Spread Offense Teams can’t play Defense?

I was wondering why teams like the University of Oregon, Baylor and others just don’t play great defense. Their offenses are prolific, light up the scoreboard, but cannot seal the deal when a stout defense is required. I’ll be taking a brief look at Oregon, Baylor and West Virginia and how their defenses stacked up compared to their offenses.

oregon nike green whiteThe University of Oregon Ducks have the flashy uniforms and one of the loudest stadiums in the college football landscape. Their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, should be a Heisman Award finalist this year, even with an unfortunate (and exposing) loss to Arizona and barely escaped Washington State the week before (note: Arizona has now beat Oregon two consecutive years). Offensively, the Ducks averaged:

In the 2011 national title game against Auburn, Oregon’s defense wilted down the stretch as Auburn’s running attack (led by Heisman winner Cam Newton) wore them down. Over the past several years, Oregon’s defense has:

  • Ranked 52nd out of 120 schools in 2011,
  • then slipped to 25th (2012) and 13th (2013) in points allowed for those seasons.

The Ducks defense averaged 390, 374 and 370 yards of offense given up per game during those seasons. That is not good enough to compete for a national championship at the highest level as their defense has regressed and is giving up more points to opposing offenses.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at BaylorBaylor Bears are known as the flashy new “it” school out of Waco, Texas, with its most notable graduate being Robert Griffin III (or “RGIII”). They have a beautiful new stadium along the Brazos River, where you can actually sail and dock your boat at the stadium, and have used their Nike jersey deal to mimic Oregon’s flashy uniforms. But, their offense has also led to a lot of fun shootout games while their defense has struggled. Offensively, they’re dynamic:

  • in 2011, averaged 45.3 points scored per game on offense (ranked 4th) and averaged 587 yards on offense,
  • in 2012, averaged 44.5 points per game (ranked 4th) and 572 yards on offense,
  • in 2013, averaged 52.4 points scored a game (ranked 1st in the country) and 618 yards on the offensive side of the ball.


  • in 2011, gave up 37.2 points per game (ranked 113th) and 488 yards of offense,
  • in 2012, gave up 37.2 points per game (ranked 113th) and 502 yards of offense,
  • in 2013, Baylor’s defense gave up 23.5 points per game (ranking 36th in the country) and gave up 360 yards per game. 

It’s an improvement, regarding points scored on your defense per game, going from 37 points to 23 points given up per game (and the lower the national/overall ranking the better), but it is still not an elite defense or a good-enough defense to be a championship contender.

wvu holgorsen

West Virginia’s head coach, Dana Holgorson, is known for being an “Air Raid” disciple, where you just spread out the defense and chuck the ball deep and chuck the ball often with five wide receiver sets, running backs out of the backfield and tight ends running free. Offensively, West Virginia Mountaineers have:

  • in 2011, scored 26.3 points per game (ranked 79th overall) and 410 yards of offense,
  • in 2012, scored 39.5 points per game (ranked 9th) and 502 yards per game,
  • in 2013, scored 37.6 points per game (ranked 13th) and 469.5 yards of offense per game

Defensively, West Virginia’s defense has:

  • in 2011, given up 33 points per game (ranked 100th) and 455 yards of offense per game,
  • in 2012, allowed averages of 38 points per game (ranked 117th) and 472 yards of offense,
  • in 2013, allowed 26.8 points per game (ranked 62nd) and 348 yard of offense.

It isn’t bad for West Virginia, but you can see they have regressed on defense by giving up more points per game yet have limited offensive yards. Still, it is not a team ready to contend for a championship.

See a pattern? Spread offenses obviously cannot play defense, but the familiar strain of these spread teams are that they lack the fast, speedy and stout defenses necessary to win a championship.

The real question is, do you ditch the fast, spread offense and middling defense for a better defense with a pro-style offense? I don’t have an answer for that.


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About Spencer Irvine

Fun loving, D.C. area sports fan, which means I'm frustrated and still can't get a grip on what a win truly means (or a championship for that matter).

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