional. It might be the best in the country. But if Tennessee wants to get into that same echelon, it needs to be better in its biggest games. Georgia and Tennessee aren’t too dissimilar in how they prefer to win games. Georgia just did it way better.
Kansas State, creator of Big 12 chaos
The Fightin’ Chris Kliemans keep on getting Ws they’re not supposed to get. K-State upset TCU 21-14 as about a touchdown underdog without their quarterback Skylar Thompson. That’s the second time in the last three weeks the Wildcats have scored a win as road dogs, the other time being against Oklahoma. K-State has now won three games since its opening loss to Arkansas State. The defense is really disruptive and this is a well-coached, solid team. The Big 12 is already upside down and Kansas State is picking off wins in spots it’s not supposed to.
Mississippi State’s Air Raid honeymoon ended quickly
For all the talk about SEC offenses, who would have thought the team without an offensive touchdown in Week 6 would be Mississippi State. Remember when Mike Leach’s team took down the defending national champions with more than 600 yards passing? It feels like a lifetime ago. The one thing about first game overreactions is that they tend to really overcorrect over time. Such is the case with Mississippi State. In a 24-2 loss to Kentucky, the Bulldogs’ offense threw the ball 70 times at 3.9 yards per attempt without scoring a single touchdown and throwing six interceptions. That’d be impressive if it wasn’t so abysmal. Since defeating LSU, Leach’s team has scored 14 points in two losses.
Notre Dame’s ground game gives it a chance in the ACC
The fifth-ranked Fighting Irish got more of a fight from Florida State than most probably expected, but one thing we learned in the 42-26 win is that the ground game is legit. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree combined for 288 of Notre Dame’s 353 yards on the ground at well over nine yards per carry. Can Notre Dame keep up that ground attack against Clemson in November? It’s this team’s best chance to usurp the ACC champs in the regular season.
Sam Pittman is already better than Chad Morris at Arkansas
Forget that Arkansas lost, controversially, to Auburn 30-28. The Razorbacks feel they could have, and maybe should have, won that game. And they’d be justified in feeling that way. In any case, Arkansas has been way more competitive under Pittman in his first year. Through three games, they put Georgia on the ropes for a half, upset Mississippi State and nearly pulled off another one against Auburn. Who knows how many games Arkansas will win this year, but they’re clearly punching up in a way that never happened when Morris was the coach. If the Hogs get three or four wins in a conference-only schedule — Morris never won more than two — Pittman should get votes for SEC Coach of the Year.