By Rudy Jones, FurmanPaladins.com
It's been less than 35 years since defensive-minded coaching greats Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes stalked the sidelines at Alabama and Ohio State, respectively.
Would they even recognize college football today?
Football teams are now winning games with scores comparable to what basketball teams racked up in the 1970s; witness West Virginia's 70-63 victory over Baylor a couple of weeks ago.
More than half of the 246 teams in NCAA Division I (Football Bowl and Championship subdivisions) were averaging more than 400 yards per game on offense through September.
Just 10 years ago, only 20.8 percent of 240 D-I schools were at that mark for the entire season.
So, imagine the challenge end Josh Lynn and his teammates on the Furman defense face each week preparing for fast-break offenses.
"It's getting tougher every year," Lynn, a senior from Great Falls, said earlier this month. "Offenses are basically thinking of anything they can to out-scheme a defense. Now, you've got to prepare for what they did the week before when you're coming in, but they're practicing during the week trying to come up with new stuff they can do.
"Going into every game you always see stuff you haven't even practiced against or thought they were going to run, so you're on the sideline during the game trying to figure out how you can stop it," Lynn said. "It's a lot of being able to think on the fly playing defense these days."
Jimmy Lindsey, Furman's defensive line coach, said defenses face "a big challenge, because all offenses are so much ahead of the curve. Everyone wants to go no huddle and there's so much trickery. They put so much pressure on the defense.
"I wish every game could be 7-6 and we'd play great," Lindsey said. "But I guess (offense) is what sells tickets. Hopefully, we can continue to get better defensively here. It's definitely a headache for a coach every week preparing for no huddles."
Lindsey is Lynn's fourth position coach in as many years. Coincidentally, Lindsey had four position coaches in four years during his playing career at Tennessee Chattanooga, which is Furman's opponent today.
Lynn said each coaching changed necessitated some adjustment and learning new things, "but it's been pretty consistent from (2011) Coach (Ricky) Logo to Coach Lindsey. That's one positive I've had."
Lindsey said "I think just continuity and different coaching styles" are the biggest adjustment players go through under a position coach change. "Every coach is different. The biggest difference is probably the verbiage. Coaches say stuff that may mean the same thing, but may be worded differently (from another coach).
"Continuity definitely helps a player."
But Lindsey likes the improvement he's seen in Lynn.
"I think he's become more conscious of playing with his hands," Lindsey said. "He did that fairly well when I got here. The thing you pick up about Josh right off the bat is he's an intelligent kid. He picks up things real easy. He's easy to teach.
"He's more of what you call a quiet leader," Lindsey said. "He's not really vocal with the guys. He just leads by example and does his job to the best of his ability."
Lynn, an information technology major, said he noticed in high school that the offense usually seemed to get the first shot at the most talented players.
"In high school, they put all the athletic guys at running back or receivers," he said. "The bigger guys like myself -- we all got stuck on the offensive line. That definitely wasn't what I wanted to play in high school. Playing on the defensive line was still fun, but the big guys got stuck with the blocking roles in high school more so than college."
College coaches don't regularly give the defense short shrift when dispersing talent.
"Coming into college you pretty much pick whatever position you're best at," Lynn said. "Even if you were an outstanding offensive player (in high school), if you're better on defense, you're going to play defense."
Lindsey said it would be good if defenses could have more control of a game's tempo, "but (the offense) has the ball and we have to react to what they do. I think it's really hard. The one main thing is if you limit them in yards they may slow it down. But they sort of have the advantage because we have to react and align and play our technique according to how they align themselves."
An official will sometimes stand over the ball and prevent the offense running a play to give defenses a chance to make defensive substitutions to match any offensive moves.
"That's very important," Lindsey said of that recent change in procedure between plays. "Maybe you want to rotate a defensive lineman in or out because they subbed, or you want to give your kids a chance to focus for those five seconds and get a call to get us lined up correctly; calm them down so they're not in a panic and a rush."
"Football defensively is a game of adjustments," Lindsey said. "We try to get back on the sideline every series and go through what they're seeing. I rely on them; they rely on me. We try to correct it and go on from there."
Another challenge for defenses is the quick turnaround of preparing for a pass-happy team one week and a run-oriented opponent the next.
Lynn said that's when players draw on the basic drills they learned during preseason camp.
"You've just got to know when to use what during a game," Lynn said. "The coaching staff does a great job of getting in, getting a game plan ready. When we get here on Tuesday we have to be ready to dive directly into the game plan.
"Coaches don't have much time to go over specific techniques, the little things that we went over in camp," Lynn said. "You just have to be ready and be able to pull all that back out and keep going."
Lynn was a multisport star at Great Falls High School and was a starter on a state runner-up basketball team under legendary coach John Smith as a senior.
