Mountaineer Gameday: Brown knows times changing in college football
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mack Brown was once a Mountaineer.
The 61-year-old University of Texas football coach, who has guided the Longhorns the last 15 seasons in the 17-year-old Big 12 Conference, began his career at Appalachian State in 1983.
A lot's changed in the three decades since Brown helped the lower level 'Eers to a winning season. Heck, in the last three years there's been an offensive revolution in college football.
Bigger is better and the more is the merrier, something you'd think Brown would be used to in the largest state in the lower 48.
"Texas has been a defensive school and a school that has run the ball for years," said Brown, who is 145-39 at Texas with seven top 10 finishes in the national rankings. "And right now the world's changing out there. We've still got to have stops; we've still got to force turnovers.
"We're not seeing the dominant defensive performances right now that even we saw three years ago and defenses are going to have to catch up because offenses are ruling the roost."
This Saturday's nationally televised (Fox) Big 12 game between No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) and No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0) features teams that are scoring a combined average of 100.25 points per game.
The Mountaineers and Longhorns are unblemished national championship contenders through the season's first month because of their ability to score and not have empty possessions, terminology typically reserved for basketball.
Hey, we've got hoops scores in tackle football now, so it's fair game.
WVU, which is averaging 53 points per game, has 30 touchdowns against just 11 punts. Texas has a paydirt-to-punt ratio of 26-to-9. That means these two Big 12 kingpins are combining to score nearly three times for every punt, which puts opposing defenses in quite the quandary.
The only alternative way to get stops - switching to tennis terminology now - is to break the opposition's serve with a turnover.
WVU and Texas are two of the nation's best at protecting the pigskin.
West Virginia has one turnover through four games, tied with erstwhile Big 12 member Texas A&M for the fewest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Texas is tied for third nationally - one of five teams with two turnovers.
The Mountaineers are 66-4 in the past decade when winning the turnover battle. Nobody messes with Texas in this category, as the Longhorns have won 58 consecutive games when taking better care of the ball than the opponent.
Texas went 8-5 last season and lost to Baylor, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. The Longhorns were minus-9 in turnover margin in their five losses.
Case McCoy threw four interceptions against Baylor and one of the nation's most careful quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III. This year's starter for Texas, David Ash, threw two picks in each of the Longhorns' losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State last season. Oklahoma routed Texas 55-17 last year, but Ash threw two interceptions and the team fumbled five times (and lost three).
"When you start talking about differences other than the score, that shows the difference," Brown said. "You've got to win the turnover battle."
That's the nature of the college football beast today. Field position battles are going to be as foreign of a concept to the next generation as flip phones and card catalogs. Everything is faster these days, and not just iPhones.
Entering October's first Saturday slate of games, there are 20 teams averaging over 500 yards of total offense, compared to six at the end of last season. There are 30 teams averaging 300 or more passing yards per game, up from 18 at the end of last season and nine at the end of 2004.
Six teams - including Oklahoma State, Baylor and WVU in the Big 12 - are averaging more than 50 points per game. Since 2004, only five teams have pulled off this feat over the course of a season.
Texas was one of those in 2005, when the Longhorns piled up 50.2 points per game, went 13-0 and won the national championship behind eventual first-round NFL draft pick Vince Young.
"Everybody is going no-huddle, speeding the game up," Brown said. "Defenses get tired."
The only other time West Virginia and Texas met in football was Oct. 6, 1956 - 56 years ago on Saturday. The Mountaineers escaped Austin with a 7-6 win. The Longhorns failed on an extra-point attempt that ultimately made the difference, but Brown noted one other aspect of that game this week.
"(West Virginia) completed 4-of-9 passes for 46 yards, to show you how football has changed over the years," he said. "West Virginia held Texas to two plays at the 1-foot line late in the game to secure victory. It was decided by a missed extra point.
"So those things are different."
We were supposed to be hopping in flying cars to cover college football games in 2012, but the futuristic offenses arrived first.