John Hoover

Sporting News: ‘What goes around comes around’: Data shows why Big 12 defenses finally catching up to offense

Sporting News: ‘What goes around comes around’: Data shows why Big 12 defenses finally catching up to offense

Last week marked a historic low for Big 12 Conference scoring output, and might forever stand as the turning point for the league’s offense-over-defense reputation.

Five of the eight teams that played in Week 7 failed to score 20 points, and only two teams scored 30. Two teams had an open date, but the 158 total points scored is the Big 12’s fewest ever during a week in which at least half the teams were playing.

Who remembers the Big 12’s salad days, when 158 combined points might be the total after a single game?

MORE: Sporting News midseason All-Americans

OK, that’s a stretch. The league record for a game is 133 — that amazing 70-63 West Virginia victory over Baylor back in 2012. But you get the idea.

It’s easy to point out the obvious: Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes are taking snaps in the NFL now. Elite quarterback play in the Big 12 — and, by extension, elite wide receiver play — has diminished. Without that kind of talent cutting chunks out of defenses, of course points will be harder to come by.

But there’s something else at play here: The Big 12’s long-standing reputation for up-tempo and high-scoring offenses, for 30-second touchdown drives, for missed tackles and busted coverages — it all might be changing.

“I just think the evolution of the game is certainly changing back to what we all know,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, “that defense really matters.”

Campbell, now in his third year at Iowa State, has been at the forefront of the change. He and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock rolled out a three-man front last year against Oklahoma, dropping eight men into coverage on virtually every play and producing the Cyclones’ first victory in Norman in nearly 30 years. Baker Mayfield went on to set records and win the Heisman, but against Iowa State, he lacked his usual command of the OU offense, frequently looked uncomfortable and made a handful of bad decisions.

Last week, West Virginia Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier left Ames with 100 yards passing and a 30-14 defeat. The Cyclones sacked Grier seven times, holding him to just an interception on 11-of-15 passing. It was another pinnacle for Campbell, Heacock and the Cyclone defense.

“Yeah, it’s really frustrating,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “… Iowa State did a really good job against him. We need to do a better job of blocking up front. We need to do a better job running the ball to take the pressure off the passing game. We need to do a much better job of running routes and getting open.”

To read the rest of the Sporting News report on Big 12 defenses, click here:


Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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