Last week’s defensive performance wasn’t the first head scratcher we’ve seen. So, as you can expect, I’ve spoken to a number of folks over the past few years about the defensive issues OU has had. Since the Iowa State game I’ve been talking to people and much of what I’ve been told are some of the same issues I’ve heard about over the years.
Below are some sourced thoughts on some of the OU defensive issues.
*Game Week Adjustments: As you all know, there are a number of defensive calls players must know. Throughout the spring and the fall the players are learning those calls and how they must play within that given defensive call. One source said that, part of the complexity of the OU defense is the fact that the staff makes a lot of game week adjustments within the calls. So the players may be used to playing a certain call a certain way and then suddenly there is a change within a particular call and the players are expected to stay caught up. Each change within a call affects multiple people. If you tell one person to play something a little different that week than he’s used to then other parts of the defense have to alter what they’re doing as well. For example, a linebacker knows how much to expand depending on what the CB is told to do. Notice the play at the end of the game when Obo drops. I haven’t had the stomach to rewatch the game but if I recall correctly, he doesn’t expand enough and the ball is caught outside him and under the CB.
This added complexity can make it a challenge for the players to play fast. But even if the starters understand it, and source said that they generally do, the back ups may not. So that creates another problem…
*Lack of a Depth: That lack of depth doesn’t mean OU doesn’t have good athletes on the bench. It can mean that OU doesn’t have guys who are, in the eyes of the staff, sufficiently prepared to come in and be assignment sound from week to week given the changes.
This is how you get situations OU saw last year when a senior in Jordan Evans decides not to give full effort in the Texas Tech game and you have no one to replace him. In that particular scenario OU may not have had the bodies but generally, I’m told the issue is that the back-ups are not trusted.
On the offensive side, we see Riley is willing to pull guys who don’t perform. The defense has to be the same. If you can’t pull players then there is no fear of a starter losing their spot. Players aren’t always motivated by a championship. Sometimes a little bench or the fear of it can make sure you’re defense is running to the ball with full effort at all times. This problem also leads to…
*Lack of Defensive Leadership: One source said, “defensive leadership is crap. There are a lot of pretenders. They don’t have guys who live up to what they preach or what they are forced to preach. They’re supposed to tell other players to run but they don’t run. Or tell other players to go to class but they might not always go to class. Those aren’t leaders that a team will follow”.
A friend of mine was at an Alabama practice a few years back. During a team period one of the cornerbacks got beat. Friend told me that the cornerback kinda chuckled when he got beat. So, a linebacker on the team walked up to the cornerback and slapped him in the face…in front of everyone. That’s a true story as it was told to me by an eye witness. You cannot get away with much on the Alabama defense.
*Fundamentals: Related to all of the above, one source said, “[OU has] good individual players but not good team defense”. They aren’t a defense that runs to the ball. You can mask a lack of tackling and other mistakes if your team runs to the ball. But if you don’t run to the ball and you don’t tackle well…if you let someone outside you when you shouldn’t…if you see a guy pulling around a RB coming at you and you don’t know to come flying up…if you don’t earhole a guy when you have a chance…you aren’t going to have a good defense regardless of how aggressive your defensive coordinator is. But again, if your coach isn’t willing to pull you for those mistakes then you may not always have the motivation to fix it.
*Aggression: This has been talked about by plenty of folks and is one of the most obvious issues. We all see that OU needs to be more aggressive and creative up front. I asked one source why we rarely see OU gap exchange up front (twists, stunts, etc.) source said, “they practice all that they just don’t use it in the game”. You don’t have to bring five or six to make the QB uncomfortable. In fact, watch Todd Orlando’s defense. People think he he’s always bring more than four because of the pressure he gets. A lot of times however, he’s just creatively bringing four.
But the part of aggression that isn’t talked about is the rhythm it creates for the back end. A boxer creates a rhythm and then changes that rhythm to beat his opponent. In football, the front creates the rhythm. If you’re defensive front is aggressive and you know you’re in 0 or cover 1, you know the bullets are flying fast. You get used to playing at that pace…highly alert and focused, ready to break on anything, etc. But if you’re spot dropping for much of the game and then the pace is suddenly changed, you might catch the other team off guard but you don’t realize that your guys on the back end have been lulled to sleep.
Here’s another example. If you like to go for walks to burn calories, start the first quarter mile by running at a good pace. Then start walking. You’ll walk faster during the remainder of the walk because of the pace you initially set.