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Defensively Speaking: Texas 2018

I’ve written, deleted, rewritten this report out several times today. It’s not about being unsure what to say but getting it correctly compiled for the very savvy WeAreSC.com family. So, I’m going to flip the field so to speak (oh, we’ll get to the punting game fiasco soon enough). I’ll start with defensive X’s and O’s. And then I’ll finish with some broader observations about this team starting with the coaching staff and a question, “what is going to change starting last night after the game and onward that will change this team’s performance?”

X’s and O’s – Defense

• Same base set (2 DL 4 LBs and 5 secondary) but added Rector to open the game as DE/OLB. A good changed-up look as Rector bedeviled UT last season. Less so this time but at times he was effective.
• We used the same A-gap walk-up by Smith and Houston that we saw last week against Stanford. We did blitz out of it a couple of times with the ILBs same as last week too. This package was not effective as a pass rush but did stop running plays on the inside first half. Outside zone plays caused us serious grief most of the night.
• We defended 84 plays, and many were up-tempo in the Texas humidity. This was gassing our defense in the second half. Might I add that UT’s O-line didn’t seem to tire very much. And both teams substituted a lot in second half but for very different reasons. One team was beaten up and needed to bring in more “fresh legs” and the other was tired from burying the other guy. You pick which team you think fits that description.
• Secondary play is difficult to describe. We started with our nickel package but with Rector playing the DE/OLB role to neutralize UT’s run game and provide some pass rush length and strength. The other advantage is to add a pass coverage and blitz options with the speedier nickel personnel. Good theory but in practice not so effective. UT was very ready for Christian Rector and nickel backs (primarily Harris) just were not effective and with a one-on-one situation and a missed tackle we lost a TD right there. Biggie played pretty well and added some toughness on a few run plays. The offside got picked on (why not?) and Johnson and Langley both got mismatched and outperformed.
• Safety play was slightly better but also a mixed bag as well. Tell is still getting the job done on the field but our strong safety rotation (Hufanga & Pollard) got hung up inside when certain help was needed inside out on WRs and slot backs.
• Linebacker play was just not very good or impressive. Too many runs in the second half thru A-gaps and then outside zone reads by Ehlinger which chewed us up. A PBU by Houston was the highlight from this group. Not much to celebrate. UT stayed strongly to the perimeter passing game and used RPO schemes to freeze LBs and secondary players. Worked too many times.
• Defensive line was a similar disappointment. The work effort was there until mid 3rd quarter and then they got worn down. Our ineffective pass rush by the DL and Rush end (Gustin for most of the game) has been an Achilles heel all season (like 3 games so far). Clancy Pendergast’s scheme requires moving the QB off his spot and hurrying his reads and throws. This makes effective zone/press or man coverage more achievable and should lead to turnovers (interceptions and we’re still waiting). I was expecting a breakout game from the DL and it didn’t happen.
• Our rush end (Gustin mostly) was pretty well controlled. I did like seeing Porter take two inside twist routes switching with the 3-tech DT. Still didn’t get to the QB but disrupted plays and running lanes. His two personal fouls and ejection were notably unhelpful. Washington State is also happy too about this.
• The four first downs by penalty (Gustin -2, Hufanga – 1 and not sure of the last one. I didn’t recheck the film to determine this penalty as the officiating crew so homered us it was awful and I couldn’t go thru that again). Fairer officiating might have made a difference in the game’s outcome but hard to really know but certainly would have helped the cause.
• Giving up 10 of 19 3rd down and 1 for 1 4th down conversions is an obscene result. We can’t bow our neck and stop folks? We can’t sit on the first down marker and dare people to throw deep on us? This weakness led to 82 UT offensive plays compared to our 62. Btw, 62 offensive plays would be a slow day even for Stanford let alone USC.
• A minus 3 yards rushing but two rushing USC touchdowns…go figure.
• Punting…really?? Again??? Baxter, where are you and what are you doing? What is the diagnosis and how are you going to fix? Geez, punting of all things killing us too.

More Observations…

• Coach Helton has opted for staff continuity in place of demanding and getting excellence on the practice field and on gameday. Bad trade and nothing has changed regarding his CEO philosophy. I was flummoxed when Deland McCullough jetted out of town so fast to Kansas City it was an embarrassment. So, we added to the staff Drevno for run game management, Colbert and Campo as an advisor. Not working really well by my scorecard. Secondary coach Bradford still producing disappointing results and BKU can’t get a pass rush going or dominate the LOS. CP and his scheme is too predictable and exposes many of our weaknesses. We have to manufacture pressure in the pocket which also creates exploitable weaknesses if we don’t shut down the QB.
• Our on the road record (let alone against ranked opponents on the road) is .500 (maybe less now, I dunno). Coach Helton’s 4th and 2 decision last week was awful. Trying a 50 yard field goal last night got us 1) a blocked FG 2) a 10 point negative swing with a scoop-n-score and 3) a hurt FG kicker who will be out an disclosed amount of time. Nice.
• Our best special team coach in the country is not getting the job done or even close. We must demand better results.
• WRs can’t get open or separation with the impressive exception of St. Brown. I worry about him making it thru the season in one piece as he really fights for the extra yards.
• TEs have difficulty 1) blocking 2) catching 3) getting a first down. Go with the #99 package then…screw it.
• Practice intensity…isn’t. Ced Ware (who I like a lot btw) said as much as nicely and as adroitly as possible after last night’s embarrassing loss especially for him as a Texan (btw I live in Dallas so really happy about all the UT pride in the neighborhood). Ware’s point was specifically about demanding performance on the practice field including and especially the little details. He’s right and being pretty wise beyond his years. Every team we’ve played has practiced more hours in full pads than we have. We are not physical because we don’t demand physicality. O-line are punching bags and they have to be getting tired of that. I saw that last week against ‘Furd as they got excited with the #99 package and had fun with it.
• Can’t have fun if you don’t believe you should win.

So the question remains, what changes this week that will generate different and better results? Coach Helton, don’t kid yourself as yesterday was a watershed game in the history of USC football. It’s on you.

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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