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What Went Wrong with Texas Tech's Defense; Let's Fix The Defense

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The Texas Tech defense has had a rough time stopping any opponent thus far. We take a look at Texas Tech's "havoc rate" and we also discuss fixing that defense.

John Weast

Well. I get a post all written about how to fix the defense and then head coach Kliff Kingsbury fires his defensive coordinator, Matt Wallerstedt, or is dismissed from the staff, and now, Texas Tech possibly starts over as Mike Smith, who was the co-defensive coordinator, is now being asked to take over the role full-time.  We'll get to the changes that I hope Smith makes on the defensive side of the ball, but let's take a look at the current state of the defense. Let's look to see what went wrong first.

Havoc Rate

Earlier this week, writer extraordinaire Bill Connelly came up with a pretty simple idea of tracking if your team's defense is creating enough plays that are causing issues for opposing offenses.  He calls it the "havoc rate".  I tried to do something similar to this a few years ago, but like a lot of things in my life, I made it too complicated and I didn't have neat name for it. In fact, to give credit where credit is due, I was really inspired by Bob Sturm, who wrote about defensive "splash plays" back in 2011 and has been writing about it ever since.  Of course, the NFL tracks things that is not tracked on the collegiate level, so I looked for something much more simple.

In any event, the "havoc rate" is pretty simple:

forced fumbles + tackles for loss + passes defended (including interceptions) = havoc plays / total plays = havoc rate

The national average last year was 15.9%.  Here are the results for Texas Tech's defense for 2013:

Game Forced Fumbles Tackles for Loss Passes Broken Up INT's Total Havoc Plays Total Plays Havoc Rate
C.Arkansas 1 5 6 0 12 94 12.77%
UTEP 0 2 3 0 5 78 6.41%
Arkansas 0 2 1 0 3 80 3.75%

Your first response should be, "Oh my." I'm sure this is a PG version of what you just said.

The next part is what to do about this.

This has all of us, me included, scratching our heads about what to do next. Is it the players?  Is it the coaches?  Is it the scheme?  Is it personnel choices?  I always say that it's a combination of things, it's never just one thing.  LIfe isn't usually that simplistic.

So what to do?

In any event, as you can see, this is actually quite terrible news.  Not only are the yards mounting against the defense, whether you believe the opposing offenses to be worthwhile opponents, this defense has given up a ton of yards, there are almost no negative plays.  No plays that are causing opposing offenses any real issues at all.  And honestly, you all have already thought of as many things and more than I could have considered.

I still say that sure would help a lot if the offense was more efficient. I wrote that before the year started, assuming that there would be a progression of the offense and now I think a little silly for thinking that (Although I have a hard time criticizing anyone for thinking that players should get betters. That seems like a normal and natural progression.)

Identify the Playmakers

The first part of the solution is to consider the guys that are at least making plays.  I didn't have time to go through and do each individual player, for the most part, the leading players in terms of havoc plays are Branden Jackson, Tevin Madison, and that's about it.  So it would make sense that these are the best players, wherever they are at.  That's the two cornerbacks and a defensive end.

The other spot that I think is about as good as you're going to get is at Keenon Ward.  Ward has been as good as you're going to get at the field safety spot. He really has been fantastic.  At the boundary side, had you asked me about J.J. Gaines, I would have been really fine with him, but after seeing how far he got sucked in the line of scrimmage on a couple of touchdowns runs, I'm starting to question whether or not he's going to be good enough in run support. With Jalen Barnes being a bit banged up, this seems like a spot that Smith could maybe experiment with another player that might not be as good in coverage, which is really Gaines strong suit and go with a guy that might be better in run support.

Finding Linebackers

The tough part for me is the linebacker spot and I scratch my head and I try to consider which guys should really hold onto their spots.  I go back and think about all of the plays that are made by linebackers in comparison to the plays on the field and they just aren't there.  This is really an indictment on everyone at this spot, which is that we're grabbing at straws for options and just not finding them.  The only guy that we really don't know a lot about is Sam Atoe, who got some burn against Arkansas and after seeing him in action, he definitely is a guy that seems like that safety / linebacker hybrid. Other than that, I think there just aren't a ton of options, and of the options, they're undersized (I think) for Big 12 football. I'm talking about the freshmen from last year. Malik Jenkins, Kahlee Woods, Jacarthy Mack, etc.  This might sound a bit ridiculous, and maybe this is because I just don't know a lot about them, but the other wildcard as I review the roster is Collin Bowen.  I don't know anything about him, other than I seem to recall he had an interception during the spring game.

