Well, in a spasm of effort, I've temporarily escaped the Swamp Of Sloth in which I've been mired and actually have made an effort to contribute something towards filling the off-season vacuum. The same energy does not seem to have extended to my titling creativity, but so be it. At any rate, one of the things I normally do in the off-season is look at how our future opponents fared in the statistical salt mines the previous year - results follow.
Using historical data to predict future events is always a chancy proposition, at best, but with a little judiciousness and some consideration of related events (returning starters, key losses, etc), it seems to work reasonably well, or, at least, has for me in the past. As an aside, my observations would suggest that, absent external changes (generally a new coaching staff or an infusion of juco players), it's abnormal to see season to season statistical fluctuations of more than plus/minus fifteen percent.
There have already been several posts suggesting that next year's schedule consists primarily on the gridiron lame and halt, interspersed with (pick a number) difficult tests for our warriors. Not surprisingly, the stats suggest very much the same thing - after all, one doesn't go 3-8/2-9 and possess blazing offenses or adamantine defensive units.
First , since we've been obsessing over our offense and whether we will, in fact, ever see a running game or whether we should just say "[censored] it" and go to the spread, let's look at the defenses we'll face next year. Now, bear in mind that the Davis offenses have historically amassed large numbers against average, or lower, defensive units and tended to "fade to black" when the opposition is a bit more manly. Well, based on the numbers, we should see some big days next year. Overall, the opposing defensive units gave up 368 ypg last year, about the same as the 367 ypg yielded by the 2000 opponents.
Looking more specifically, we face four units who were top quartile last year - #8 OU, #24 TT, #25 ATM, and #30 UNC. After that, it's into the abyss, with the next highest ranked D being UH at #54. We also face four teams with rankings >#80. Since we've not fared well vs good defenses, it might be of interest to explore that facet in more detail. In 1999, the jury on Davis' offenses rendered a clear verdict - 480 ypg vs the puffs, 242 ypg (or approximately 50%) vs decent defenses. Last year, the story was less clear - we faced four statistically solid Ds in OU, UO, TT, and ATM. OU was a disaster, as we managed only 154 yards vs their season average of 279. UO was mixed, with us gaining 295 vs their avg of around 310. TT and ATM both allowed 321 ypg and we rolled up 454 ypg vs those two, demonstrating that we can occasionally move it against decent defenses and holding out some hope for next year.
Of the four decent defensive units (based on last year) we face, I took a look at their pass defense capability, since that's how we're going to move the ball next year, IMO. OU was ranked #2, TT #10, ATM #36, and UNC a gratifying (from my POV) #79. TT lost seven starters on D, so I don't expect them to be as robust this season, while the Aggies, based on Tday +1, hold less defensive terror for me than previously. OU is the real deal, however, and I see no statistical reason to be sanguine about that matchup - maybe Davis will expose me for the Doubting Thomas I seem to have become. I certainly hope so.
So, how is it likely to shake out, come September? Well, considering that, post OU, we averaged 498 ypg in our last six regular season games and the defenses we face in most of our 2001 games are comparable (or weaker) than those six opponents, it's pretty easy to predict we'll roll up some yardage.. It is not coincidental that those numbers coincided with the emergence of RW and BJJ as significant contributors, replacing Flowers and Healy. Then consider that Simms and crew have had a full off-season to work on chemistry and timing and that Bo Scaife appears fully recovered, and let your respective imaginations run wild.
Moving to the other side of the ball, let's recap where the majority of us see the defense to be - expected solid DE play, coupled with some talented youth at DT, likely mean a decent front 3-4. Secondary looks to be outstanding, with enough depth to keep fresh guys on the field. LBs who are capable of filling the wrong gap with considerable athleticism and agility, and who we sincerely hope experience their own collective epiphany over the summer, but especially by the first week in October.
The general concensus I've read is that we may be vulnerable to the run and, on the surface, that would seem to be the area of greatest risk.. Of course, that brings us back to some version of Bishop Berkeley's toppling tree in a vacant forest and whether sound exists. Similarly, if our run D appears to be composed of silly putty compounds, but the other guys' weapons consist of running backs hampered by club feet and offensive linemen more skilled in buffet exploitation than drive blocking, does it really matter?
