Two things for me defined both the BYU game and the season:
- The defense is H.O.R.R.I.B.L.E… Early and mid-season, while complaining occasionally about scheme issues, I frequently held out hope of improvement throughout the season. There were things I saw early in the Arizona game, the Washington game, even the Oregon game, that gave me reason to hope. But when the team is getting repeatedly burned for long touchdowns in the 4th quarter of the final game of the season it is time to face facts. The defense is horrible.
- Dykes in game management and halftime adjustments leave something to be desired. The Bears came out the tunnel in the 2nd half acting like they had a big lead and were trying to run out the clock. Even after BYU evened the score, they continued to run the offense as if running out the clock with the running game was the order of the day. Only when the Bears trailed did they revert to 1st half form. Add to that mistakes like misuse of timeouts on the final drive and I find myself more and more frustrated with the coaching staffs in-game decisions.
I could rehash the entire season at this point to prove how the above two trends are what turned this team from somewhere around 8-4 into 5-7 (Arizona, UCLA, BYU on the top of the flopping list), but I think it is pretty obvious to all who have been watching.
Instead, here’s the big question for us “lifers” as we head into the off-season: Will any of this change in the years to come?
I’ll take them one at a time:
There are 3 things that affect defensive performance: The scheme, the coaching, and the talent of the players. There’s been some valid concern that the talent on the defensive side of the ball has been lacking. And while I won’t completely dismiss that as an issue, the longer the season has wore on, the less I think that’s the fundamental issue here. It’s not like the guys aren’t fast enough, or strong enough, or big enough on the lines. While they may not be the biggest and fastest and the strongest, they’re enough of those things not to be the worst defense in the country. Talent wise they should be a middle of the conference defense.
However, sometimes when people talk about “not having the players” they mean something else. “They’re young” can mean two things: they haven’t physically developed yet and they haven’t been “coached up” to be good at the collegiate level. Thus really, to some degree not having the players is about coaching over multiple seasons.
And here’s the rub: If the coaching staff doesn’t know how to develop the talent, they’ll never improve. It’s not like it’s some osmosis process that has them develop. It’s coaching. And I’m beginning to have my doubts about the quality of the defensive coaching. By this point in the season, I don’t care HOW young they all are, I don’t expect them to have the massive errors on defense we saw yesterday.
(However, I’m willing to admit that these things are difficult to read and what we saw Saturday may be indicative of something other than poor coaching)
Which brings us to the thing I’ve been complaining about all season: The defensive scheme. Frankly, it stinks on ice. The players were put in positions where they were downright guaranteed to fail. However, I must say that the schemes I saw Saturday were the best I’ve seen all season. They did a much better combination of press coverage and soft coverage. They did a better job of using the outside linebackers to both provide passing protection, particularly just off the line of scrimmage, while keeping them in a place where they could help with run support. And while I still think Cal would be better suited with a 3-4, what I saw yesterday was a vast improvement.
And of course that’s the game where the Bears got torched down the field worse than they have all season.
That’s all a long way of saying perhaps the crummy scheme they’ve been using was necessary to cover up some pretty glaring holes. Perhaps the coaching staff had no choice but to play a scheme that gave up too much underneath and left the defense vulnerable in a myriad of small ways, while preventing them from being vulnerable in too many big ways.
So in the end, I’ve got reasons for concern and reasons for hope on defense. They are young, and perhaps with another year to be coached up, if indeed this staff is capable of it, they’ll be a lot better. Perhaps the scheme will improve as the defense matures. But I’m not willing to go too much further than “perhaps”.
One of the disadvantages of coaching a rebuilding team is that you don’t have a lot of time to work on the little things. They’ve got so many big things to work on that there’s just not much time for little things like on-side kicks, scenario planning like what to do with no-time outs and 1st and goal with less than 30 seconds left. So to some degree, I have hope that some of the boneheaded things that hurt the team this year will be worked out as the team moves further up the rebuilding curve.
That also applies to things like timeout management where the coach burns timeouts that he otherwise wouldn’t because he’s doing coaching during the game that a mature team wouldn’t need. Actually, it applies very broadly because mid-game the coaching staff is distracted on the sideline, working on things on the sideline, that take their attention away from the field.
So I’ve got more reason for hope here than most do. I think Dykes will get better as time goes on. I think he’s learning (at least I hope so). The in-game mistakes he’s made have been very inconsistent. In this case, that’s a good thing. If he was making the same mistakes over and over, then we’d know he wasn’t learning from his mistakes.
So overall my thought is that while I sure wish the team was further along the growth curve, the analytical side of me realizes that just because progress is going slower than I’d hoped, doesn’t mean the team isn’t going to continue to grow. It may stall at some point, perhaps even next season, but I’m not ready to sound the alarm that this is the best we’re going to be.
At this point my biggest concern is how it affects recruiting. You only have so long you can sell the story that this is a new staff and the team will be getting better. It really would have helped for this team to be 7-5. It would have made a much more compelling case to our potential recruits. Because if Dykes can’t improve recruiting, it won’t matter how good of a coach he is, he just won’t have the players to get it done.
Here’s hoping that 5-7 after a 1-11 season is just enough to keep that train moving in the right direction.