SEC defensive meltdowns headline 10 takeaways from Week 6 in college football

Being a defensive coordinator in this era of college football was already somewhat of a thankless (albeit well-paid) job, but playing in the middle of a pandemic season has made it particularly stressful. 

The lack of a real offseason conditioning program, the inability to spend as much time on fundamentals and the lack of practice tackling (in some cases due to social distancing guidelines) has undoubtedly left defenses even further behind offenses early in the season. 

Those factors will make it difficult to judge which defensive coordinators are doing a bad job this season and which have been dealt an impossible hand. But that’s not going to stop criticism from being levied against several high-profile defensive coordinators whose teams have really struggled so far this year.

At LSU, it’s already fair to ask if hiring Bo Pelini to replace Dave Aranda was a mistake. At Florida, Dan Mullen seems to have an offense that can score on anybody but a defense that simply isn’t up to par for a team that wants to contend for the College Football Playoff. And at Alabama, 36-year old coordinator Pete Golding has not impressed this season despite a lot of returning talent. 

We’ll examine all of those situations in our 10 takeaways from Week 6:

Alabama wins, but defense shows cracks

With a mask covering his face, it was hard to tell the level of seething rage inside Nick Saban Saturday as his defense got torched time and time again by Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offense. While Alabama got out of Oxford with its championship hopes still in tact thanks to a 63-48 win, what it required from the Crimson Tide — namely, scoring touchdowns on eight straight possessions to close the game — is not the brand of football on which Saban built his program.

And he can’t be happy about that.

Mississippi running back Snoop Conner (24) scores a touchdown as Alabama linebackers Will Anderson Jr. (31) and Dylan Moses try to stop him during their game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. (Photo: Bruce Newman, Handout via USA TODAY Sports)

Look, what Kiffin has done early this season is exciting and fun. The playcylling from Ole Miss was tremendous, keeping Alabama off balance and on its heels. But if you’re Alabama and you’ve got this much talent and depth, your defense can’t get bullied to the tune of 647 yards. You can’t miss a bunch of tackles, create no turnovers and allow 4-of-4 conversions on fourth down. 

The Crimson Tide’s defense has been shaky since Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt got head coaching jobs, but this seems like a new low. And Golding, a 36-year old who was hired a few years ago from Texas-San Antonio because of his youth and vigor on the recruiting trail, does not seem like the next great defensive coordinator to work under Saban. 

Alabama has a major challenge next week against Georgia, and for the first time it feels like the Crimson Tide may be an underdog. 

HIGHS AND LOWS: LSU, Texas A&M headline Week 6 winners and losers 

SEC RANKINGS: After Week 6 of the season, Georgia and Alabama still on top

STARS SHINE: The top 10 performances from college football in Week 6

LSU defense is in even worse shape

Pelini was a great defensive coordinator at one point in his career, but he hasn’t done that job for more than a dozen years. In LSU’s shocking 45-41 loss to Missouri, it was fairly common to see receivers running free down the field with nobody near them. For LSU fans and former players, who were all over Twitter bemoaning the Tigers’ defensive effort against Missouri, this was all too familiar.

In the season opener, after Mississippi State torched LSU for 623 passing yards, which many attributed to the genius of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. But after Missouri put up 586 total yards, including 406 through the air, now we know that LSU just isn’t good at all on that side of the ball.

You can certainly attribute much of that to the talent and coaching turnover LSU experienced after last season’s historic national title run. But Pelini, who was given a three-year contract worth $2.3 million per year, has not exactly impressed with scheme early on this season. Even LSU head coach Ed Orgeron acknowledged after Saturday's game that some changes are needed.

“I love Bo. I think Bo’s going to be a great defensive coordinator,” Orgeron said. “He’s done it before. But we have to get better. There are some things we need to look at schematically to get better.” 

CHANGE COMING: Orgeron says LSU needs to 'do some soul searching' after loss

Florida also struggling to stop people

The phrase “Third-and-Grantham” recalls a certain style of defense coached by coordinator Todd Grantham, whose affinity for high-risk, high-reward blitzing on third downs is well known to fans of Georgia, Louisville and Mississippi State. Now, Grantham is in charge of Florida’s defense, and it appears that the blame is going to fall on his shoulders if the Gators underachieve this season. 

In a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M, Florida gave up 543 total yards and allowed the Aggies to convert a remarkable 12-of-15 on third down. The Gators had chances to win the game and could have escaped with a 3-0 record had their offense simply done what it had done all day and not fumbled near midfield with 3:40 remaining with the score tied at 38. 

At the same time, the Gators had five touchdowns and a field goal on eight possessions. That should be good enough to win a football game. But Texas A&M quarter Kellen Mond was comfortable and in control the entire time, completing 25 of 35 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns and wasn’t sacked even once. 

Mullen pleas for full crowd at the Swamp

Meanwhile, after the game Florida coach Dan Mullen lobbied for his university to open up Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to full capacity for next week’s game against LSU rather than the 17,000-person limit that Florida has been operating under due to COVID-19.

“I know our governor passed that rule, so certainly, hopefully the university administration decides to let us pack the Swamp,” Mullen said. “I certainly hope our university administration follows the governor. The governor has passed a rule that we’re allowed to pack the Swamp and have 90,000 in the Swamp to give us the home-field advantage Texas A&M had today.” 

Sorry, Dan, but just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, the state of Florida is still registering roughly 3,000 cases and between 100-200 deaths a day and the Gators’ home-field advantage shouldn’t be the top priority. 

Plus, Florida didn’t even sell out all its tickets for last week's game against South Carolina, reporting attendance of 15,120. Even if you could have a packed house, you wouldn’t this season. 

First big step for Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

We’ve handed out plenty of criticism for Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher not yet delivering much value on that 10-year, $75 million contract he signed a few years ago. But beating Florida was undeniably his first signature win with the Aggies, and in the immediate aftermath of the game he showed a lot of emotion as he celebrated with his players. 

While it’s hard to say that one win changes the Aggies’ entire outlook — remember, they were handled easily by Alabama just a week ago — it was an important achievement to beat a team ranked in the top five just to keep some belief that they’re making the kind of progress Fisher was brought in to make. 

“It shows you what you’re capable of,” he said. “Now what you follow up with tells you what you’re capable of and I’ve always said that we have potential.” 

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