Two things on our run defense - (1) take it to the bank, Reese will never let us be victimized by the run. This is the guy who reeked of brimstone all of 1998, after making his own deal with sundry unnamed darker spirits, and changed Mackovic's "ole" D into a decent unit. Carl can stop the run, the question on the table is whether he can stop the pass; (2) our running opposition is indeed deficient.
Next year's opponents managed 137 ypg on the ground last year, but even that meager production is misleading. If NMSU, the 6th ranked running team at 270 ypg, is dropped, the average for the other ten teams drops to a sickly 123 ypg. Further consider that, even with our much bemoaned rushing production of 145 ypg, the next highest output after NMSU was OSU at 161 ypg, or 11% better than us. Three of the teams didn't even manage 100 ypg. All in all, I can contain my apprehension about opposition infantry attacks.
OTOH, it appears, based on some superficial research into spring workouts, that passing attacks are going to be the order of the day for our opponents. Of course, it's tough to predict how that will shake out until we see them in action, but there's been considerable discussion about, and interest in, variations of the spread offense that seems to be the strategy du jour. OU gets a lot of mention, as do Clemson, Northwestern, Oregon St, etc. As of this writing, only three of next year's foes were outstanding through the airways through the airways - OU, TT, and UH, at 19th, 11th and 13th, respectively, although the Buffies came in at #32 and the Aggies, in a tribute to RC's continuing diversification, finished 35th.
Frankly, as I mentioned earlier, this is probably the area that concerns me the most, in spite of our obvious secondary strengths. Bull has a well deserved reputation for shutting down the run - his rep as regards the passing game is not quite as compelling. From watching in spring, I think the addition of Akina ,and some of the zone coverages he brought with him, are going to be of considerable benefit. Now, if we can just muster a pass rush
Overall, I expect this defense to be comparable to the last two, although I would guess we will yield a few more total yards due to the expected emphasis on the pass. However, Reese's defenses have generally performed better than the opponents' averages - in looking back over the past couple of years, we had offdays vs UNL (although we did take them out of their offense and make them get the yardage on the long pass), Arkansas, OU last year and UO in the Holiday Bowl. Not coincidentally, the latter two both ate our lunch by exploiting our aggessiveness and tendencies to overpursue, both traits getting a lot of corrective coaching in the spring.
Pass rush. For this team, that's the key to going from a good defense to a great one. Our's has been average since Hump left. Now it's time for CR to "bust out", or perhaps K. Thorton continues his rapid development and helps us here. Considering we had the DT's last year, I'm still not sure why M. Gordon didn't see the field more. He's the best pure pass rusher on the team. But that's another thread.
If we keep blitzing LB's to make up for an average pass rush we'll be eating Q Griffin all over again with shuttle passes, screens, dumpoffs, etc. Perhaps a zone blitz pkg would help?
That being said my principal concern remains the offense. Bull still has some credit with me, and I'm confident the Akina addition will only strengthen our pass defense.
But GD has yet to prove to me that he can put a defense on it's heels, much less keep it there. The disparity in performance against average opponents and quality opponents is startling. I get the sense that we beat average opponents with our talent, not our scheme. And talent alone doesn't get it done against a Stoops defense.
Perhaps we will become like FSU: so much talent that we eventually win it all despite everything else. But I don't want to depend on that.
I think our offense will produce against the stiffer defences next year. With roy and bj having a full season/spring under their belts, scaife healthy, a decent o-line, and one starting qb, I think we will be pretty tough.
As far as the defence goes. I'm not to worried about stopping the run. DD is a proven run stopper. Our safeties (which I think has been the secondary's anchor for the last three years or so) are active enough to stop the run as well. We do need to develop a pass rush however. I was happy to hear of Gordon's(?)development at DT this spring. Hopefully Redding/Thorton will blow up this year. They will be the strength of our D-Line. I think that with the 3-5 look that has been so heavily talked about, the addition of the rover in the secondary will be move in the right direction. It should overcome our lack of depth on the dline by taking one off the field.
With the type of athletes we are fielding these days, we should be pretty stout on both sides of the ball (Hopefully). But at the end of the day,it all comes down to coaching and heart.
