The Bearcats have only played three games, but I have seen enough to join the rest of Bearcat Nation in declaring that Hank Hughes is in way over his head. The biggest problem for Hughes is that he doesn't seem to respond to the reality on the ground. He is like a World War 1 general who spent years of his life drawing up these immaculate plans for how to win the war that everyone in the capitals of Europe knew was coming. Those men poured over road maps and railway tables trying to figure out the most efficient way to move men from the homefront to winning the war in the least amount of time possible. They agonized over which offensive plan would be the one to win the war as quickly as possible with the lowest level of losses.
When those plans failed, as they always were going to, the generals couldn't comprehend that it was their approach that was wrong. It had to be something else, some other factor that was the root of those failures. So, for year after year, men like Sir Douglas Haig doggedly ploughed on with their offensives, even though they accomplished little but to increase the carnage. Haig earned his nickname, the Butcher of the Somme, from an inability to accept the facts on the ground as facts.
It is in that last way that Hughes really reminds me of Haig. Hughes spends a great deal of time coming up with his gameplans and approach for each and every game. I don't think the problem is that Hughes is lazy or doesn't want to do the prep work. Most of these guys have been doing this for so long that they become addicted to it. The grind in the film and meeting rooms because its expected yes, but also because that's just what they do. I don't think that Hank Hughes gameplans are any less meticulous than anyone elses. He has to formulate an approach, and think through how the offense will adjust to what the defense shows. I have no reason to think that Hughes is deficient in any of that. Where Hughes is deficient is adjusting when things stop going to plan. Adjusting in real time is the other part of the job, and it is the part of the job where Hughes fails.
The approach for Hughes on Saturday night was simple. To play aggressive defense in the box with six defenders and to play the pass with the other five defenders. It was exactly the approach that I outlined last week. In essence Hughes bet that his front 6 would be able to control the Buckeye's running game against an offensive line that had struggled for most of the year and a quarterback who was not viewed as a huge threat to run the football. If it would have worked Hughes would be the proverbial toast of the town. It did not work in the slightest.
Simply making a bet that did not work isn't enough to make me lose faith in a coordinator. Art Kaufman made some bad bets too. Last year he bet that he could sit in soft umbrella coverage against SMU to make Garrett Gilbert throw short passes and that the Bearcats could tackle the Mustangs receivers for short gains after the catch. He was wrong about that, and the Mustangs were unstoppable on offense for the last 20 minutes. It was a textbook four minute drill from the offense that kept the ponies from getting any closer. But Kaufman learned the lesson from that game and the Bearcats were much more aggressive when they faced good passing teams like Houston and Louisville.
The reason I don't have faith in Hughes is that he doesn't adjust his approach when he assimilates new information. Toledo killed the Bearcats all night with their power play from the shotgun. That was another game where the Bearcats kept a very light box betting that they could contain the run with 6 guys in the box. They could not. Even when Kareem Hunt went down the Bearcats couldn't stop the run. Marcy Remy, the Rockets backup running back, managed 80 yards on 11 carries, thats 7.3 a pop. In the two Toledo games since then he has had 12 total carries for 59 yards at 4.9 a carry.
Flash forward to the Ohio State game and the Bearcats are, once again, keeping a light box betting on their six guys in the box being able to contain the running game. That's a bad bet against a team who A) wants nothing more in the world than to run the ball with power and inside zone B) who stays in their base 11* personnel grouping C) has a threat to run the football playing quarterback. All three factors in combination means that Hughes bet was guaranteed to fail because with J.T. Barrett a threat to run Ohio State had seven guys in the box to defeat six defenders in the running game. A team with Alabama's talent would struggle to stop the run with six guys going against 7. It's math.
* One running back, one tight end, three receivers
Where Hughes lost me is that after the third drive in which the Ohio State offense went right down the field running basically nothing but inside zone and power against those six man fronts Hughes changed nothing. He kept doing what he was doing as the Bearcats surrendered more rushing yards in the first half than they did in any game of the 2011, 2012 or 2013 seasons.
Whatever you think of Urban Meyer it's obvious that he knows a lot about football. Personally I think that he is one of the most innovative offensive minds of the last decade. But he didn't need to do anything special last night. He was simply smart enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth. After that third touchdown drive he more or less abandoned his initial game plan which was much more pass centric and committed to running the football until Hughes responded by bringing more men into the box...and Hughes never did anything. So Urban and the Buckeye's continued to take the free money.
A lot of Bearcat fans have put the blame for this on the players. Claiming that they are too slow, not strong enough, too dumb to play at this level etc. That is a bridge too far for me. I don't think that this defense is any more or less innately talented than the 2012 or 2013 groups. I think the talent level on defense is perfectly reasonable to win 10 games and the conference this year with that offense on the other side of the coin.
The truth of the matter is that we don't know how good these players are on defense because they haven't been given the slightest chance to have success. Hank Hughes is too stubborn to adjust when the game breaks against him. He does not perceive the reality that surrounds him to be real. In his mind a six man front should be able to stop a back that has 6 blockers. Seemingly nothing can dissuade him from that notion. That has to change for the Bearcats to come remotely close to fulfilling their potential. I have no faith in Hughes or his ability to change what he is doing. Like Haig he will keep sending his men over the top on missions that have not the slightest chance in hell of succeeding.