Speed, athleticism required to combat fast-tempo offenses
If it's possible to mix pride and sheepishness, that's how Oregon State coach Mike Riley described last season's Civil War victory over Oregon and it's fast-tempo spread offense.
"We had a really good defense and we held them to 31," Riley said.
The Beavers won, 38-31, in double overtime. But the advent of what his archrival is doing brought to mind Riley's freshman year as a defensive back at Alabama, when coach Paul "Bear" Bryant installed the wishbone in preseason practice in 1971.
"We lost, I think, one regular-season game over the next four years," Riley said.
It is a verity of the game that football is cyclical. The offense surges ahead and the defense catches up, unless it's vice versa. Right now, the spread offense played at a fast tempo is at the quarter pole. The defense for it is still loading into the starting gate.
"We'll see where this thing goes, but I think it will be a while," Riley said. "It's very, very good and it hasn't reached its peak yet. It's a beautiful thing and a scary thing to watch. What it does, like option football does, it makes a lot of one-on-one tackling. I mean, you put people on islands, and then you strand them. Every time you do that, it's hard."
Because of that stress, some coaches believe the new offensive thinking will change the way that coaches recruit defenders.
"You got to be able to play in space, with guys who can run," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "In college football, everybody wants their best players on offense. Most of your head coaches are offensive head coaches. Your best athletes, a lot of them, are on offense. I think that has to change a little bit. We're going to have to try to divvy it up a little bit. We're going to need more of that type of athletes on defense, too. I may take a hit a little bit with the run game and really just focus on having athletes on the field playing that style of ball."
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops buttressed Walker's point.
"The biggest issue is your speed on the field on defense," Stoops said. "And athleticism, guys that can play in space, tackle in space, cover, pressure. I think you're going to see quicker and lighter linebackers overall so you have to try and match their speed."
Stoops acknowledged that such changes might mean sacrificing some ability to plug up the run.
Walker said that when UCLA plays a team like Oregon that operates so fast, he expects help from his offense, and he didn't mean merely by scoring points.
"I would talk to Norm (Chow, the UCLA offensive coordinator) and say, 'Look, when we're able to get off the field, you've got to keep us off the field.' Those offenses are stressful. The more the defenses are on the field, you're giving the offense opportunities to make plays on us. You have to play a little bit more ball control on your offense."
These days, who wants to do that?
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, & Traditions," is on sale now.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- QBs fail to impress in Alabama spring game
- Texas LB Edmond: Loss to 'trash' Baylor hurts
- Sources: Wittek visits Texas for spring game
- Strong era begins at Texas with shaky QB play
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2008 College Football Preview
The long wait for the start of the 2008 college football season is finally over. Get ready for the season with an in-depth look at the teams, trends, players and coaches. Index
• Maisel: Let the campaign '08 debate begin
• Bloggers: State of each conference
• Schlabach: Hot and not for 2008
• Maisel: Full speed ahead for offenses
• Maisel: Defending the fast-tempo spread
• Maisel: Nation's fastest teams
• Forde: SEC coaches in a league of their own
• Forde: Johnson stuck as SEC's roadie
• Schlabach: The nation's alpha-male coaches
• Schlabach: Coaches on the hot seat
• Maisel: Road left to travel for black coaches
• Schlabach: Critical mass await Ohio State
• Edwards: Are BCS voter tired of the Buckeyes?
• Edwards: Parity puts BCS at crossroads
• Feldman: Ten best-kept secrets
2008 Preseason All-America team
• Maisel: Preseason All-America team
What to watch
• Eighth annual Herbie Awards
• ESPN's experts' predictions
• Schlabach: Games to watch
• Schlabach: Intriguing games
• Bloggers: Preseason conference predictions
• Bloggers: Games to watch
• Schlabach: Clemson craving title
• Dinich: In the Wake of success
• Dinich: Coast toast for Hokies?
• ACC needs Canes, Noles to win
• Rittenberg: Innovation not new to Big Ten
• Rittenberg: UM QBs adapt to offense
• Schlabach: Pryor's role with Ohio State
• Maisel: Big 12 QBs face burden of proof
• Griffin: Where have the Big 12 runners gone?
• Griffin: Northern exposure
• Feldman: Is Crabtree the best college WR ever?
• Schlabach: Stewart's challenge at West Virginia
• Bennett: Knight moves focused on Teel
• Tulsa building foundation for success
• Pirates sailing toward uncharted waters
• Watson: Are the Irish coming of age?
• Watson: Tenuta's tenacious D
• Maisel: Army exploring its options
• Watson: MAC QBs hope to share the spotlight
• Dinich: Golden touch working at Temple
• Watson: NIU's Kill found new perspective
• Watson: BYU-Utah going national?
• Watson: TCU looks to regroup
• Maisel: Son also rises at UCLA
• Miller: Stable is the USC Way
• Miller: Huskies counting on Locker
• Low: SEC's uncertain QB landscape
• Low: Tebow still learning
• Maisel: Richt knows expectations
• Schlabach: Coach, QB to keep Owls soaring
• Watson: Will tough schedule propel Fresno State?
• Watson: QB battle has Nevada thinking big
• Georgia tops preseason power rankings
• Preseason Bottom 10: Lollapaloozers
• Conference preseason power rankings
• Bloggers: Ranking the coaches | Hot seat
• Predict the college football upsets each week.
Play College Pick 'Em