Should ASU be terrified about facing an SEC defense?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The overwhelming focus on the West Coast concerning No. 3 Georgia's visit to Arizona State on Saturday will be the super-vicious SEC defense -- insert "Grrrrrr" here -- vs. Sun Devils QB Rudy Carpenter.That's not unreasonable.
But let's pause for a moment and politely, respectfully and with humble purpose engage in a bit more discussion on the topic.

Georgia's offense struggled last week at South Carolina, particularly its young offensive line. It gained just 252 yards and surrendered four sacks.

The explanation provided by just about every source, from the players to the coaches to the media?

The Bulldogs had to play against a super-vicious SEC defense."

[The offensive line] went up probably one of the best defenses in the country last week," Georgia QB Matthew Stafford said.


The Gamecocks did shutout NC State to open the season. But the Wolfpack haven't scored an offensive TD in their last three games against FBS competition.

From ESPN.com's crack research department: "[NC State] scored late in the third quarter against Wake Forest on Nov. 17, 2007, and since then, the Wolfpack have run 208 offensive plays versus Wake, Maryland, South Carolina and Clemson without reaching the end zone. They've punted 21 times and turned the ball over 9 times during that span.

Now South Carolina did put up a doughty effort in a 24-17 loss to ... er ... Vanderbilt. But should allowing four yards per rush to a team that ranks 118th in the nation in passing earn a defense a rose between its teeth?

The Gamecocks did welcome back 10 starters from its 2007 defense, but it's a crew that gave up 209 yards rushing per game (110th in the nation), tied Temple, SMU, Louisiana-Monroe, Rice and Iowa State for 88th in the nation with 20 sacks and gave up an average of 41 points the final three games of the season (And, yes, to be fair, there were a few injuries, including to LB Jasper Brinkley in Week 4, but -- come on! -- those numbers just aren't very good).

This isn't about picking on South Carolina, though.How about Auburn's defense in a 3-2 victory over Mississippi State?

Well, Mississippi State only scored 14 points in a loss to Louisiana Tech ... and rushed for only 91 yards.

Are we sure we didn't just see two incompetent offenses? Wipe off those Foster Grants and check again.

Tennessee's defense got shredded in the second half by UCLA, which got shut out at BYU.

Arkansas gave up 24 and 27 points to Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe.

Ole Miss gave up 54 points in its first two games before holding its third opponent to 10 -- that would be FCS team Samford.

LSU might have a great defense, but the Tigers aren't allowed to even enter the discussion with their very soft nonconference schedule -- thus far, Appalachian State and North Texas, which had lost by 39 and 30 points to Kansas State and Tulsa before losing by 38 to LSU.

Florida's defense is loaded with talent, no doubt. And it held Hawaii to 241 total yards. Of course, 1-2 Oregon State held Hawaii to 211 yards

Alabama's defense? Well, dadgumit, the Tide look really good to me against Clemson, so I can't think of anything snappy to say.

As ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel pointed out this week: Eight SEC teams are in the top 30 in total defense.

But how many elite offenses have SEC teams faced so far? Check out the schedule. I'll wait here.

And it's not like those SEC defenses will face elite offenses in conference play, as Ivan also pointed out, "Four SEC teams rank among the top 50 in total offense, and only four rank among the top 59 in passing efficiency."

Now what can be said about SEC defenses when they've encountered Pac-10 offenses in the recent past? Let's take a look.

LSU 22, Oregon State 21: This game is remembered as the one when Oregon State mostly controlled the action but was done in by three missed extra points. The Beavers outgained LSU 315-302. That Tigers defense went on to rank third in the nation (257 ypg).

LSU 35, Arizona State 31:
This game was rescheduled from an LSU home game to Arizona State because of Hurricane Katrina. Arizona State outgained the Tigers 560-434, but lost the game because LSU converted a blocked field goal and blocked punt into TDs and LSU QB JaMarcus Russell led a brilliant TD drive in the waning moments.That LSU defense also finished ranked No. 3 in the nation (267 ypg).

Folks down in Baton Rouge often excuse this defensive performance because of Katrina. The problem with the theory is that the LSU players and coaches -- before and after the game -- said that had nothing to do with it.

USC 70, Arkansas 17:
USC gained 736 yards against the overmatched Razorbacks. But things got better for the Arkansas D once SEC play started, and the unit ended up ranked 34th in the nation (342 ypg).

USC 50, Arkansas 14:
The Razorbacks spent the entire summer talking about revenge. They just missed getting it by 36 points, but they did hold USC to 472 yar
ds. Of course, the Razorbacks overcame 88 points worth of Trojan butt kicking over two seasons to win the SEC West, and their defense finished the season yielding just 299.64 yards per game.

California 45, Tennessee 31
: The Bears outgained the Vols 471-382. Now, it's fair to say this was not a great Tennessee defense, but Cal did gain 68 more yards than the Vols' season average.

(And, yes, LSU fans, I'm ignoring the Tigers twin decimations of Arizona -- just like I'm leaving out Oregon's sweep of Mississippi State -- because we're not looking at games against one or the other conference's bottom-feeders).

Now, Georgia has a good defense, no doubt. Any NFL scout will tell you so.

And Arizona State, like Georgia, is inexperienced on the offensive line (and those inexperienced players aren't as talented as Georgia's line).

So the Bulldogs may -- finally -- show the Sun Devils and the Pac-10 what this "SEC defenses rule!" barking is all about by making life miserable for Rudy Carpenter.

But -- and we mean this with all due respect -- folks out West have heard plenty of the talking.

We just ain't seen much of the walking.