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Texas Tech Positional Review: "Defense"

After I finish writing my positional breakdowns of each game, I take a look at how Geoff Ketchum graded out the Horns on his own report card over at Orangebloods. I rarely make any changes of my own grading, but it's helpful to get another take on the game, and it often reminds of something I forgot to mention. I'll sometimes add a thought or two in somewhere. To be perfectly honest, most of the times the grades are almost identical. We're both students of the Horns, and we both watch and rewatch (I assume) each game closely.

Today, though, Geoff wrote something that's not quite right, and it's important in understanding what happened Saturday. Allow me to explain.

As I mentioned before departing for Baton Rouge, I had a wedding to attend, which meant no live Texas game for me. Fortunately, the wedding party was as interested in the game as I was, and we managed to shut ourselves off from the outside sports world so that we could watch the game on DVR after the festivities. Since it was late, we watched the game in super-speed, fast forwarding through dead balls, commercials, timeouts, reviews - all that jazz. The bottom line is that we watched the game in about an hour.

Driving back today, I knew I needed a film study of the game. What you couldn't pick up from watching the game so quickly was what changed on defense between the first and second halves. Why was Tech torching us in the first half? What did we do differently in the second half?

Geoff Ketchum almost nailed it when he wrote: "The best thing that happened for the defense was halftime because it allowed the staff to regroup and reassess what they wanted to do. They left the blitz-happy guessing game in the locker room and returned to their base 4-3 looks, while mixing in more nickel and dime packages."

Geoff's absolutely right that halftime was the turning point, and that the key for Texas was returning to the base defense. But he's just plain wrong that Texas mixed in more nickel and dime packages in the second half. In fact, that was the biggest difference between the two halves. In the first half, Chizik played a lot of nickel and dime packages, with a heavy dose of blitzing from every conceivable gap. In the second half, I counted exactly one nickel package, and zero in the dime. Texas played its base 4-3, cut the blitzing in half, and focused on keeping everything in front of them. It's an important distinction, and one I want to establish prior to getting into the positional breakdowns.

Defensive Line The unit is getting shredded by Longhorn fans and analysts for their play, and it wasn't their best evening - not by any stretch - but they weren't exactly the problem, either. I'm not going to sugarcoat things and say that they were good when they weren't, but their ineffectiveness was a symptom of the real problems, not a cause. You'll understand more of what I mean as we get into the linebacking review.

Nonetheless, it was surprising that this group was so quiet. Last year, the Texas defensive line murdered Texas Tech. But I think the biggest difference between last year and this year was great offensive coaching by Mike Leach. The adjustments that he made put his team in a position to succeed. More on this below.

It should also be noted that the line blew up any and every Texas Tech running play, a factor that was decisive in the game. Look no further than Tech's fourth drive of the first half to see how critical this was. Up 21-14, Texas Tech marched down the field to set up a first and goal from the five yard line. Leach ran the football three times, was stuffed three times, and settled for a field goal. At that point, Texas hadn't stopped Tech's passing attack even a little bit. Their inability to run it in on that drive cost them four points (the difference in the game), and helped Texas defend the Red Raiders in the second half. It's that much easier to slow down the pass when you know they can't run the football. Grade: C+

Linebackers In the first half, Gene Chizik used this group the wrong way. Texas was frequently in nickel and dime packages, leaving Bobino and Derry in to make plays. Neither player is particularly well-suited for shutting down what Tech was going to do, and on top of that, both had lousy first halves.

Bobino, in particular, was awful. I counted at least three plays that I physically cringed upon watching the replay. When he wasn't ineffectively blitzing, he was overpursuing. When he wasn't overpursuing, he was out of position in pass coverage. As solid as he's been in the middle for us this year, Saturday night's performance - especially in the first half - was forgettable.

At halftime, though, as I started to get into, Chizik made some changes. He went back to almost exclusive 4-3 defense, getting Kelson on the field. He simplified the blitzing tremendously, as well. When the linebackers blitzed, it was almost always a max blitz straight up the gut. Mostly, though, they were left to defend the middle of the passing field, and they did a much better job of containing what Mike Leach was trying to do.

The biggest problem in the first half was that the Red Raiders were absolutely, positively, ready for every single blitz. Their successful plays - of which there were many - were remarkably simple. Pass the football to where the blitz just came from. It worked over and over and over, until Chizik quit blitzing. For all the grief that our secondary is getting for their lousy evening, the linebackers were as much, or more, at fault. They just had a terrible first half.  Kudos to the group for a much better second half, but the damage was done. Grade: D

Secondary 519 yards passing. 364 in the first half. Yikes.

To be fair, the group did so much better in the second half. And to be fair, the unit is really hurt by injuries right now. So, yeah, that should be noted.

Still - wow. Texas's achilles heel is pretty obvious at this point, and it just about cost us a loss  Saturday night. Even Aaron Ross had passes completed on him - something we've not seen in this remarkable tear he's been on. He did, of course, break up three passes and recover a fumble, but he was also flagged for a huge interference penalty that kept a Tech drive alive.

There's just not much to say. This group's going to have to try to get healthy, and hope that the reinforcements start to improve. Deon Beasley didn't look good again tonight, but Ryan Palmer had some great moments in the second half - a huge development. With Tarrell Brown struggling to stay healthy, and Beasley still learning his craft, the Horns absolutely need someone to provide some quality minutes at corner. Hopefully, Palmer's improvement sticks.

The Griffin brothers had their share of struggles again, though Mike Griffin's play in the second half was inspiring. Still, no one can confuse this group for last year's dynamite secondary. If there was any doubt about how good Mike Huff was, that should be long gone. Another game, another disappointment for this group. We're long past the point where we can talk legitimately about anomolies. This is a pattern. Grade: D

Defensive Coaching Those of you who - sometimes correctly, I think - blast Greg Davis need to drop that tune this week and channel your frustration to the defensive coaching box. Gene Chizik was just abused in the first half. Texas spent the first half with five and six defensive backs on the field, blitzing constantly (and often on a delay), without making any adjustments. For as good as Chizik has been during his tenure here, he was miserable last night.

The oddest thing were the delayed blitzes, which failed to generate any pressure on Graham Harrell, while removing potential pass defenders. In the second half, Chizik changed the blitz patterns, to better results. The second half blitzes were infrequent, but when they came, they were generally a max-blitz that came right away. With the quick timing routes that Tech was running, that was the only viable strategy. It was just frustrating that it took so long to make that change.

In the end, I think you've just got to chalk this one up to Mike Leach for a great gameplan, and to Graham Harrell for having a hell of a football game. Chizik got beat, and beat badly, but he made the right adjustments and Tech was shut out in the second half. It's not often that we have the occasion to say anything bad about Gene Chizik, but this was that rare occasion. Grade: D Grade: C