Midseason report: 30 coordinators whose stock is on the rise
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Midseason report: 30 coordinators whose stock is on the rise

Matt Zenitz10/15/21
Article written by:Matt ZenitzMatt Zenitz

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KendalBrilesArkansas
Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who is in his second season with the Hogs. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, we identified 20 head coaches whose stock is on the rise after the first half of the regular season. After talking to industry sources, here’s a look at 30 coordinators who fall in that same category. They’re listed alphabetically.

Ohio State secondary coach Matt Barnes
Barnes technically isn’t the DC, but he replaced Kerry Coombs as the defensive play-caller after Ohio State’s Week 2 loss to Oregon. Under Barnes, the Buckeyes have held their past three opponents — Akron, Rutgers and Maryland — to 37 total points and an average of 303.3 yards per game. That’s after the Buckeyes (5-1) surrendered an average of 471.3 yards in their first three games, including 505 yards and 35 points during the loss to Oregon.

South Alabama DC Corey Batoon
South Alabama, which ranked fourth-worst in the Sun Belt in total defense last season, is 15th nationally in its first season under Batoon. The Jaguars (4-2) are tied for 14th nationally in sacks per game (3.17) and takeaways (12).

Houston DC Doug Belk
After ranking 55th nationally in total defense last season, Houston is fourth-best this year in its first season under Belk. It’s been part of a significant turnaround for the Cougars, who are 5-1 after going 3-5 last season. Houston is tied for second nationally with 24 sacks, third in third-down defense (with a 74.4 percent success rate) and up to sixth in pass defense after ranking 62nd last season.

Arkansas OC Kendal Briles
Arkansas was third-worst in the SEC in yards per play in 2019, improved to sixth in Year 1 under Briles last season (5.77) and is up to third this season (6.73). The Razorbacks (4-2) rolled up 676 yards in a 52-51 loss to Ole Miss last week, their highest-ever yardage total against an SEC opponent. They also had a school-record 39 first downs.

Kentucky OC Liam Coen
Kentucky, the SEC’s lowest-ranked offense last season, ranks fifth in the conference in yards per play in its first season under Coen (6.61). In a 42-21 win over LSU last week, the Wildcats (6-0) scored six touchdowns and had 475 total yards.

Michigan OC Josh Gattis
Michigan is averaging its most points per game since 2016 (38.5). That average ranks second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally. The Wolverines (6-0) have scored at least 31 points in five of their first six games, including 38 during a Week 5 win over Wisconsin. That’s tied for the most points scored on a Wisconsin defense (excluding points scored on defensive touchdowns) since Jim Leonhard took over as the Badgers’ DC in 2017.

NC State DC Tony Gibson
After ranking eighth in the ACC in defensive yards per play in 2019, NC State improved to third in Year 1 under Gibson last season and is second this year. The Wolf Pack (4-1) are ranked first in the ACC in total defense and second in scoring defense.

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Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, who is in his first season with the Vols. (Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee OC Alex Golesh
Tennessee, which was third-worst in the SEC in scoring offense under the previous Vols staff last season (21.5 points per game), is ranked seventh nationally this season (41.5). In its past two first halves (during wins over Missouri and South Carolina), Tennessee (4-2) has scored 83 points and averaged 9.7 yards per play.

Florida DC Todd Grantham
Florida is back to being one of the top defenses in the SEC. The Gators (4-2) are ranked second in the conference in scoring defense (16.5 points per game) after ranking eighth last season (30.8). They’re allowing 4.81 yards per play, which would be their lowest total since 2016 (4.66).

Baylor OC Jeff Grimes
In its first season under Grimes, Baylor (5-1) ranks first in the Big 12 and sixth nationally in yards per play (7.29) after ranking second-worst in the Big 12 and 125th nationally last season (4.44). The Bears have scored at least 31 points in three of their first four conference games, including 45 during a win over West Virginia last week.

Troy DC Brandon Hall
In its three seasons under Hall, Troy has improved from 6.2 yards per play allowed in 2019 (which was seventh in the Sun Belt) to 5.53 last season (fifth) and to 4.46 this season (second). The Trojans (3-3) lead the nation in sacks (4.5 per game) and are tied for 10th with 13 takeaways.

Michigan State DC Scottie Hazelton
Michigan State has cut its scoring defense average from 35.1 last season, which was last in the Big Ten, to 19.3 this year. The Spartans (6-0) rank first among Power 5 teams with 23 sacks.

Arizona State OC Zak Hill
After inheriting an offense that was eighth in the Pac-12 yards per play in 2019 (5.74), Hill has had Arizona State at the top of the conference in that stat each of the past two years, including an average of 7.09 yards per play this season. The Sun Devils, who are 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12, have scored a Pac-12-best 35 points per game in conference outings.

Michigan State OC Jay Johnson
Under Johnson, RB Kenneth Walker III has emerged as a top Heisman contender and the Spartans have improved from worst in the Big Ten in total offense last season (330.3 yards per game) to third this season (485.7). Michigan State, which didn’t reach 30 points even once during its 2-5 2020 season, has scored at least 31 points in five of its first six games this season.

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Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, who is in his second season with the Spartans. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Western Kentucky OC Zach Kittley
Under Kittley, who previously was OC at FCS member Houston Baptist, Western Kentucky is third nationally in yards per play (7.56). QB Bailey Zappe leads the nation in passing (447.0 yards per game) and is second with 21 touchdown passes. While the Hilltoppers’ record isn’t great (1-4), two losses came against Power 5 opponents (Michigan State and Indiana) and the others came against two of the top Group of 5 programs (Army and UTSA). Three of the four losses have come by six or fewer points.

Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles
Knowles’ defense has led the way for Oklahoma State during its 5-0 start. The Cowboys are ranked seventh among Power 5 teams in defensive yards per play (4.6) and are 10th nationally in third-down defense (with a 71.62 percent success rate). In a 24-14 win over then-No. 21 Baylor last week, Oklahoma State held the Bears to 280 yards and 10 first downs.

Georgia DC Dan Lanning
Under Lanning, Georgia (6-0) has one of the best defenses in recent seasons. Lanning’s group has allowed just three touchdowns total through their first six games. The Bulldogs have limited their first five Power 5 opponents to an average of 5.2 points per game.

Ole Miss OC Jeff Lebby
Lebby, Kendal Briles’ brother-in-law, continues to establish himself as one of the top offensive play-callers in the country. The Rebels (4-1) are ranked second nationally in total offense (561.6 yards per game) and fourth in scoring (46.2 points per game). Ole Miss rolled up 611 yards in its 52-51 win over then-No. 13 Arkansas last week.

Bowling Green DC Eric Lewis
Although Bowling Green is 2-4, Lewis has improved the defense from being 10th or worse in the MAC each of the previous five seasons, including 11th last season, to third-best this season. Lewis’ defense held Minnesota to 241 yards during a 14-10 Week 4 upset of the Golden Gophers.

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Bowling Green defensive coordinator Eric Lewis, who is in his first season in that role with the Falcons. (Mallory Hiser/Bowling Green Athletics)

Oregon State OC Brian Lindgren
Oregon State, which has finished no better than sixth in the Pac-12 in total offense since 2013, is tied for second this season (441.7 yards per game). In September, the Beavers (4-2) scored at least 40 points in three consecutive games, their first time doing so since 2013. Their point total in a 45-27 win over USC was their highest-ever against the Trojans.

Michigan DC Mike Macdonald
After yielding at least 24 points in each game while going 2-4 in 2020, Michigan has allowed only one of its first six opponents to surpass 17 points in its first season under Macdonald. The Wolverines are fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (15.5 points per game) after ranking 12th last season (34.5).

Georgia OC Todd Monken
Despite being without starting QB J.T. Daniels the past three games, Monken’s offense is averaging 43.3 points per game in SEC games, the highest mark among conference teams. The Bulldogs have scored at least 34 points in each of their first four games against SEC opponents.

UTEP DC Bradley Dale Peveto
Peveto’s defense has helped UTEP get off to a 5-1 start; the Miners won four games total the previous four seasons. UTEP is ranked 17th nationally in total defense, 21st in third-down defense and tied for 13th in tackles for loss. During UTEP’s current three-game winning streak, the Miners limited New Mexico, Old Dominion and Southern Miss to an average of 15.7 points.

Penn State DC Brent Pry
Only two defenses nationally (Georgia and Clemson) have allowed fewer touchdowns through six weeks than Pry’s group at Penn State. The Nittany Lions (5-1) have given up just eight total touchdowns and rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (13.8 points per game). During Penn State’s Week 1 win over Wisconsin, Pry’s defense held the Badgers to 10 points and 365 yards despite being on the field for 95 plays.

Baylor DC Ron Roberts
Baylor has improved from seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense last season (29.2 points per game) to second this season (17.8). Roberts’ defense also ranks second in the conference in third-down defense and third in defensive yards per play and tackles for loss.

Liberty DC Scott Symons
While Malik Willis and Liberty’s offense get most of the attention, Symons’ defense has been a big part of the Flames’ success, too. For a second consecutive season, Symons is leading a unit that ranks in the top 10 nationally. This season’s defense for Liberty (5-1) is fifth nationally in total defense (266.2 yards per game), sixth in scoring defense (14.3 points per game) and tied for 12th in sacks (19). None of the Flames’ first six opponents have scored more than 24 points, and four have been held to 13 or fewer points.

Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, who is in his first season with the Bearcats. (Courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)

Cincinnati DC Mike Tressel
Tressel, Jim’s nephew and a former Michigan State DC under Mark Dantonio, has stepped in for Marcus Freeman and has Cincinnati once again ranked among the top defenses in the country. The Bearcats (6-0) are tied for second nationally in scoring defense (12.2 points per game) and ranked sixth in defensive yards per play (4.19). During a 24-13 Week 5 win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame, Tressel’s defense held the Fighting Irish to 341 yards and had three takeaways.

Pitt OC Mark Whipple
Under Whipple, Pitt has transformed into the nation’s top-ranked scoring offense (52.4 points per game) and QB Kenny Pickett has emerged as a midseason Heisman candidate. The scoring output is almost double what the Panthers averaged last season (29.0). Pitt (4-1) has scored at least 41 points in each of its first five games. 

Kentucky DC Brad White
Kentucky is second in the SEC in defensive yards per play (4.61), third in total defense (305 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (17.5 points per game). White’s defense has limited the Wildcats’ past three opponents (South Carolina, then-No. 10 Florida and LSU) to an average of 14.7 points.

UCF DC Travis Williams
Under Williams, UCF has gone from last in the AAC and fifth-worst nationally in total defense under the previous Knights staff in 2020 (491.8 yards per game) to being ranked No. 4 in the AAC and 59th nationally this year (365.8). UCF (3-2) is third in the AAC in defensive yards per play (5.12). In the Knights’ most recent game, Williams’ defense led the way to a 20-16 win over East Carolina.