Other than that, I'm at a loss and that's the problem. I think that's where the coaches are too.  Sam Eguavoen is sometimes slow to dissect plays. I've detailed how I think that Pete Robertson is simply being asked to do something he's not capable of doing, which is take on the tackle and rush the passer. He's just not equipped to do that. It would be like me asking you to saw a 2x4 in half and then give you a hammer.  I think I'm fine with V.J. Fehoko as far as what he's asked to do, which is to be a 1 or 2 down linebacker, but that's about it.

I think the coaches really felt like they had these guys pegged in their positions and now it seems like they got quite a bit wrong. They should have recognized over the past year. That's the personnel issue with me is that they have identified players for specific roles and I think they were wrong in their assessment.

Asking Players To Do Things They Cannot Do

Generally speaking, I think the coaches really felt like they had these guys pegged in their positions and now it seems like they got quite a bit wrong. They should have recognized over the past year.  That's the personnel issue with me is that they have identified players for specific roles and I think they were wrong in their assessment.  If I had to guess, this is where the problem was between Wallerstedt and Kingsbury and the rest of the defensive staff.  Based on the film, what they saw last year, they should have known that Robertson wasn't the guy that they, or the previous staff want him to be. They should have known that Jackson Richards should never line up at noseguard.  By placing players in these positions where they are asked to succeed, but based on their physical limitations, they are setting up the players to fail.

Now we get to the line.  The line is a huge problem and I don't know how to get around this other than what I've said above, which is stop asking these guys to do things that they're physically not capable of doing.  The coaches, Wallerstedt and Scott, should have put these guys in positions where they will succeed (I'm really saying the saem thing with the linebackers and line).  Jackson Richards playing one more down at nose guard is completely unfair to him.  Don't do this to him anymore. He doesn't deserve it. There are other players that can do this and do this better.

Coaches, in general, are supposed to put players in the positions to succeed and the coaches have all said that various guys are playing out of position. Namely, Jackson Richards and Demetrious Alston. The coaches have repeatedly said that Richards is playing out of position at nose guard, but they have him there anyway.  The coaches have repeatedly said that Alston is really a defensive end, but they need him at tackle. That's where it starts.  At least for me.  If Richards isn't a nose guard, don't put him there because you haven't coached up anyone else.  Alston isn't a tackle. He's an end. If you don't have a nose guard, then you don't have a nose guard.

Lou Holtz Was A Visionary

This is going to sound ridiculous, because I'm going to reference something about Lou Holtz and coaching. I know. I get it. Anyway, one of my earliest memories of watching football was watching Tony Rice play quarterback for Notre Dame. His last year was 1989 and I remember that Rice was this terrific dual-threat sort of quarterback that did so many great things for the Irish.  And then, in 1990, it seemed that the offense had somewhat of an overhaul in that Rick Mirer was more of a pro-style quarterback who did different things.  Holtz adapted his offense to his personnel (Mirer wasn't near as successful as Rice, but Holtz wasn't so stubborn to try to make Mirer a dual-threat quarterback like Rice). And I think we can look forward to Kingsbury adjusting his offense to the personnel he has.  Patrick Mahomes and Jarrett Stidham are different quarterbacks than Davis Webb.

Heck, we're even starting to hear word from Chris Level, who said that he expects Dylan Cantrell to start at the X-receiver spot against Oklahoma St. and moving forward. He was pretty adamant that you should start buying stock in Cantrell because he's going to play.  Kingsbury has tried to play guys like D.J. Polite-Bray and Devin Lauderdale at that X-receiver spot, but there's just no consistent production or threat from those guys.  So . . . Kingsbury and Eric Morris are essentially admitting that they have made a personnel mistake and are trying to correct the problem.

I think I knew what Wallerstedt wanted to do.  He wants Robertson to be a guy like Damontrae Moore, but at this point, I feel like it was Wallerstedt's stubbornness that was the biggest hurdle in this deal.  And this completely and totally assumes that Wallerstedt was responsible for any and all personnel decisions and that's a bad assumption to make, especially since Smith was in charge of the outside linebackers.  And as an aside, coaches are supposed to be stubborn by nature.

They need to believe in what they are doing is going to work, but at some point, you have to take a look at the results and think that what's happening isn't working, so let's figure out how we can tweak what we do, but still keep a general idea of the overall plan.  I hope Smith is more open to some changes and making the pieces fit together in a more workable manner and not admitting that players are playing out of position.