There is an interesting clue/admission from Tuberville in yesterday's press conference.
Tuberville: We might have overcoached defensively past 2 weeks, trying to find answers. Multiple fronts, man, zone. Still searching.— Tom Groeschen (@TomGroeschen) October 7, 2014
This was met with guffaws and a characteristic lack of comprehension from the lunatic fringe of Bearcat Nation (sorry WEBN). But that is the first time that Tuberville has acknowledged in public that he thinks they (meaning the coaching staff) are trying to do too much on defense.
There is certainly a kernel of truth in that statement because the Bearcats have been trying to do a lot of things. They show a ton of fronts, blitzes and coverages and don't run any of them well. Its the same problem the offense had last year. It wasn't until October when Eddie Gran and Co. stopped trying to do everything. It was then that they picked a style, one with more ace sets and shotgun formations that the offense clicked. Its not out of the question that the defense is laboring under the same problem this season.
You can make sarcastic comments about that being an excuse from a coach who just wants to go golf (and many have beat you to that punchline). But overloading a team, especially a young team as this one is defensively, can happen. Many people have remarked on how slow the defense is playing, putting the blame on Joe Walker and co. for making everyone "too bulky". Personally I don't think that this is a slow team, I think this is a relatively quick team that is playing slow because they are being asked to process too much information both pre and post snap.
Laugh and call that bullshit if you want, but the best performing defenses at this level of football don't have exotic gameplans or dozens of fronts, blitzes and coverage schemes. They pick a handful of concepts and learn to execute them as well as they possibly can be executed.
Think of Michigan State. On any given play I can tell you with near absolute certainty what they are going to do. The vast majority of the time they will align in a 4-3, they will rush 4 and they will play cover 4 or "Quarters" in the back end. That is their identity, that is what they do and they do it better than anyone
Nick Saban's Alabama will align in a 3-4 on standard downs, they will play cover 1 which puts one high safety in the middle of the field. They will play a "robber", or in the Alabama terminology "rat" technique underneath that safety reading the quarterback's eyes. On Third downs they will play cover three and pattern read the offense based on their likely route combinations in that situation.
Pete Carroll's USC teams would use the same aggressive quarters scheme that he uses in Seattle. The whole point of that is to challenge every pass the offense wants to make and to get into third and long situations. Third and long invariably meant a zone blitz of some sort which everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knew was coming, but that the offense could never seem to solve.
The reason that I bring those defenses up is simple. Passing between them in one seemingly unbroken line is the title of best defense in the country. The one thing that they have in common with each other is a commitment to running a few particular schemes and playing them as well as possible. In 20 years I will still be able to describe what made each of those teams great defensively. I don't even know what the Bearcats are trying to do right now because they seem to be trying everything.
The best thing Hank Hughes can do at this point is to pick a front, a coverage or two and a blitz package and run that until the wheels fall off. I don't know if that will yield substantial improvement or not, but trying to add more concepts to the playbook hasn't worked at all. I have zero faith in Hughes or his ability to come to terms with that fact, but that is the only way forward for this defense.