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Getting Defensive

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I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about the Texas Tech defense and there's been, at least for this site, a pretty healthy discussion about what to do about the defensive woes.

As a blogger, one school of thought would be for me to hammer the defensive shortfalls every chance I get. Of course, I run the risk of sounding like a broken record, but at the very least, I'll be able to go on record as saying I think there needs to be a change. I'm not going to go that route. I've tried to put myself in Coach Leach's shoes and ask myself what's his motivation for keeping Coach Setencich. Coach Leach is too rational of a man not to know what's going on and to be affected by the discontent.

There is a disconnect, there has to be something we're missing here between Coach Leach and Coach Setencich. As I said above, Leach is too smart not to know there's a problem. I imagine that Coach Leach spends most of his waking hours figuring out ways to take advantage of defenses so he has to know that there is no such thing as the perfect defense. At too many times during a particular play, you've got guys back on their heels reacting to plays. And yes, it doesn't matter if it's a attacking style of defense, a read and react style, a 3-4 or a 4-3. There is no perfect solution. Most of the time a defense is moving backwards. It's minimizing that backwards movement which is the key. Some teams do this with bigger players, some do it with quicker players. There's probably no right answer. There is no perfect defense.

So let's identify the problem. Ryan Hyatt of the Williams and Hyatt Show, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, blames Don Williams and not tackling:

TEXAS TECH DEFENSIVE TROUBLES IN FIRST HALF EXPLAINED

Tech's wretched half of non-tackling has been explained by defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich and the problems were just as I expected. They are external, not internal. The poor Tech defense just had too much faith put in them during the week by fans and media alike. http://www.redraiders.com/stories/091007/foo_091007017.shtml Setencich said Tech defenders also had trouble hearing calls and getting lined up properly in the first half, when they were plagued by missed tackles. That, and being expected to win easily, had adverse effects, Setencich said."You need to have the proper mentality," he said."We probably didn't have the type of mentality that you need to have to compete with a good offensive line like they have."

Make sense to me. I'm sure it had nothing to do with just basic poor play and a non-physical mentality. Nope. It was Don Williams' fault for actually showing some confidence in the defense and Tech's ability to somewhat match that juggernaut defense from New Mexico ( you know, the one with 7 All-Americans and multiple future pros on it) that held UTEP to under 200 yards offense, TOTAL, last week in El Paso.

Sorry for the faith. We'll make sure it doesn't happen again.

I like Lyle, I really do. But its comments like these that drive fans nuts. Just say we didn't tackle for dog poop in the first half and it's our fault. Don't blame it on noise, David Collier at KAMC 28, the moons of Saturn being in linebackers' eyes or anything else. Just take responsibility, and move on.

That damn Don. Last time I let him pick Tech like that.

That's one vote for not tackling. Here's DTN reader Coach T with a similar response and venting some frustration:

Guys, I'm sick and tired of Lyle's defense, or lack thereof. I did not attend the game, but based on all the articles and the statements of those who did attend TECH CAN'T TACKLE! I wrote earlier this summer that Lyle needed to teach our guys to tackle. He hasn't.

The reason we will get run all over on, is because our defense doesn't hit in practice. This must change immediately. I'm glad to see Marlon Williams on the field and I would like some of the 2nd and 3rds to be starters, but as long as Lyle is coaching mediocrity, then that's all we'll have. What good is it to have speed on defense but not use it? Lyle has to go! If he stays, we should expect to get burned in 5 or 6 games. He's had 5 years to get things turned around but instead he has stubbornly held to a dead, sterile, weak defense.

That's two votes for not tackling. Now, I'm no football expert, but it's beyond me that casual fans are actually saying things like this. Not tackling? Seriously? Luckily, Disco Tech! provided us with a tutorial after the game, that, and pictures of hots. Back to tackling, I know, it's always said that tackling is something that's taught very early in your football career, the question is why is it continuing to happen here at Texas Tech?

