Defense reigns supreme in the SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The more things change in the SEC, the more they stay the same.

Players come and players go. Coaches come in promising to change the culture at their place, and everybody gets excited about the latest trend on offense, be it the spread, the Wildcat formation, the Pistol formation, anything that looks new.

But if you’re going to win in this league at the highest level, it gets down to one thing.

Defense and a lot of it.

Is it any coincidence that the top two defensive clubs in America right now, Florida and Alabama, are also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the most recent Associated Press poll?

The Gators are first nationally in total defense, allowing 202.6 yards per game, and the Crimson Tide are second nationally, allowing 220.5 yards.

They both won their toughest SEC tests to date last Saturday by combining for a grand total of two touchdowns on offense.

Alabama won 22-3 at Ole Miss, while Florida won 13-3 at LSU.

You can read into those scores a lot of things. The skeptics will say that nobody in the SEC can play offense, which inflates the defensive numbers. Others will say the Crimson Tide and Gators were too conservative.

My read is a little different.

Just about everybody in this league can play defense. Have you sized up Ole Miss’ front seven lately? And the secondary at LSU is outstanding. The Tigers’ sophomore cornerback, Patrick Peterson, was a tackling machine in the open field against Tim Tebow and the Gators.

The defenses in this league have a way of making offenses look bad. Ask Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino what he thinks of Alabama’s defense.

Here’s the other thing: Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida’s Urban Meyer are both well aware of how good their defenses are, and they’re going to play to them.

Between them, the defenses at Alabama and Florida allowed one third-down conversion in 18 attempts last Saturday.

That’s right. One.

The Gators have allowed just two touchdowns all season, and the Crimson Tide already have 15 sacks and have forced 13 turnovers.

When you’re playing at that level defensively, why wouldn’t you play to your defense?

Shootouts are fun to watch, and in every season, there’s going to be a game or two where you simply have to outscore your opponent.

But in this league, you can’t make a living that way.

The rest of the country may point to the games in Baton Rouge and Oxford last Saturday and pass them off as being dull football. And at times, both games were a bit plodding.

Dull football, though, has also been winning football in the SEC.

It’s no secret that four of the last six BCS national champions have come out of the SEC.

And guess what?

None of the four BCS National Championship Games resembled anything close to a shootout.

In fact, only once in those four games did the other team score more than 14 points against the eventual SEC national champion. Florida beat Oklahoma 24-14 last season. Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 in 2006, and LSU beat Oklahoma 21-14 in 2003.

In 2007, LSU defeated Ohio State 38-24, but two of the Buckeyes’ touchdowns came in the second half after the Tigers had taken a 31-10 lead.

It’s a recipe for success that’s not going to change any time soon in the SEC.

Winning in this league is all about getting defensive.