It can be a monumental task for young players to learn their team's basic defensive schemes and how to implement them against the big, strong and athletic players they are facing in game situations. It becomes considerably more challenging when they have to make quick on-the-field adjustments to the numerous formations and motions we are seeing from the offenses in this era of college football.
We don't have to go any farther than Auburn to find an example of young defensive players who are struggling with this issue. From my understanding of the situation after talking with Auburn's coaches, the number one challenge they have now is getting all of their players lined up right on every down.
Auburn's defensive players are trying hard so there is no issue with the effort, but there have been mistakes in alignment. At times somebody has covered the wrong guy or not filled the correct gap to stop a running play. Those issues are not limited to Auburn's young group. They are happening on a lot of defenses around the country.
There are a multitude of things that can go wrong when trying to stop a well-run spread attack that is designed to create confusion on defense. One of the ways offenses do that, in addition to formations and motion, is by getting plays called very quickly and hurrying to the line of scrimmage to get the ball snapped before the defense has time to make the proper adjustment. That is something the offensive scheme is designed to do and it can be very effective.
What we are seeing offensively is a revolution in college football. It started around five or six years ago, or perhaps even longer ago than that, and is showing no signs of slowing. I was on the Legend Coaches Poll conference call on Monday and I told those coaches the same thing. It was easy to point out plenty of examples of the revolution in a variety of games played around the country last weekend and in the first week of the season, too.
What happened in the Mississippi State at Auburn game is similar to what happened in the Cal-Colorado contest, the Missouri-Arizona State game, the Baylor-TCU season opener and many others.
Teams that run the spread, who have great athletes at skill positions, are a threat to score at anytime from anywhere on the field, even against defenses that have great athletes because it is difficult to stop elusive offensive players in one-on-one situations in open space no matter how good a defensive player is.
I don't know if college football will ever go back to being the way it was when I coached. Offenses were less complex and offensive players arrived on campuses as freshmen less prepared to make the adjustments needed to be successful in major college football.
I also think with the way offenses are evolving the running ability of the quarterback will become an even more important consideration when recruiting players for that position. Quarterbacks who are accurate passers and dangerous runners can cause major problems for any defensive scheme.
A good example of that happened Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. When the Bulldogs lined up in a spread formation in a one-back set with quarterback Chris Relf in the shotgun, Auburn was playing five underneath and two-deep. The Tigers didn't have enough guys in the box to be able stop the big quarterback from running the football. That was the reason Relf rushed for more than 100 yards even though he isn't an elusive guy who makes people miss like Cam Newton did or the quarterback from Utah State did in Auburn's opener.
College football is in a transition period now. There are examples everywhere. When the Auburn Tigers play at Clemson on Saturday it will be like they are looking at themselves in the mirror because Clemson has joined the offensive revolution, too, and has changed to the same system Auburn has run since Gus Malzahn arrived. Because of that, and because this is Auburn's first of five challenging road games on the 2011 schedule, this will be a great test for a young Auburn football team on Saturday.
From the Mailbag:
Also, I think it would be interesting if you would critique each of your starting quarterbacks. What they had to overcome to become the starter and what were their strengths.
I appreciate all you have done and continue to do for Auburn.
Those are good suggestions for future columns and I appreciate your interest. I still have a fond place in my heart for that 1981 team. You are exactly right about what they did to build the foundation of the championship teams that followed them in the 1980s. (If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye also writes the Dye-Log and Pat's Picks columns for AUTigers.com.