Dude, Where's My Defense?
When Addazio started filling out his staff, I thought Don Brown was his best hire. Brown represented so many pluses in one coach: a veteran of the region, a known commodity to local high schools, a former head coach and best of all, an aggressive Defensive Coordinator who would change BC's whole mentality. Goodbye to 16 years of "bend but don't break." Hello to blitz anytime from anywhere. I also thought Don would be key to the inevitably rocky transition from Spaz to Addazio. With a relatively untested Offensive Coordinator in Ryan Day, I thought Brown would be able to "make lemonade" out of Spaz's leftovers and keep us in games this year. Like many of my predictions and expectations for this season, the opposite occurred.
While there was plenty to be excited about with the new BC Defense, the results in the first year weren't great: Here are the prime statistics:
- 86th Nationally in Total Defense
- 72nd Nationally in Scoring Defense
- 81st Nationally in 3rd Down Conversion Defense
- 103rd Nationally in Team Passing Efficiency Defense
- 51st Nationally in Rushing Defense
- 14th in the ACC in Total Defense
- 12th in the ACC Scoring Defense
- 9th in the ACC in Rushing Defense
- 14th in the ACC in Team Passing Efficiency Defense
- 14th in the ACC in Team Passing Defense
- 3rd in the ACC in Red Zone Defense
When you are last in the conference in Total Defense something is wrong. But I haven't lost hope in Brown. There are some explanations as to why BC struggled this year and some history that things will get better.
In my opinion, at the most basic level, BC didn't have the talent or depth to run the defense Brown implemented. There wasn't a lot of speed up front and the DBs weren't recruited or coached to play aggressive single coverage under Spaz. The best part of the defensive roster -- the linebackers -- carried the team and created the most big plays.
I also think the group lacked an institutional knowledge to play the defense. One of the huge positives about running the same scheme year after year, is that it becomes second nature to everyone. Every DE knows where every Safety should be on each play and in each coverage. If a blitz is called off presnap, instinctively everyone knows his assignment. That is hard to create in just one year. Think of how lost even our smartest players looked against Villanova. If you look at a lot of the mistakes from Syracuse it is because guys are not where they are supposed to be. As the players get used to the system every year, we will rebuild the institutional knowledge.
Finally the tackling toward the end of the season was not great. That is not just a Don Brown issue. With something like tackling blame goes from Addazio to the position coaches to the S&C staff to the players themselves. I don't expect that to be an issue in the bowl game or next year.
Aside from the usual issues faced during a transition like confusion or the wrong type of players, I did have concerns about the results of our defense. We saw a welcome spike in sacks. But there weren't as many turnovers as you would expect. Why weren't opposing teams more confused? When you present that many different looks, a QB should end up making mistakes (think Logan Thomas). But too often we allowed QBs to complete a majority of their passes.
I also don't know or understand how Brown calls a game yet. I am sure things will become more familiar as we watch them more, but I could never see a pattern or consistent logic to the blitzes. That randomness may be intentional as to confuse the other team, but the results were iffy. And frustratingly there were plenty of games -- like Syracuse -- when constant pressure would work yet we stopped. I know it is old school, but I love the philosophy of keep doing something until the opponent proves they can stop it.
The Good News
Things will get better. Or at least they should if Brown's squads follow his pattern at previous FBS stops. While at UConn, his Defense went from 6th in the Big East in Total Defense in 2011 to 3rd in 2012. At Maryland Brown implemented this same scheme. In 2009 the Terps were 12th in the ACC in Total Defense. The next season they improved to 7th.
The other thing that gives me hope for the future was the dramatic improvement from a few select players. Edabali became a different player in this scheme. He made plays and wasn't just waiting for the action to come to him. Sylvia always had a good Football IQ but would often get exposed by the opposing offense. This year, before he got hurt, he was making big plays yet not allowing the killer deep passes as he did under Spaz.
Finally I think the overall talent will get better. When Spaz's defenses were at their best, it wasn't solely because of him. They were filled with all conference players and future NFLers. If BC brings in the right guys and coaches them up, Don Brown's defense won't be last in the conference.
I think keeping your coordinators is very important in college sports. Spaz showed that a revolving door only makes things worse. I still believe in Brown and hope that we eventually have the most aggressive and successful defense in the ACC.