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?
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 johnehoover.com.