Yesterday was really a more macro take on why it is important for the Bearcats to have a risk taker in charge. The summation? UC has never been a program with an abundance of built in advantages. So for a coach to succeed here it is imperative for that guy to be willing to take chances to shorten the odds in his favor.
Today I am going to go a little more micro on the subject of risk in Football and talk about the defense from last year. When a coaching staff takes over a program there are always some circumstances and variables that populate a situation. Those things are almost always beyond the control of the incoming staff.
After all they had no say what so ever on the type of players the previous staff brought in. The players that are in the program might not be particularly well suited to the intentions of the new coaches. And then the staff could just be a bad fit for the players currently in the program. All of those things could be said about the Bearcats last year. To varying degrees the current players were a bad fit for the schemes, depth was nonexistent particularly along the lines because of almost a dozen misfires in evaluation by Brian Kelly's staff over their final two years in Clifton. And then there was the massive culture shock of going from the Kelly way, which was practically dictatorial, to the more inclusive player centric model of Butch Jones. I know for a fact that there was a sizable portion of the team that never really bought into Jones and his staff. It wasn't even close to a majority, and was largely confined to a small group of upperclassmen. But still the locker room cohesion that in many ways defined the Kelly era wasn't as strong in 2010.
That was the situation that Jones's staff inherited, and I have no problem stipulating that they all stepped into a difficult situation. But a good coaching staff never lets the variables that they can't control effect the way they approach the game. That was not the case last year. Not so much for the offense, but for the defense. The Offense was somewhat limited in what they could do, I never saw some of the same looks that I had seen from their days at Central Michigan. For instance the Wide Receivers were not really a part of the running game, certainly not to the extent that I anticipated. But I think that had more to do with the offensive line just generally sucking.
Still I have no reason to think that the offensive staff ever used the depth issues as a crutch. However I do know that the defensive staff did. That's thanks to Tim Banks who made a statement to ESPN in his production meeting that it still pisses me off 8 months after the fact. I am going to paraphrase because I can't find where I wrote it down.
We can't really run all of our pressure and blitz packages because of the lack of depth defensively
Tim Banks - (presumably) October 21st, 2010
I disagree, vehemently, with everything about that statement. Yes Tim you had a young, inexperienced, team with paper thin depth last year. No one is denying the rough circumstances you inherited, it was worse than anyone could have imagined at the start of fall camp. I was then, and remain today, sympathetic to that circumstantial plight. But there is a difference between getting it right tactically and being dealt a hand that you can't play and being dealt a bad hand and using it as a crutch to explain away piss poor strategy. That statement from the USF broadcast can be placed, definitively, in the later category and that is indefensible to me.
When you consider all that Banks had to deal with, the lack of depth, the initial resistance from the team ect the one that will always stick out is the depth issue. Good teams almost always have depth, but depth isn't exactly a requirement for a winning team. So Banks was tasked with creating a winning defense with a group that had no depth, which is the one thing that all good defensive teams had in common. Banks was basically asked to create an outlier, a good defense with paper thin depth. Outliers by their very nature require outside the box thinking, (repetitive thought processes create repetitive results). Given the circumstances Banks had to option of three strategic paths.
At one extreme there is the throw everything at them plan or as I prefer to call it "Unleash the Hounds of Hell." Because of the lack of depth a coordinator recognizes that the only chance his paper thin defense has is to hide their deficiencies by being in attack mode from the outset. A offense will never be able to discover, let alone exploit, any systematic deficiencies in the defense. In UC's case the systematic deficiencies were two safeties who couldn't cover a Water Buffalo on a post pattern if they were both given .12 gauge Smith & Wesson shotguns. If a QB is under siege his ability to discern those schematic loopholes goes way down.
The middle way is to simply call design and implement a defense as you have always done. The play calls are the same. The philosophical underpinnings are exactly the same. You don't hide whatever issues might be there, (like a lack of depth) you simply play through them a deal with the consequences.
At the other extreme when given a team that lacks depth you can try to hide that fact by getting hyper conservative. In this strategy a coach simply tries to mask any problems by playing as basic and vanilla a defense as possible. This is also known as coaching scared.
If you are a longer term reader of Down the Drive these options should be very familiar to you. It should also not be a surprise to you that I favor the first strategy. I will tolerate the second and I abhor the third. In 2010 Banks chose the third way and it annoyed the hell out of me. Because that is not how defense should ever be played and the other reason is that it kills confidence for the players. If you roll the dice yes the chances for big, catastrophic soul crushing plays does go up. But taking those chances won't alienate your players either, because it shows confidence in them and their abilities.
Banks went with the more conservative approach last season and for what? He tried to manage the gameplan week to week and it didn't do shit. It certainly didn't stop big, catastrophic plays from happening anyways. Banks is a young coach who doesn't have a ton of experience calling games so I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But if the defense plays the same way this year his head needs to roll.