Two proud, powerful defenses are learning a valuable lesson the hard way in 2013: Defenses alone no longer win championships.
Teams with defenses and no offenses, in fact, can struggle to make bowl games.
Florida and TCU boast two of the best defenses in the nation. Neither program does itself any favors offensively. Perhaps it’s no coincidence both teams have lost their starting quarterbacks for considerable lengths of time – TCU’s Casey Pachall and Florida’s Jeff Driskel both suffered devastating injuries early in the season. Driskel will miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg.
Pachall, the preseason first-team all-Big 12 quarterback, could return from his broken left arm this season. He currently runs the scout-team offense during practice but has not been cleared for contact.
The Horned Frogs have been an offensive wreck without Pachall this season. In games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, TCU has been held to less than 350 yards of total offense – racking up just 210 against the Sooners.
Through TCU’s first four Big 12 games, only lowly Kansas has allowed it to score more than 17 points.
QB Trevonne Boykin, who fills in for Pachall after doing so last year when Pachall took a leave from the team, has struggled to lead the attack. Boykin has thrown 1 TD against 6 INTs in league games (with the touchdown coming against Kansas). He has, however, rushed for 3 TDs.
Boykin took a big step back this week against Oklahoma State, completing just 17 of 35 passes for 188 yards. The Cowboys also intercepted three Boykin passes.
Pachall could return this season, though his timetable remains unknown.
Will Pachall’s return come too late to salvage the season for the 3-4 Horned Frogs? Unless TCU upsets Texas – which it did last year in Austin with Boykin at the helm – or Baylor, the Horned Frogs would need to sweep the three-game stretch of West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State simply to qualify for a bowl game.
Not to say that comprises a murderer’s row of opponents, but with the offensive futility TCU has displayed in recent weeks, running the table on those three can hardly be considered a gimme.
Florida must be careful because – after starting the season as a top-10 team – it could easily find itself at 6-6 hoping for an invitation to the Liberty Bowl. The Gators struggles stem almost entirely from an offense coach Will Muschamp labeled “inept” after his team’s most recent loss.
It’s worth noting that Florida is without its starting quarterback (Driskel) and best running back (Matt Jones) for the rest of the season. Still, the Gators do not seem to have many SEC-caliber players on their offense right now.
The best skill position player – WR Solomon Patton – is hamstrung by a passing game appearing more rudimentary than competent thus far. He has found different ways to shine, such as his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half against Missouri. Patton also had a 17-yard speed sweep in the third quarter on top of his 6 catches for 46 yards.
RB Mack Brown simply hasn’t gotten the job done in recent weeks. He has averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in just one game this season – against Toledo in the opener – despite 99 attempts.
True freshman RB Kelvin Taylor continues emerging as the better option. Last week against Florida he ran 10 times for 52 yards, leading the Gators on their fourth-quarter field-goal drive. He followed it by running for 74 yards and a TD on 12 carries against Missouri.
Taylor, son of former Florida great Fred Taylor, seems easily the better option. It would be a substantial surprise if Taylor doesn’t take on a bigger role in the offense by season’s end.
The biggest issue comes at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease excelled during QB Tyler Murphy’s first two starts. Over the last two, however, Murphy has struggled mightily.
Part of it comes from play calling. Florida’s run-first intentions hurt Murphy’s ability to get into a groove and find easier passing lanes. When Pease does ask Murphy to pass, it typically comes on difficult third-down tries.
Whatever issues might exist with the offensive play-calling, though, at least reportedly come exclusively from Pease. The coordinator took offense at the idea of Muschamp having too much say in the offense. Pease completely disagrees with that assessment.
Still, Murphy’s discomfort in obvious passing downs became apparent against Missouri.
Pease called five consecutive run plays to open the game before Murphy attempted his first pass – a shovel pass.
Murphy’s first actual throw came on a third-and-goal from the 5. Pease dialed up the correct play, putting Trey Burton out in the flat. Burton came wide open just shy of the end zone but Murphy’s first real pass came out wildly inaccurate.
Burton couldn’t catch the throw, forcing Florida to settle for a field goal.
Missouri entered the game with the conference’s worst passing defense. The Tigers boast a tremendous pass rush, but the young secondary struggled through the first half of the season. Plus they were without star CB E.J. Gaines.
However, Murphy couldn’t take advantage of the secondary.
Instead, the Gators quarterback took six sacks. By the second quarter, Murphy at times prematurely rolled out of the pocket to escape non-existent pressure.
If Murphy is so much more confident throwing on the run than he is in the pocket, perhaps Pease should find ways to take advantage of those strengths – especially considering Murphy’s running ability.
Instead, Murphy’s two most recent stat lines read like those of a career backup. Against Missouri and LSU, Murphy completed 30 of 56 passes for 207 total yards, no TDs and an INT. He also has a longest run of 10 yards during that stretch.
The Gators are still 4-3, but only a Nov. 23 game against Georgia Southern should be an easy win. Aside from that contest, Florida faces Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State to close the regular season. It seems likely that Muschamp’s team will work its way into a bowl bid, but projecting more than a 6-6 record likely means Florida pulling off an upset.
Today’s football isn’t the same as that of a decade ago. Sadly for Florida and TCU, defenses – even potentially dominant defenses – no longer win championships.
At least, they don’t without a competent offense.