Hank Glassner’s column made the point that playing quality defense is the ideal way to achieve victory in college football.
He wrote that the ideal hire for Indiana Football would be a defensive coaching specialist, and noted that IU’s defense has not improved under the offensive-minded Kevin Wilson. He backed this up with information regarding the defensive rankings of recent national champions.
With the help of sports-reference.com/cfb, allow me to say “Potato” to Mr. Glassner.
Kevin Wilson was hired as IU coach before the 2011 season, with the program coming off of three consecutive 1-7 Big Ten finishes.
Wilson was a different kind of hire for IU. Previous coaches had been in the twilight of their careers after years at a non-BCS program (Terry Hoeppner), originally hailed from an inferior conference where inferior results were achieved (Bill Lynch), were inexperienced but bright minds with a good on-paper resume (Cam Cameron), or fell into the category of “Wait, his last job was WHERE?!?!!?” poster boy for the word “Retread” (Gerry DiNardo).
Wilson came to IU representing a culture change. His previous job was coordinating a spread offense at Oklahoma that broke every record in 2008. He had Big Ten experience, having been the architect of Northwestern’s 2000 offense that led the Wildcats to a share of the Big Ten title and produced all those games that dominate the school’s Big Ten Network Classic lineup.
This wasn’t a retread, this wasn’t someone who fit the bill of “well, he took the job.”
Wilson’s hire also made sense considering the fact that the spread offense had been the choice of many recent college football upstarts including that 2000 Northwestern team. Just between 2004 and 2010 Utah, West Virginia, Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State all achieved high conference finishes and national prominence running a variation of the spread. None of these programs would ever be perceived as historically being in the absolute upper tier of college football, but each were in the mix for playing in the BCS title game during that stretch.
It is difficult to recruit and build a solid major-conference defense. There simply aren’t enough great defensive players to populate the best teams in the SEC as well as the Indianas and Washington States of the world. The programs which have achieved recent success, and/or enjoy fertile local recruiting grounds, end up with the prominent defensive recruits.
A school like Indiana must follow the blueprint that elevated the likes of the Missouri Tigers to national relevance. A program like the Indiana Hoosiers does not start from a place of historic or recent success, and hails from what Sporting News once called “the most barren recruiting ground in the Big Ten.”
Running a traditional offense, IU cannot get the players to compete straight-up against the Big Ten. But running a high-scoring spread, with its matchup problems and ability to keep a defense guessing and on its heels?
That can be done.
A quarterback who perhaps cannot nail the 60-yard vertical pattern, but who is accurate to intermediate distance and poised can be a very effective passer in the spread. A speedy wideout who lacks the traditional size can be a very effective weapon in the spread. In addition to Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes bringing preferred WR height, a player like Shane (Frodo) Wynn -listed at 5-foot-7 – can find space and catches in the spread.
If an offensive scheme can keep a defense on its heels, that same team’s defense does not need to be dominant. Rather, it can be opportunistic with turnovers and staunch when the opportunity to limit touchdowns to field goals presents itself.
So how much of a disparity can there be between the offensive and defensive numbers for a program to still succeed at a high level?
With respect to Hank’s rankings, some national numbers for the teams mentioned above.
2000 Northwestern (8-4) Points/Game: 10th Points Allowed/Game: 100th (!!!!!!!)
2004 Utah (12-0) Points/Game: 3rd Points Allowed/Game: 23rd
2005 West Virginia (11-1) Points/Game: 31st Points Allowed/Game: 13th
2006 West Virginia (11-2): Points/Game: 3rd Points Allowed/Game: 49th
2007 West Virginia (11-2): Points/Game: 9th Points Allowed/Game: 8th
2007 Missouri (12-2) Points/Game: 8th Points Allowed/Game: 38th
2008 Missouri (10-4) Points/Game: 6th Points Allowed/Game: 70th
2008 Texas Tech (11-2): Points/Game: 3rd Points Allowed/Game: 75th
2008 Utah (13-0) Points/Game: 15th Points Allowed/Game: 12th
2010 Oklahoma State (11-2) Points/Game: 3rd Points Allowed/Game: 61st
- Much of Missouri’s fanbase still expects years like those, and is confused when they do not occur.
- In 2008, Missouri and Texas Tech did not spike their defensive numbers by facing each other. Both did face Oklahoma, which finished first nationally in scoring with a defensive ranking of 58th on the way to playing for the BCS national title.
- Utah won’t put up defensive numbers like that facing a Pac-12 schedule.
- Whatever happened to Rich Rodriguez?
Ultimately, it is very possible for an upstart program to rise to national prominence by scoring a boatload of points.
IU’s rankings under Wilson:
2011 (1-11): Points/Game: 102nd Points Allowed/Game: 114
2012 (4-8): Points/Game: 53rd Points Allowed/Game: 104th
The offense will continue to progress. The defense must improve.
It doesn’t take a leap of faith to think that if Indiana stops Navy once last Saturday, the Hoosiers likely are in position to win the game thanks to Nate Sudfeld and the IU offense’s surgical performance. Just because the overall plan – the latest in a long line of new ideas that have made IU fans hope for success – is not yet producing significant results, it does not necessarily follow that the hire of Wilson and the installation of the spread were poor ideas.
Besides, at least the spread looks like modern football and is not a complete gimmick like whatever it is they do at Navy that turned IU’s defense into so much flotsam and jetsam.