Saturday, September 22, 2018
Colleges

How will SEC defenses adjust to unique offenses of Missouri, Texas A&M?

Will Muschamp made national headlines during his spring booster tour when he joked that if Florida fans take a trip to Texas A&M's College Station campus, they will not want to go again.

But the Florida coach admits facing Texas A&M's offense won't be a laughing matter.

As the former defensive coordinator at Texas, Muschamp is very familiar with the unique offensive styles Texas A&M and Missouri bring to the SEC — which they became officials members of July 1 — and believes league teams might be in for a surprise.

"It's a different animal," Muschamp said of Missouri's offense. "From a formation standpoint, it's going to be an adjustment for our league. What it does is create a lot of matchups and space plays."

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, established SEC teams are preparing for what could be the biggest change in offensive philosophy to hit the league since Steve Spurrier arrived at Florida with his Fun 'N Gun more than two decades ago and Urban Meyer with his spread offense in 2005.

"They are going to bring a different dimension to this league," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik who was in the Big 12 as Iowa State coach from 2007-08.

As Florida and Auburn move away from the spread, Missouri will use its own version, which almost never huddles, uses three- or four- or even five-receiver sets and is led by James Franklin — who threw for 2,865 yards and completed 63.3 percent of his passes last season.

New Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin brings a high-powered passing attack similar to what he used at Houston. Under Sumlin, Houston led the nation with 8,387 yards and 93 touchdowns last season. And even though it's a new team, the style of play will be similar.

"I think there are a lot of things that have to stay consistent with what we do philosophically because that's what we believe," Sumlin said.

Many are eager to see if the high-powered offenses of the two former Big 12 members can continue to flourish against the defenses in the SEC. Missouri ranked No. 12 nationally and fifth in the Big 12 last season at 475.6 yards per game while Texas A&M was ninth and fourth, respectively, at 490.2.

Comparatively, the SEC's best offense, Arkansas, ranked 29th in the nation at 438.1.

But the nation's top three defenses (and five of the top eight) belonged to SEC schools. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is well aware of the league's defensive reputation.

"Time will tell how that goes," Pinkel said. "Obviously, there are some great defensive coaches in this league and some great defensive teams. I've watched it for years. But I also think you have an offensive philosophy, you do what you do. We were 11th in the nation in rushing offense last year in the spread offense, so we like to run the football. We like to be balanced. But there's an asterisk there. As we go along, we adjust what we want to do."

Georgia will get the league's first shot at neutralizing the Tigers offense when the two meet in the Sept. 8 SEC opener.

"Our league is pretty diverse," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There's not one way of doing things in the Southeastern Conference, so to speak. "They'll be doing some things that a lot of our teams do in the league. They may spread out a little bit more than most teams in our league do offensively but not anything that no one has ever seen before."

Maybe not. But Chizik said if league coaches aren't prepared, they might be in for a huge surprise.

"Missouri probably won't change much from the last couple of times we've played them," Chizik said. "It's very challenging. They have some great ideas, philosophically. Gary does a great job of taking whatever talent they have and trying to curtail the offense to be able to take advantage of what skills they do have or don't have."

Ultimately, how successful the new kids on the block can be remains to be seen.

"We've played against that style in our league before, so it's not going to be something that's completely different," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "And I'm sure they've played against good defensive teams in their league. I think it's a challenge for all of us to look at the things they do technically and try to make sure we can adapt and adjust to it."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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