DTN reader ST04 also has questions about the tackling:

I don't see why these guys don't know how to tackle. How long have they been playing football? Most should have played at least 6 years. I also don't see this all being Lyle's fault. Yes we have to run better schemes to give our players a chance to make big plays, but they have to "earn their scholarships" too. I think there was a huge lack of passion on the defensive side this game maybe they thought it was going to be a cakewalk.

Here's Coach T, again with this tackling thing from the above-reference link:

Your tackling skills will diminish very quickly if you don't hit every day in practice. Tech doesn't hit in practice because our coaches want to keep the guys fresh and uninjured. The negative effect of this is missed tackles. Unless we change that expect more missed tackles. It is Lyle's fault because he can change the practice philosophy had have his guys hitting every day. Our defense is going to face teams with more talented players, and the best way to overcome this disparity is with aggression. Lyle's schemes are vapid and sterile and lack that sine qua non of defense: AGGRESSION! He doesn't attack the opponent, he just has us sit there and take what they throw at us. My Jr. High ran that defense. If we would let our guys loose and go after the ball you would see a much better defense and more wins. Lyle refuses to get the playmakers on the field. Why? because he thinks putting in the most experienced players is better. It hasn't worked for 5 years Lyle, so give it up.

Okay, now you guys are just piling on Lyle, right? We're not done yet, Classless Clowns got into the act in his UTEP Review and Flags Over Raiderland also detailed the lack of tackling in his UTEP Game Recap.

Now that we've clearly identified the problem what's the solution. The simple solution is to just make a damned tackle, but you hear about teams not being able to tackle in the NFL and they're professionals. Tackling though should be a pretty simple process, or at the very least a simple solution to a big problem.

Is there something more, physically that we can see on the field that can solve the defensive woes? Much is always made of the fact that the Texas Tech offense is a quick strike offense which typically means that the defense is on the field much longer. The logic being that the defense is more tired and unable to perform at a high level. I actually think that Lyle is trying to do something about this by playing a number of kids early and often. There's the thought that everyone will be fresh by the 4th quarter and he could take his pick of a number of players. The point being is that I'd like to applaud Lyle for attempting to do something, which is something totally different than what Texas Tech fans are accustomed. In fact, you might even give Lyle a little credit for having this thought the entire offseason.

But the problem is bigger than a fix here or a fix there, it's philosophy and the problem is global. Many of you have opined that ultimately it's about expectations. DTN reader Pablo mentions the need for a change in philosophy in a recent diary and a change is going to happen sooner rather than later. We learned in December of last year that Coach Setencich's wife was sick and he had contemplated retirement. That doesn't sound like a guy who's in it for the long haul and rightfully so. Setencich has had as good a career as one could ask, retirement is a great thing. Hell, I'm 33 and I can't wait for the day that I get to retire so that I can wear a jumpsuit every day and sit on my ass.

But what has been Coach Leach's philosophy on hiring new assistant coaches? Well, he hired two this summer (really three if you count Bicknell who later quit) in Lincoln Riley to coach receivers and Matt Moore to coach the offensive linemen. Behind the quarterback, these two position coaches may be the most important on the team, but he essentially hired complete unknowns. What in the sam-hill are we to make of that? With Bicknell he hired a coach who failed at his previous stop, but after he took the job elsewhere, Bicknell's replacement was a high school coach (granted at one of the best high school programs in the nation, but still a high school. [EDIT] Forgot to say that he also coached at Troy.). But I'm happy with the results with what both of these guys have brought to the table. In fact, so far, they really couldn't have coached their units any better.

Is Riley and Moore's hires indicative of what Leach is considering for Setencich's defensive coordinator position? On one hand, he can hire someone like Riley, who has grown through the system or he can hire someone like Moore, who was virtually a complete unknown.

So who are the candidates for the knowns? Ruffin McNeill will be the first option. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad hire. McNeill isn't necessarily Setencich so he might not play as conservatively as Setencich appears to be, but will this type of hire satisfy the masses?

Now, I turn the controls over to you. Have we correctly identified the problem and what is the immediate solution and in identifying the long-term solution, who is really the answer?

Leave comments below.