One often overlooked aspect of a new offensive system, particularly an up-tempo system, is the impact of the new approach on the defense.
People often compare defenses as if every unit is working with the same parameters, but it’s fair to say playing defense on a team with an up-tempo offense can provide additional challenges. Texas, for example, is likely to see a jump in the number of plays its defense faces in 2016 thanks to the new up-tempo attack being installed by new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
During the two seasons under Charlie Strong at Texas, the Longhorns have fielded one of the Big 12’s top defenses, ranking first in points per drive (1.65) and yards per play allowed (5.14) in conference play. But this fall will bring a different challenge as Gilbert turns up the tempo. Here’s a look at recent Big 12 teams who have turned up the tempo with new offensive systems and their defensive numbers before and after the change, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information.
TCU (offensive co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie arrived before 2014)
2014-15: Averaged 23.2 seconds between offensive plays ... 1,957 total plays defensed, 75.3 opponent plays per game, 1.45 points allowed per drive, 4.92 yards allowed per play.
2012-13: Averaged 28.5 seconds between plays ... 1,742 total plays defensed, 69.7 opponent plays per game, defensed, 1.52 points allowed per drive, 4.87 yards allowed per play.
Summary: Good defense is good defense. The Horned Frogs' yards-allowed-per-play numbers increased, but points per drive declined. TCU’s defense faced more than 200 additional plays in the two seasons, essentially meaning the Horned Frogs defense had to play the equivalent of one more game each season. That undoubtedly tested the overall talent and depth on the roster.
Oklahoma (offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley arrived before 2015)
2015: Averaged 23.6 seconds between offensive plays ... 989 total plays defensed, 76.5 opponent plays per game, 1.48 points allowed per drive, 4.79 yards allowed per play.
2014: Averaged 25 seconds between offensive plays ... 968 total plays defensed, 74.5 opponent plays per game, 1.67 points allowed per drive, 5.14 yards allowed per play.
Summary: Oklahoma’s defense faced an average of two more plays per game, which isn’t a huge number. The Sooners started the season with a quicker tempo —three of its five highest-tempo contests came in September — but understandably slowed it down in conference play as the running of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon began to set the tone for the offense and allowed them to control games by keeping the ball. The result was a defense that often played with a lead and only faced more than 76 plays in five games in 2015.
Kansas (head coach David Beaty arrived before 2015, bringing a higher-tempo attack)
2015: Averaged 22.6 seconds between offensive plays ... 967 total plays defensed, 80.6 opponent plays per game, 3.05 points allowed per drive, 6.96 yards allowed per play.
2014: Averaged 25.7 seconds between offensive plays ... 864 total plays defensed, 72 opponent plays per game, 2.33 points allowed per drive, 6.28 yards allowed per play.
Summary: The added tempo seemed to really hurt the Jayhawks defense, along with the departure of multiple NFL draft picks after the 2014 season. Not only did Kansas face eight more plays per game, it didn’t handle it well, as the points per drive and yards per play increased. Granted, the Jayhawks had a roster full of youngsters, but the increased offensive tempo didn’t help mask that flaw.
Overall: Playing with a high-tempo offense won’t change the quality of a defense, but it can expose its vulnerabilities in various ways. The defense will face more plays than teams with non-tempo offenses, but that increased tempo and plays defensed won’t prevent it from having success. Frankly, the main impact is added exposure to potential injuries and the need for better quality depth. As Texas makes the change this year, it’s not a given that the quality of the Longhorns' defense will be on the decline, but the added number of plays to defend is something Charlie Strong and Texas should be prepared to overcome in 2016.