Time to stick a fork in this myth: The Big 12 is good at defense.
But, um, the problem is the conference is good at defending itself against charges that its best teams are defensively challenged. This discussion and debate has been ongoing for the last four of five seasons but it has ramped up thanks to Oklahoma’s 62-52 Bedlam victory – called “arena football” by one pundit – and Saturday’s College Football Playoff elimination game in Norman between No. 6 (CFP ranking) TCU and the No. 5 Sooners.
Bedlam offered a buffet of offense. Two senior quarterbacks (OU’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph) were handing off to and throwing to two of the nation’s most talented groups of skill players. Mayfield set a school record with 598 yards passing six touchdowns. Rudolph had 448 yards passing and sophomore Justice Hill gained 228 yards rushing but it wasn’t enough. The Sooners finished with 785 yards in total offense against a defense that entered the game 16th in total defense.
Many outside the Big 12 footprint scoff at the crooked triple digits being posted by claiming the league’s defenses are sponsored by Kleenex. The Big 12 is all about the “o” and the teams don’t play “d.”
First-year Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s response: “That’s uneducated.”
Which is a civil way to say: “That’s stupid.”
Riley’s predecessor Bob Stoops reveled in throwing jibes at the Southeastern Conference’s high-falutin’ claims of football superiority because of its rock-hard defenses.
“We didn’t have any problem moving the ball against SEC defenses,” Riley said, referring to recent bowl victories over Alabama and Auburn.
A lot of this is as unresolved as the chicken and the egg debate. Are SEC defenses statistically superior because they face mundane quarterbacks/offenses? Are Big 12 offenses so talented and well-designed that holding them to 40 or less is considered an achievement?
“That’s like saying you’re not a good boxer because you lost to Mike Tyson in his prime,” TCU defensive back Nico Small said of Big 12 defenses being downgraded because of facing Big 12 offenses.
The top two teams in this week’s CFP rankings (Georgia and Alabama) are No. 2 and No. 4 in total defense. TCU is No. 6. The Frogs are also sixth in scoring defense, seventh in third-down defense, third in red-zone defense and 10th in fewest first downs allowed. TCU also leads the nation – ahead of Alabama – in that Big Boy stat, rushing defense.
The Frogs are facing the nation’s No. 1 offense for the second time this season. In September, TCU knocked off No. 6 Oklahoma State, 44-31. The Frogs forced three turnovers and controlled the game with their rushing attack while “limiting” the Cowboys to 499 total yards.
“Everybody should have to play those two offenses, to be honest,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said of the two Oklahoma schools. “Then they’d find out.”
Saturday night in prime time it will be a classic battle of prolific offense vs. stingy defense. No matter which team wins, it won’t quiet style arguments that the Big 12 has discovered are indefensible.
This week in complimentary correspondence
Few billionaire boosters have had the impact on an athletic program as T. Boone Pickens. His donations helped renovate the football stadium that now bears his name. Pickens also likes to hold court in the facility’s press box, spouting his opinions on his beloved Cowboys.
Pickens’ relationship with coach Mike Gundy has been prickly. So it was surprising that Pickens sent a note of support following Saturday’s Bedlam loss to Oklahoma.
— T. Boone Pickens (@boonepickens) November 6, 2017
Gundy also authored a complimentary note. Much like Kansas State’s Bill Snyder has done on countless occasions, Gundy took pen to paper and sent a note to Iowa State linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning after the Cyclones upset third-ranked Oklahoma. Gundy’s comments centered on Lanning’s toughness and versatility.
“It was nice of him to write that for me,” Lanning told the Des Moines Register this week. “I really didn’t expect it at all because we still had to play them. Maybe after the fact, after the game he’d say something to me. I appreciate it. It was a nice letter. He just appreciated what I did and how I’m playing and stuff like that.”
Oklahoma State visits Ames Saturday to face Iowa State with the loser dropping from contention to play in the Big 12 championship game.
Rock Chalk football talk
Kansas plays at Texas Saturday. The Jayhawks’ stunning victory in Lawrence last season ended Charlie Strong’s tenure with the Longhorns and resulted in a contract extension for KU’s David Beaty and jump-started a $300 million plan to renovate Memorial Stadium.
Nearing the end of his third season, Beaty has a 3-30 record and there’s a good chance by the end of this season his only Big 12 victory in 27 games will be the victory over Texas. As Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan points out, Beaty has not followed the game plan he set forth on the day he was hired. As opposed to the ill-fated recruiting plan used by his predecessor Charlie Weis, Beaty planned to build the program by recruiting and developing high school players.
Keegan’s calculations indicate that KU has used 45 scholarships on high school players and 29 on transfers from either junior colleges or four-year schools.
Athletic director Sheahon Zenger, who is also under fire for hiring Weis and Beaty, said he believes coaching continuity is important. However, as Keegan points out, in three seasons Beaty has had three defensive line coaches, three offensive coordinators, three quarterback coaches, three wide receivers coaches, three defensive line coaches, two special-teams coordinators, two linebacker coaches and two running backs coaches.
But basketball season starts Friday so … who cares, right?
Progress? Not measured in wins
This is hardly what most expected from Texas in Tom Herman’s first season. The Longhorns, who figure to avenge its meme-worthy loss at Kansas, needs to win two of its last three games to become bowl eligible. In other words, this season is much like the previous three seasons.
Texas has lost four games to top 10 teams by a total of 28 points – 21 if you discount TCU’s late, oh-by-the-way touchdown Saturday in Fort Worth. In those four games, UT has just seven offensive touchdowns and is averaging 335 yards per game in total offense. The offensive line has been FCS quality. The Longhorns are averaging 64.5 yards in those four top 10 games and the Texas QBs have been sacked 18 times.
A reason and not an excuse is that the UT offensive line is without three veterans who have been lost to injury so the unit is thin and inexperienced.
“I think fixing the problem is probably a very tall order to expect in three weeks,” Herman said this week. “All of the issues aren’t gonna be solved. They’re gonna be solved through bowl practices, winter offseason, spring football and all of that. So I think the biggest thing that we can do as a staff is mask the deficiencies as best we can.”
Mike Finger, former Texas beat writer and now a columnist for the an San Antonio Express-News, called bool sheet on that statement.
This is lame. Mighty Iowa State is starting three freshman/sophomore OLs who couldn't have sniffed a UT scholarship. https://t.co/mtGu7K9V6a
— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 6, 2017
But Herman also is taking heat for his staff hires and said this week he plans no changes in the off-season. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck has been second-guessed regarding play calling and personnel packages while offensive line coach Derek Warhime has been questioned about a lack of progress and improvement.
TCU coach Gary Patterson, who is also the Frogs’ defensive coordinator, on facing Oklahoma, the nation’s top offense:
“I’ll take my baby aspirin and my antacid and keep staring at the (game) clock, hoping it goes a little faster. That’s what every defensive coordinator goes through in this league.”