Hey, Big 12, where's the defense? Coaches defend their D's

Posted Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Big 12 defenses have been taking it on the chin in 2012.

Not just in box scores where offenses seem to have had their way, but in the ever-expanding universe of college football punditry, Big 12 defenses have become the butt of jokes.

Texas coach Mack Brown quipped two weeks ago that the high-scoring offenses had led fans and boosters into knee-jerk responses, including calling for the firing of defensive coordinators. TCU coach Gary Patterson, already weary of the week-to-week firepower coming at him from Big 12 offenses for the first time, said he doesn't sleep as well anymore.

"No, not against those kinds of offenses," Patterson said after losing to Texas Tech 56-53 last week. "I won't be comfortable the rest of my life in this league."

But are defenses in the Big 12 subpar? Or are the league's offenses just so good that most defenses can't keep up? Most of the coaches see it as the latter, while also pointing out that, despite all the gaudy offensive fireworks, some decent defense is still being played in the league.

In fact, despite the powerful offenses throughout the league, four teams rank in the top 23 nationally in total defense: Texas Tech (7), Oklahoma (15), TCU (17) and Kansas State (23).

"Everybody has a quarterback and everybody has skill players," said Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who previously coached at Auburn and Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference, known for dominating defenses. Four SEC teams rank in the top nine in total defense, including Alabama, which leads the country.

"In [the Big 12] it's a little different because you can see a lot of points scored on you in a hurry," said Tuberville, who coached defense at Miami from 1986-93. "You can lose ballgames and lose them very badly if you let it get away from you. In the SEC you weren't going to get a lot of points scored on you because it's more of a running league. Not as many quarterbacks. We have [three] rookie quarterbacks from the Big 12 starting in the NFL from last year. Now we'll have three, maybe four, that will have a chance this year."

Sure, there are some porous defenses in the Big 12. West Virginia and Baylor surely have talented quarterbacks and receivers, but their 70-63 explosion Sept. 29 said more about their defensive liabilities than their offensive strengths. At the time, that wasn't so clear. But when those teams faced superior defenses two weeks later in TCU and Texas Tech, their high-flying offenses were held in check.

And the Horned Frogs' 56-53 loss to the Red Raiders doesn't exactly ring like an endorsement for stout defense, but it was a 26-21 game more than halfway through the fourth quarter. Still, there's the belief that the league's teams can't stop anyone.

"I don't know how anyone could have that perspective," said Patterson, whose TCU defenses have led the nation in total defense five times dating to 2000. "It's just a different style of football than other conferences play."

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, 73, the elder statesman among Big 12 coaches, says the league has evolved over time toward dominating offenses.

"It has kind of grown in that direction and that's kind of the dynamics of the collegiate game over time," Snyder said. "What comes around goes around and over time will probably evolve and go in another direction. But it is broad-based offenses and spread out [formations] and the tremendous talent so many of the teams in our conference have and across the country."

Five of the nation's top 17 offenses are in the Big 12. Eventually, many of the league's coaches agree, defenses will again rule.

"You're seeing more and more defenses [step up]," said Tuberville, whose defense has gone from one of the worst in 2011 to seventh nationally this season. "It gives you an opportunity to win more games when your offense is not playing that well."

Of course, there is some poor defense in the league. Baylor is last in the country, allowing 553.2 yards a game. West Virginia (113th), Texas (107th) and Kansas (85th) are all struggling. Some of that is personnel, some of it is coaching, but much of it has to do with the talented offenses they're facing.

"I just think if you don't get ready to play against the offenses we play against then you're going to give up a lot of numbers," Patterson said. "I think the whole thing circulates. The offense has been up, but I think the defense is getting better. You definitely don't sleep as much. But as long as your offense is doing it, too... nobody cares as long as you win."

In their defense

The Big 12 features five teams in the top 25 in offense but also four teams in the top 25 in defense:

School

Off.

Def.

Oklahoma State

1

45

Baylor

3

120

Texas Tech

11

7

West Virginia

14

113

Oklahoma

17

15

Texas

31

107

TCU

37

17

Kansas State

42

23

Kansas

89

85

Iowa State

101

56

Stefan Stevenson

817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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