Monday, September 6, 2010
ˇOlé! Say Pac-10 defenses
By ESPN.com staff
Just imagine if we could answer definitively: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Well, we've got great news. We will get to answer college football's version on Saturday: Are SEC defenses really good or is it just that SEC offenses stink?
Oregon's visit to Tennessee on Saturday will provide a final answer. If the Ducks roll up 400-plus yards and 35-plus points, we will know that Pac-10 fans were always right: SEC defenses only look good because they don't face Pac-10 offenses. And if the Volunteers hold the Ducks to 22 points and 337 yards, as they did versus SEC offenses last season, we'll know that SEC defenses really are that good.
The debate will be over. Done. Forever.
We throw up this rhetorical smokescreen with the hopes that our friends from the SEC won't read past "Forever" before their heads explode. Because this column is about Pac-10 defenses, and we want to keep it in the family.
For goodness sake, folks, what the heck happened last week? Can someone get off a block? Or make a tackle?
Oregon and Arizona State fans can probably go back to their Labor Day barbecues. Arizona and California: You looked good on defense in Week 1, so you might be OK. Washington? Your defense wasn't the problem at BYU. Stanford? Jury's out.
But looking at the statistical rankings after Week 1 and seeing USC at 106th in the nation in total defense after giving up 588 yards -- 588 yards! -- against a WAC team is jarring.
And it's not just that ugly number: Did you see the game? It wasn't about a couple of long plays. It was about bad tackling. It was about getting blocked. It was about looking tired, uninterested and perhaps even loafing.
But, obviously, it wasn't just the Trojans.
Just about every defense starts with this concept: First, we stop the run. It's the fundamental football play. A guy with the ball runs one way and the other guys try to stop him. Run defense, more than anything else, is a test of manhood. It's hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. We can talk about speed and finesse and misdirection in many running games, but it's still mostly about blocking and tackling.
So the fact that three Pac-10 teams find themselves among lightweight squads such as Western Kentucky, Arkansas State and New Mexico at the bottom of the statistical rankings for run defense is, well, sort of embarrassing, don't you think?
Oregon State gave up 278 yards on the ground to TCU and ranks 96th. Washington State yielded 291 yards and ranks 103rd. And UCLA is 106th after surrendering an eye-popping 313 yards on the ground to Kansas State.
Sure, TCU is one of the best teams in the nation. And, sure, Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter and Kansas State's Daniel Thomas, are A-list runners.
Still: There's a guy getting his 100 yards and then there's a guy leaving a footprint our your collective forehead.
USC and these other three teams won't accomplish much this season if they don't step up on defense, particularly their beleaguered front-sevens that weren't widely viewed as weaknesses during the preseason.
The Pac-10 is loaded at quarterback and running back. There's a lot of experience on many offensive lines. And there appears to be plenty of star-quality and depth at receiver.
But the reason Oregon is now a stronger conference favorite than it was just a couple of weeks ago is defense. The Ducks look like they have the fastest, deepest unit in the conference. And it seems based on these albeit very early returns that some of the Ducks top competition -- USC and Oregon State, in particular -- won't be able to stop them.
Of course, saying that, the Ducks defense needs to prove itself by shutting down a Tennessee offense that rushed for 332 yards against Tennessee-Martin. The Ducks don't want to join the ˇOle! defensive trend.
If they don't shut down the Vols, and it becomes a high-scoring, bar-burner in Neyland Stadium, then no one will know what to think. And that's no good.