Augie and couchman, I share the same apprehensions about whether Davis can gameplan appropriately vs a good defense. I took some encouragement last year from our performances vs TT and ATM, both of which were decent, if not dominating, defensive units. The Oregon game was a setback in that regard, however, as I thought we were solidly outcoached on both sides of the ball.
The comment on FSU is very much in line with my thinking. I've thought for some time that Brown role models, in terms of program construction, were Barry Switzer and Bobby Bowden. Both were generally high level guys who could go get the talent, then delegate to their assistant coaches to get the job done. That certainly appears to be the path Brown has followed to date, with the jury being out on whether we've got all the right assistants.
I certainly am of the same opinion as you guys - when we have a talent edge, which we will have most of the time, we simply go bugshit. However, when the other guys are comparable in talent where we can't just overpower them, our schemes don't seem to be up to the task vs a good defensive gameplay. In particular, that's a concern in my mind for next October - OU will certainly field a competent defense and Stoops and Venables appear capable of constructing a solid game plan. Certainly, they did so last year.
On the defense, I left spring training somewhat reassured. LB play is not a strength, but we did look somewhat better vs the misdirection that ate our lunch last season, although that could well be attributable to poor offensive execution by the O guys - who can tell? In particular, I thought the pass rush was considerably better - Tubbs and Doiron may actually be improvements in that department over Casey and an injured Shaun, while Gordon looked extremely quick on situational rushes. Thornton also looked better and Redding, who doesn't lack for atttitude or work ethic but has lacked for technique, was actually showing some moves other than the outside bullrush.
UTME, I'm hopeful that our offense will finally have the consistency to produce against good defenses, but admit, based on past history, to some reservations. Right now, I'm hoping that the quality of pass coverage our receivers will face every day in practice will get them ready for the good secondaries, such as the Sooners. I'm not particularly hopeful for the running game - possibly Benson will be the answer. If he's not, I certainly didn't see anyone emerging from the pack in spring and our rushing effectiveness during the scrimmages was marginal, at best.
I honestly don't see this season being much of a matter about who we play or how our opponents did last season. I honestly believe that we have the talent to win every game next year. One could argue that we have the requisite experience as well.
When you cut through it all, it simply comes down whether our team and staff will enter each game with the mental and emotional preparedness required to win on each given day. If we do, we have the talent to take care of business. If we fail to do so, even the NMSUs of the world are a threat. Up to this point, I'm inclined to believe that we will not come out prepared for at least one game. I'm basing that statement on historical evidence.
I can't help but remain from Missouri when viewing our outlook for next season.
As PhxHorn pointed out, I think that just going into a game with a mental and emotional preparedness is not enough. The other third comes from game preparation -- from coaching. While the former two will be enough to win many games based on the amount of talent we are fielding on both sides of the ball, against very good teams like OU, which is really the only very good team we will face in the regular season, coaching becomes all the more important. And it worries the hell out of me.
Given the amount of times I've beaten that dead horse, I left it out with the theory that that part of the equation was understood. I did not want to see this thread spiral aimlessly downward into a "Greg Davis can't coach" thread. I'm confident Phx knew that, given our numerous discussions on that aspect in the past.
Good point nonetheless, and one with which I certainly agree.
Poster ineptitude has put me on this ledge, Greg Davis will send me soaring off of it.
For what it's worth, I strongly believe that whatever our problems on defense next year may be, "mustering a pass rush" won't be one of them.
Among other reasons--I think Corey Redding will "break out" this season. Truthfully, I thought that statistically he had a great year this year. He finished 31st in the country (3rd among 2nd-year players) in TFL's per game; he was in the top 10 in sacks among 2nd-year players; and he led UT in QBP's with 22.
I think that Kalen, who also had an outstanding year (though he finished with far fewer TFL's or sacks, he had 20 QBP's) benefited from the focus some teams gave Corey's side. This year he should be much improved, moving OJ to DE and Jermaine and Adam's improvement in spring should allow both Corey and Kalen to stay fresher--key to a DE's performance.
You can't dispute that we lost two great ones in Casey and Shaun, but I'll continue to argue (until, please don't let it happen, I get proven wrong during a game) that we'll have better pass rushers in Tubbs & Lee next season. Throw Gordon & Doiron into the mix, and we have even more speed. The running game I'd worry about, but it appears that both DD Lewis and Austin Sendlein specialize in stopping the run, so I'm not terribly concerned. I think if the DT's do an adequate job, we'll be fine.
