Saturday, August 26, 2017

Defense Preview

Now it is time to look at the defense.  There's no other way to put it, '16 was a rough year for our defense.  I'm going to cut them a break by not counting the two non-conference games where BG gave up the most points in the program's history in the stats, which are all conference-only.  That wasn't all on the defense--the offense was spending almost no time on the field--but a lot of it was.  In particular, the Memphis game has to go down among the worst defensive performances in the program's history--that wasn't OSU we were playing that day.

Anyway, the defense did get better results later in the year.  BG had gone to its running game and was keeping the defense off the field more, and the opposition certainly got easier, including two teams that were playing QBs who started the year at another position.

Another way the offense made the job harder for the defense can be seen here.  BG finished the year 7th in scoring defense and t-4th in yards per play.  You don't usually see that kind of spread.  I have to believe that BG's turnovers were the issue here.  Just makes the job a lot harder.  If that gets fixed...and it has been a focus...the defense should improve just on that alone.

Now, looking forward.  Should the defense improve or not?

In general, you have to believe it will.  BG played a ton of young guys in a mis-aligned scheme last year and didn't get much help from the offense.  Another year should improve all of those things and you'd expect the numbers to improve.  Even a field goal improvement per game would have put BG 4th in scoring defense last year.

Now, when last year ended it looked like BG had a lot of players coming back.  Yes, you were losing two D-line starters, with Bush and Lunsford graduating.  You were going to miss Trent Greene a bunch at LB and Mack at CB, plus Will Watson was graduating.  But, you expected Clint Stephens, Ben Hale and Jack Walz II back from injury.  In general, the defense was not losing very much.

Since then, that situation has deteriorated.  BG lost CJ Pickrom--who had gotten reps at CB.  Tyrik Jones--who had come on as a d-line playmaker--left the program.  All-MAC MLB Austin Valdez transferred to Syracuse.  And then All-MAC S Jamari Bozeman has been lost for the season, in all likelihood.

So that's going to make things more difficult.  John Wagner wrote a column about whether the Bozeman loss was a season-killer, and he concluded it did not need to be, which I agree with.  Either way, the path to improvement is more difficult than it was expected to be when the season ended.

On the positive side, the defense appears to have carried the day most of the time in camp.  At the scrimmage I saw, I certainly felt that the defense was playing hard, with energy and with a tremendous amount of cohesion.  The scheme has been simplified.  Only three R-FR were on the camp two-deep.  There's reason to think with all that you could get a FG improvement.

The d-line will be a major indicator.  BG was strong against the run last year, 3rd in yards per carry against.  They lost some players from the rotation, which was already softened by the program's difficulty in keeping d-linemen in the fold.

Remember, the d-line is a rotation-deal.  You need 8 productive guys at least to compete.  There are some anchors. Long-time overachievers David Konowalski and Gus Schwietermen are back.  Shannon Smith is playing NT...he's played 37 games over three seasons.  From there, it gets a little softer.  Brian Sanders has played 18 games with 14 tackles.  Nico Lautenan played in 10 games and made 10 tackles with 4 in the Memphis game.

Kyle Junior got some positive comments from camp.  He played all the games last year and came on late in the year, so he could be on the upswing.  The other two players in the rotation are Dirion Huthcins (R-FR) and Jonah Harper (transfer) both of whom have not played a snap.

One other player who I think will contribute is Josh Croslen.  True-FR from Steele HS, he engulfed a guy in the scrimmage and looks to be a real player.

Point is, the line is going to be key.  That rotation needs to control the line of scrimmage to let BG's solid LB corps make plays and it needs to get pressure to help out BG's backfield.  They looked good to me in the scrimmage.

Linebackers.  Even losing Valdez and Greene, the corps looks solid.  Nate Locke played a lot while Valdez was injured and was effective and Brandon Harris seems to be coming into his own.  I also thought Aaron Banks seemed to be thriving in the scrimmage.  If the line holds their own, I think LB is the strength of the BG defense.

Now, BG was 8th in pass efficiency defense last year.  The backfield had a lot of issues, most of them stemming from injuries and suspensions that forced players to play who would have red-shirted any other year.

At CB, BG looks to be improved.  Clint Stephens is back, and The Blade reported that Robert Jackson and Cam Jefferies--both of whom played as true FR last year--and transfer Montre Gregory are playing well.  That's good.  With a little support up front, BG can definitely improve that #8 ranking incrementally, with strong possibility for the future.

At S, Bozeman causes a problem.  The Blade reported that Marcus Milton was moved from CB to S to help cushion that blow.  JUCO Fred Garth should make an immediate contribution at ROV.  Tavaraus Wade is also back--saw quite a bit of time last year--and Ben Hale is back from injury.

I think the defense improves.  There are question marks up front and in the backfield, but I believe they will be better and that's important.  They also start fall with only 4 seniors on the 1-line and Bozeman still has his redshirt.

Last thing.  Coach Jinks has said that defense is important to the identity of the program.  He's more old-school than that.  He's not one of these typical Big XII basketball on grass guys.  That's good news.  With his vision for the program--and its big--we need to beat people on both sides of the ball.  I looked it up.  The '13 team averaged 37 PPG and allowed 11.  Jinks has continued to recruit defense.  Some progress will give us confidence in our DC--who is only in his second year at that position--and show things continuing to point up.

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