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With prolific offenses everywhere, defenses are playing catch-up

POSTED: September 26, 2013 4:47 p.m.
Brian Paglia/Forsyth County News

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In 2008, while Frank Hepler was defensive coordinator at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., he authored an instructional video that soon became obsolete.

The title was "Defending the Wing-T: Concepts and Strategies." Coaches Choice, a huge publisher of coaching material, sold DVDs of the 43-minute session for $40. Demand was high at the time; lots of Florida high schools were running the Wing-T offense.

"I don’t know if anybody would be interested in those anymore," Hepler said.

Indeed, just five years after Hepler’s instructional video came out high school offenses have undergone a complete transformation with an intricacy and pace that’s bewildering.

As college and professional offenses have trended toward high-octane, spread concepts, high schools have followed suit.

Nine of the top 10 career passing and single-season receiving totals in Georgia history have been set since 2000. Seven of the 10 highest-scoring seasons in Forsyth County history have come during this century.

Forsyth teams have plenty of athletes and spread offenses to contain this week.

Hepler and the Wolverines (2-2, 0-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) face a Centennial team that averages 237 passing yards per game. The Knights attack features 5-11, 195-pound preseason all-state wide receiver Christian Robinson who has already caught 20 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns this season.

South Forsyth (4-0, 1-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) must stop Alpharetta’s own preseason all-state wide receiver in Daniel Clements who had 1,286 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

Even Pinecrest Academy (3-1) will face the rare spread offense on its schedule when it hosts Hebron Christian. The Lions installed a no-huddle spread system this season under first-year head coach Kevin Shaffer and offensive coordinator Michael Wall, who coached under esteemed Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Four players have over 100 yards receiving for Hebron in Jacob Harper (223), Trey Selman (138), Matthew Glisson (116) and William Brice (114).

"The athletes are getting so much better," Hepler said. "[Offensive] designs are being designed to move the ball quickly. I think offensive coaches are doing a great job."

As the speed and potency of offenses progress, defenses are constantly playing catch-up.

One answer has been for defenses to be just as flexible as the offenses have evolved to become.

"We run whatever fits for that week," said South head coach Jeff Arnette, whose team runs a multiple 4-3 and 3-4 defense. "I think the key to defense is not what defense you run, it’s just that your kids run hard and play hard. You can run anything you want to, [but it doesn’t work] if they’re not running to the football and playing hard."

"The biggest thing is being multiple," said Forsyth Central head coach Shane Williamson, who runs a multiple 50 defense said. "One week you might see double tight ends and then a no-back, five-wide spread offense the next week. We want our defense to accommodate all formations."

Said Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell: "You have to make adjustments." The Longhorns use an eight-man front multiple defense.

Forsyth defenses have had varying degrees of success this season.

Central and West are allowing 34.3 and 34.8 points a game, respectively; that’s well above last season’s performance for the Wolverines.

But consider the schedule up this point – West has already faced the state’s all-time passing leader in Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson; a Flowery Branch team with an FCS-caliber quarterback and historically strong offensive philosophy; and Alpharetta, which produced Josh Dobbs, who threw for 514 yards in a loss to the Wolverines last season.

Lambert and South’s defenses have performed respectably this season, allowing 18.3 and 17.3 points per game respectively.

Then there’s North and Pinecrest.

The Raiders are giving up just 8.3 points per game this season. They held Chattahoochee’s spread offense to without a touchdown last week in a 24-6 victory.

The Paladins are giving up 13 points per game, more than 10 points per game better than last season. They’ve given up two touchdowns combined in the past three games.

"We switched from the 4-3 [last year] to the 3-5 defense," Pinecrest coach Todd Winter said. "You’ve got to have strong line play and strong safety play."

Pinecrest’s line and safeties will certainly be put to the test against Hebron’s spread offense.

Indeed, each week is another test for Forsyth defenses to see if they can catch up to where high school offenses are going.

"The defense will catch up in time," Hepler said, "but right now it looks like offensive coaches are ahead."

 

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