It's also worth pointing out that with what should be a ridiculously explosive offense next season, we should be able to take folks out of their ground game quickly. Tough to run your way back from a three-touchdown deficit.
I also find it amusing that both Corey Redding and Kalen Thornton could start the season heavier than most of the DT's (Doiron, Tubbs, Gordon).
I answered you on 360, but I thought I'd throw out some babble here as well....
I'm seeing a Big 12 which will be strong offensively, despite NU's potential struggles, and a league which will not play sterling defense by recent historical standards.
Tech, Mizzou and Colorado will all have upgraded offenses and even A&M, though not blessed with good receivers, will be able to move the ball respectably through the air with a reliable OL and an improved Farris. It wouldn't shock me to see one of Mizzou, CU or Tech get a W over the league's elect in a high scoring shootout.
That said, we have a personnel mix fairly well designed for a pass happy league.
Here you go starting another great thread again, PhxHorn...
As I was admiring your ability and desire to take previous year statistics and turn them into something we can extrpolate, one interesting twist struck me...
We are going to face at least 4 teams with relatively new coaching staffs: Texas Tech (2nd year), Okla State (1st year), North Carolina (1st year) and Missouri (1st year). As you well know, this team made incredible strides in defensive performance in Mack's first year alone. In other words, even with comparable team talent, it's a "wildcard"' how much better (or worse) each team will be on either side of the ball. That's 40% of a 10 game schedule right there...
You might find this hard to believe, but I find myself worried more about the defense right now than the offense. Why? Maybe because we are pretty well aware of the limitations we are faced to live with on offense, but assume we don't have any limitations on defense. Maybe because we may find our run support up the middle isn't as good as we had assumed... and we may not find that out until a chance encounter with Nebraska in December.
As you have well covered, Phxhorn, it appears we have spent a good deal of time this Spring adjusting to some of the flaws we all could see appear in the Oregon game. While on the one hand that's reassuring, I still remember a good handful of games where the defense played "dazed, lost and confused" in the first quarter-- only to sober up and regain its composure and dominance in the second half. One change I would like to see is more switching and deception between zone and man coverage, and we will more likely see that than the offense pulling tackles, guards and centers every 3rd play...
My preference, obviously, is for the defense to shut the "barrage" that Mack keeps talking about sometime early in the first series. But I dunno... think my expectations there might be a tad bit too high?
Excellent post as usual Phx. I think one reason that TT was so highly ranked against the pass was because they were light up front and more susceptible to the run; witness the UT game in Lubbock. Otherwise I certainly agree that on a statistical basis, there is a lot there for the taking.
I do not necessarily agree with the prevailing view on this board that GD was so clearly outwitted in the Holiday Bowl. I saw an offense that had no TE threat, no TB threat and a hobbled WR still get in position to win the game in the fourth quarter by moving the ball almost at will. If our receivers had had any kind of game at all we at least see OT.
I think we can expect at least a measure of adequacy in the running game. I dont expect any more than that. Production from the TE could be enough to keep the chains moving and lessen the need for the short yardage running game.
This season depends on a pass rush from the front four. We are not good at blitzing LBs. If we come up short in the rush, we will come up short in the season. That looks highly possible to me at this point, although the continued emergence of our DEs gives one hope.
ctj and Vasherized, I agree with both of you about potential preparedness concerns. I also agree that I don't care to see this thread degenerate into yet another Greg Davis sucks situation. I'm not as down on Davis as several on the boards seem to be, yet I will admit to concerns when it comes to offensive innovation and gameplan development, not to mention our Mackovician difficulties in making in-game adjustments.
Of course, it's always wise to be careful about wishes, since they may come true. When Mackovic was here, my mantra was "goddamnit, John, keep running Ricky - it's working". Nine pass plays followed, since John was determined to keep the beautiful symphony going. Now, it's "goddamnit, Greg, quit running the tunnel screen - it's not working".
Carkev, based on observations in spring, I can agree our pass rush may be improved. Of course, those improvements I noted could be due to poor pass protection by the thinnned OL unit - who can tell in intramural competition?
