League teams are giving up points and yards at their highest rate in more than a decade. And that’s led to plenty of shootouts, including last weekend’s Georgia Tech-North Carolina matchup that stands as the highest-scoring game in ACC history.
“I hate it because I want to go out here and be dominant on defense every week and I like to see other defenses be dominant as well,” UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. “I want to see tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions, fumbles, forced fumbles. I don’t want to see the ball thrown into the end zone. It kind of makes me not want to watch the games no more, man.”
ACC teams are giving up an average of 26.2 points per game this season, up from 24.7 a year ago and the highest since teams averaged 26.4 points in 2001, according to STATS LLC. In addition, teams are giving up an average of 389.4 yards per game, up from about 369 last year and the highest since at least 1995.
Those numbers get worse ACC teams play each other. Teams are giving up 29 points and 413 yards per league game, both ranking as the highest averages since at least 1995.
Those struggles were on display during last weekend’s games, starting in Chapel Hill.
In the Tar Heels’ 68-50 loss to the Yellow Jackets, the teams combined for 1,085 yards, 11 players scored touchdowns and the 118 combined points broke the previous mark of 110 set in Virginia’s 63-47 win against Tulane in 1968.
“I know how they feel,” said Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell, whose Blue Devils have allowed at least 41 points in all four of their losses. “I understand what’s going on on that sideline and how tough it is to be part of a game like that where for some reason or another, you just can’t get a stop. So I sympathize more with the defense than worry about the offense.”
That same day, Virginia beat Miami 41-40, marking the 11th conference game this season in which the losing team scored at least 30 points. It happened 10 times in 2001, the only other time it’s reached double figures since 1995, according to STATS.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said the trend will continue.
He remembers the goal was to hold teams to 14 points and 300 yards during his days as an Air Force assistant in the 1980s. Now, he said, defenses are struggling to adjust to a mix of spread, triple option and pro-style offenses in the ACC.
“People want to see a lot of scoring,” Grobe said. “They like seeing football scores like 38-35, they don’t like seeing a 3-0 game. I don’t think we’re going backwards in this deal. What you typically see is offenses take the lead then defenses catch up. It’s point-counterpoint, punch-counterpunch. But right now, I don’t see the defenses getting to where they’ll ever be dominant again.
“Offenses are here to stay.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson pointed to those offensive schemes as a reason for the defensive struggles, noting how more teams are willing to throw the ball or run hurry-up attacks that squeeze more plays into the 60-minute game. Throw in the fact that the 10 of 12 ACC programs returned their regular starting quarterback this season, and the pressure has only increased on defenses.
“If you’re one of these teams that says you’re going to run 100 plays, well, unless you’re three-and-out on defense, your defense is going to be out there for 80 plays, too,” Johnson said. “It goes both ways. You don’t just get to run your 100 and they get to run 40.”
Tenth-ranked Florida State has been the exception, leading the country in total defense (242.9 yards) and ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense (13 points). They’re the only team in the league holding teams to fewer than 22 points and 315 yards per game.
The only blip for the Seminoles came against Clemson’s high-powered offense. Florida State won that one 49-37 in September.
“It’s very important to be great on defense in the South because that’s where the largest number of your defensive linemen, defensive ends and secondary guys come from,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “There’s a larger group of them in this region than there is in any other region in the country.”
Miami’s struggles offer one of the most glaring examples. Sixteen of the 27 players on the defensive depth chart for this weekend’s game against South Florida are underclassmen. The Hurricanes are two points away from matching a school record for points allowed in a season and could give up about 100 yards per game more than any other team in Miami history.
Yet, despite allowing 31 points and an ACC-worst 490 yards per game, Miami is still in contention for the ACC’s Coastal Division title.
“The only thing that I can tell you is that we’re playing hard,” coach Al Golden said after the Virginia loss. “We were fighting our tails off.”
The Hurricanes aren’t the only ones feeling that frustration.
“Defenses, we’re always a year or two behind,” North Carolina defensive coordinator Dan Disch said. “You’ve got to study (an offense), you’ve got to figure out how it’s hurting you and what you can do to stop it. I think the pendulum has swung a little bit, but it’ll swing back — and then the offenses will discover something different.”