But he'd already made up his mind about his future athletic intentions.
"I'd say around the 10th grade is when I realized I really wanted to play football (in college)," Lynn said. "I loved playing basketball. I still play it today, but I knew that I was better at football than basketball. I pretty much envisioned myself playing anywhere where I was comfortable, no matter what the distance was from home.
"Now, that I look at it I'm kind of glad I'm close to home," Lynn said. "My parents can come to all the home games. That's one thing I like about being here."
Lynn said he drew some interest from South Carolina and Clemson as a high school junior, but the main attention he got as a senior was from Football Championship Subdivision programs such as Presbyterian, Elon and Georgia Southern.
"But pretty much Furman was the one who was with me the majority of the time," Lynn said. "That was one reason why I decided to come here."
Great Falls, located in southeastern Chester County between Rock Hill and Columbia, is one of the state's smallest public high schools. Even a move to a school with Furman's modest enrollment was an adjustment for Lynn.
"I'd say the biggest thing for me was getting used to everybody," Lynn said. "In high school and even middle school I knew all the guys ever since I was little. Coming here, I pretty much knew nobody."
Lynn said there also were adjustments to the college life away from the field, like "knowing I need to study tonight so I don't need to go to this party; know I've got class the next day so I can't just stay out too late the next before … just trying to get adjusted to how everything goes."
If Lynn had any timidity about going from a small town to the FCS level, he didn't let it show.
"Confidence is one thing I didn't have to worry about," Lynn said. "I honestly felt like I could come in and play my freshman year. When I would talk to my dad he was like 'don't be surprised if you get redshirted. It will be good. You'll get a chance to develop.'
"I remember telling him 'No, I don't want to be redshirted. I want to play this year,'" Lynn recalled. "Coming in I had the confidence I could play and step right in. I ended up having to play, starting the first three games of my freshman year. I think that helped me, because I've always had confidence in my ability."
Lynn said having confidence plays an important role in a player's success.
"I had confidence, but when I played I was still being tentative my freshman year, especially with the fact we played Auburn and Missouri that year," Lynn said. "I was always used to being the biggest guy on the field, but when I stepped out there I was looking up at the offensive tackles."
That made an impact on Lynn, who's now 6-foot-4, 255 pounds.
"That was pretty mind-blowing my freshman year, but I've adjusted over the years.
"For most games I'm still one of the tallest kids on the field; maybe not the biggest, but being the tallest kid has its perks."
"I think the biggest thing we've shown improvement in is effort; overall effort," Lynn said. "People have been flying around, running to the ball a lot more. That was one thing we saw on film after the Samford game.
"That's one thing we can control," Lynn said. "Like I said, you never know what plays they're going to run; you never know what new stuff they're going to do, but nobody dictates how hard you go every play, whether you run to the ball or not. That's one thing we try to improve on every week, just consistently battle every play."
Furman lost the season-opening Samford game on a late field goal. Lynn said season-openers something contain a lot of unknowns. "It's very different. Scrimmaging against our offense during camp, you get to the point like you know what they're going to do; you know the plays, you know the tendencies."
"Then, facing a foreign opponent, one you only see once a year, and seeing them in the first game, everybody is a little tentative on how things are going to go in the game," Lynn said. "It's not so much until you start getting later on in the season that you start getting comfortable with everything and finally get everything rolling good."
Lynn said that as a defense's confidence grows it can add more wrinkles to its game.
"When the coaches start getting confidence in players then they know no matter what they call the players are going to be there. So, you might see more blitzes; you might see blitzes changed up with different players coming. It's all about a comfort thing with the coaches and the players getting confidence."
When the Paladins' played at Clemson earlier this season it was Lynn's fifth game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
He's had 12 tackles, 3 assists, a pass breakup, and 3 three tackles for losses – one a sack – against the big boys.
"That's one of the big things I've loved since I've been here," Lynn said. "Coming out of high school I felt like I could play on the big level. I didn't get the chance.
"I'm still happy I came here," Lynn said. "Yeah, a lot of our games are big, but going against a Clemson or South Carolina we're stepping out on the biggest stage there is in college football. It feels good to go out there and compete against those guys and measure your skill level against another guy's skill level."
The Paladins passed the midway point of the regular season last week at Wofford. Lynn has goals for how he wants his final college season to end.
Rudy Jones wrote about hundreds of Furman University sporting events during his almost 40-year-career with The Greenville News and Greenville Piedmont. His coverage of the Paladins' 1988 football national championship earned him a first place writing award from the South Carolina Press Association. The Travelers Rest native has a blog about college baseball in South Carolina:palmettostatebaseball.blogspot.com. Contact Rudy at firstname.lastname@example.org