I certainly hope you're right on Redding, since there's a lot to admire about that young man's athleticism and work ethic. Unfortunately, a fast first step doesn't seem to be part of Corey's arsenal, so unless MadDog can improve that, CR is going to have to improve his rush technique more than I've seen to date. Even in spring, he displayed a tendency to lock up with the OT, atthough he was varying his rush techniques more than I've noticed in the past. Thornton, along with Gordon, stood out on the pass rush. Of course, Kalen's success gives me worry about how well Robbie Doane is going to protect Simms next fall, but there's that intramural competition again.
HIO, I think we can pretty well figure out what Leach is going to do at TT. However, the other three are going to be mysteries until we actually see them in games. It's my impression that all three staffs are more oriented to the prostyle passing game, but I haven't delved into that aspect of it in any depth - perhaps later. Presumably, our coaches know something about the various head and assistant coaches who've gone to these schools, since coaching is a fairly closed fraternity, and can extrapolate what they might throw at us.
Your comments on the slow starts, on both sides of the ball, are in line with my thoughts. Frankly, and I haven't gone back to confirm or refute this, I simply don't recall slow starts being a problem in either 1998 or 1999. If that's the case, what's changed? Beats me, but I certainly hope we get it corrected by September. As to zone and mixed coverages, we were using those considerably more than in the past - of course, in the past we didn't use them at all. However, Akina obviously knows some things about coverage packages, so I think - given the talent at his disposal - that we may see improvement over what was already a pretty solid group.
Bullzak, your comments on TT are on the money - McMackin obviously made the speed-size tradeoff in favor of speed and they were notably undersized in the front seven. I don't know if you saw their game vs UNL, but it was ugly to watch. The Human Refrigerators that make up the UNL OL had a field day.
Perhaps you're correct about GD and the Holiday Bowl, although his sending Vic Ike, not once, but twice, into the line when UO had eight, then nine, in the box struck me as something less than innovative. I also wondered why we didn't try to get the ball to Brock Edwards and why we didn't see more of Sloan Thomas after Roy got hobbled. However, you are correct that we were in that game in spite of all those occurences, so possibly I'm being too harsh.
As to our pass rush, I'm not sure whether the situation is one of "not being good at blitzing our LBs" or whether its' the converse - our LBs are not good at blitzing. In any event, the tradeoff, it seems to me, is to either send DDL into an assigned gap or hope that he improves his reads to the point where he only fills the wrong gap one-fourth of the time, as opposed to the approximately one-half that seemed to occur last year. I had hoped Sendlein would step up in the middle and allow DD to move outside, which I think is a more natural position for him. However, based on spring, I'm not sure that Austin is fast enough to handle the MLB coverages. He's a great run stuffer, but the nature of the offenses that are being run right now seem to dictate that all of the LBs have to handle coverages duties.
Scipio, I read your lame attempt on GoBig12 and responded to it, although I'm sure that by now you're ass deep in political discussion with crow and megs. For your reading convenience, I'm cutting and pasting it over here. If memory serves, you asked about one back sets, the kicking games, and the state of the conference
One back sets look to me to be the way to go, at least in other than short yardage situations. Let's face it, FB has been the least productive position on the team, apparently by design, and we now have a choice of putting a third WR or a second TE in the ball game instead. I don't claim to possess any particular insights on formation efficacy, but that certainly looks to be something meriting more than casual investigation.
I left spring training with mixed feelings about the kicking game. Bradford will, I believe, give us a satisfactory punting game - reasonable distance, good hang time, and generally consistent. Justin Smith is consistent only in his inconsistency - I'm not sure he's going to develop, although when he hits one, the result is simply a jaw-dropper.
The kicking game - both kickoffs and FG/EP - looks to be this year's reason to restock the Hefty garbage bag inventory. Since we're now talking about walk-on trials (again) in August, that presumably means the coachesf are apprehensive about our production in this area. I only saw one kickoff reach the endzone during spring, so our coverage guys better continue to improve. Of course, we did kick it out of bounds rather frequently, so maybe that's the strategy - just give it to them at the 35 and put the defense in there.
