Saturday, August 27, 2016

Defense Preview--One update

So, having looked at the offense, now we look at the defense.  This is actually pretty important.  The offensive review indicated what I think is a rational expectation, which is that BG's offense is not going to score like it did last year.  That impacts the defense in a couple ways.  First, there is less margin for error for the defense.  They need to be at least as good as last year.  Second, when the offense was building up big leads, it was a huge gift to the defense. putting the offense under pressure, limiting their play selection, etc.  It is the hidden benefit of that kind of offense when it works.

So, how good was BG's defense last year?  Using MAC stats only, and remembering that much of this was done against a MAC East schedule, BG had an above average defense, which you can see below.

#3 in scoring defense
#6 in total defense
#4 in rushing defense and T4 in rushing yards/carry
#6 in pass defense
#1 in pass defense efficiency
#2 in sacks
#9 on 3rd down
#1T for turnovers forced
#1 in INT
#11 in red zone defense

One of the things you see is that when there is a gap between scoring defense and total defense (yards), there's usually a reason.  In theory, you'd expect them to be close.  In this case, BG gave up yards but turned it around with turnovers and, to a less extent, sacks.  (One updated note since the original post:  because  of BG's non-possession based offense, BG gave up a lot of plays, which impacts yards allowed per game.  BG was actually tied for 2nd in yards per play allowed at 5.0, and Akron led at 4.9).  BG was reasonably strong against the run and good against the pass.  The #6 in pass defense (which is yards) is partly because of the number of passing attempts against us due to those deficits.  BG had 320 pass attempts against and the next most was 309.  BG allowed 6.1 yards per pass play, which was actually the lowest in the conference.

With some things from last year to build on, BG has to come back from some significant losses from last year.  BG lost both safeties as well as Zach Colvin, Taylor Royster, and Mike Minns on the d-line.  Also, Clint Stephens was injured for the season.

What wasn't lost was any linebackers and BG retains a huge amount of strength at this position.  In the front is MLB Austin Valdez, who was first team All-MAC, and Trent Greene returns on the outside...he was 2nd team All-MAC.  The other LB who returns is James Sanford, who I felt was also effective, and he's joined by Jack Walz II on the depth chart as a co-starter.  Nate Locke also provides experienced depth.

The worry for the defense is the line.  We saw how offense helps defense in '15 and we saw how it could hurt the defense in '14.  When you have :40 possessions and then can't get off the field, it is a very long day for a defense already playing on a team that doesn't care about time of possession.

Here is the d-line based on the depth chart and the number of games they played in last year.

Bush---14 games last year
Lunsford--14 games
Smith--14 games
Konowalski--6 games
Sanders--7 games
Junior--0 games
Lautanen--0 games
Brown--10 games

Here's the need depth on the d-line.  You rotate guys constantly.  And you really only have three guys who have played significant roles.  This is vital.  Even in today's passing offenses, teams like UT, NIU and WMU will run over you all day if you can't defend the line of scrimmage, and the LBs will be taking upfield blocks, negating that strength.

If you want key #2 for the season (#1 being the QB/WR production), it is the ability of the d-line to produce for four quarters and with a full rotation.  I'm not saying the those guys with low numbers of games are bad players, I'm just saying they are largely untested.  They might be good players.

One last piece that I am not sure about is Gus Schweiterman, who played some significant downs in the past.  He was inured and I am not sure of his status.  If healthy, he could certainly help.

I'm not too worried about the d-backfield.  I don't think they're a top unit in the MAC, but I do think they can hold their own.  With Stephens, Steele had them #4 in the conference and I'd say they don't fall lower than #6.

The biggest loss here was Stephens, who was injured in the spring game and will not return this year.  Even so, Will Watson is back after a year's suspension and is joined by Alphonso Mack, who led the MAC in INTs last year.  Backing them up are Marcus Milton and Robert Jackson--you need those guys in nickel and dime packages and they have both seen action.  At safety, Ben Hale and Jamari Bozeman are starting.  They both saw action last year behind BG's good safety unit of Turner and Hardy.  Isaiah Gourdine is a backup at safety and he's played a lot of downs in the backfield.  The other backup is walk-on Tavarious Wade, who I don't believe has played at BG yet.

Another thing.  BG's championship teams have, like most championship teams, stayed pretty healthy.  Even so, in '13 Gabe Martin went down and the team still closed out the season with a title.  Except at LB, any injuries to this defense are a big worry, unless their are hidden gems out there we don't know about.  BG needs the defense to stay healthy...and yeah, I'm looking at that game in the Horseshoe first and foremost.

Finally, the last issue is we have new coaches.  Brian Ward really brought the defense around last year after the disasterous McCloud year.  The DC has not been a DC before, though he has been a D1 position coach.  The remainder of the defensive coaching is pretty thin.  So, there are 0 starts next to their name, too.

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