As to the state of the conference, I think the Big12 is in a transitional period. Historically, it was a conference where real men Ran The Damned Ball, so, over time, DCs (including Reese) installed the attacking defenses so currently in vogue. As a result, the running games began to founder, unless, like Nebraska, you used some form of option to spread the field. Reese is not the only guy who sees the advantages of making the opponent one-dimensional, and their plans are working - Big12 rushing output has declined every year for the last five.
Next, enter a bunch of guys who like to throw the ball and add in some really good guys to catch it and, voila, we're suddenly a passing conference. If you'll remember 1996, the inaugural year, only we and CU could have been considered passing teams - that landscape has certainly shifted. Now, suddenly DCs are scrambling to get smaller, faster guys in the lineup. That can't be done overnight, however, and so we get some timing mismatches, which I think will show up numerous times next fall, where the defensive talent, and associated strategy, is simply at odds - and not favorable ones - with what the offense is doing.
I'm just going to address the defense issues, because I really don't think I'm qualified to address your offense, and my defense observations go more to the general than UT specifically.
As has been stated my some posters above, I'm totally convinced that if a team is to successfully defense a well run spread offense with a modicum of running ability, it has to have an interior +1 at least DE effective pass rush. If not, the defense is doomed to failure. This allows the defense to do a lot of not so traditional things in defensing the spread. It can play 2 & 1 LB sets, 6 & even 7 DB alignments. It can allow a very good and fast LB & SS to not only drop back in coverage to cover the short passing routes, but also pull up and cover the slip screens and shovel passes. Without the DL pass rush, I don't care how many DBs a team has in coverage, a good spread QB with unlimited time will pick it apart and consistently find the always at least 1 open WR. If the DL needs the consistent help of the SS & QBs to have an effective pass rush there will be just too many WRs open and who can be hit within 2 seconds of the ball snap. The DL line rush is an absolute must.
Welcome to the future of defensive football being drug along with the offensive innovations. So, does UT have the ability and personnel to have such a consistent DL pass rush? That is the BIG question that must be answered first. Because of the tremendous effort involved, you need to rotate 4 to 5 DTs. Do you have that depth with that ability? It also helps to be able to rotate some the DEs. If so, does UT have the ability and personnel for such defensive alignment innovations such as a 1 or 0 LB & up to as many as 7 DBs in certain situations? Do its coaches have the "stomach" for such innovations?
Though because of the camera angle it is sometimes difficult to pick up, in reviewing my tape of last year's OU/UT game, the OU announcer claims that in many situations UT is playing with just a 1 LB set. If that is accurate, you tried some of this last year, but it was very obvious that your DL pressure on Heupel was lacking. Your DL pass rush needs to be better this year than last. If you have that this year, you can play pretty even on the defensive side of the ball with most any spread attack.
I didn't know how prophetic Stoops was when he met the OU fans' criticism of the Leach attack in his 1st year concerning the lack of an exciting running game on the corners via the wishbone. He was quoted many times as saying, his spread offense was very similar to the wishbone, except rather than pitching the ball to a speedy back in the backfield, they were pitching it forward to a speedy receiver downfield. Just as did the defenses finally subdue OU's WB attack by crashing DL into the backfield to unsettle the critical timing of the QB & HBs, so to will a crashing DL unsettle the timing and relationships between the spread attack QB and his quick passes to the WRs.
With respect to OU, it may be easier to have DL pressure this year than last. The only weak points I observed in its spring scrimmages this year over last year's NCs, was in its OL. They need some improvement.
Obviously it can be done, but it becomes more and more difficult for the defense the more balanced is the offensive attack. But I am becoming more and more convinced that it is highly unlikely that a spread offense will also have a very good traditional running attack, just as it was nearly impossible for a good WB attack to have a good passing attack. Since the pass is the key and primary weapon in the spread, and giving the QB the maximum amount of time is of paramount importance, the OLmen are usually back as far as they can be "in the backfield" prior to the snap (to give them a pass protection edge). This does not make for real good OL run blocking, nor does the pre-snap OL "standing squat" position.
Anyway, just my thoughts.
"I expect Coach Wilkinson and his Oklahoma Sooners will be the best team in the country again this year." President Dwight D. Eisenhower, August 7, 1956.