From our esteemed commentariat.
2011 Themes: Harsin wants to run a power run base with multiple constraints that primarily consist of layered play action routes. He doesn't have all the pieces: an offensive line that started one true freshman, one redshirt freshman, 2 true sophomores; a dearth of explosive skill position players, no dual threat TE.....oh and massive quarterback uncertainty. Manny Diaz wants to run a fire zone concept with his front seven paired with ball hawking defensive backs behind. He has some great pieces in place: an elite defensive line core, outstanding coverage line backers and some surprising young cornerbacks.
Both sides of the ball showed flashes last year. I don't want to bore with stats. The UCLA, Tech and Kansas games looked great for the offense. BYU, OU, Mizzou: not so much. The KSU, A&M, Cal games looked great for the defense. OSU, OU, BU: not so much. Now we're 3 games into 2012. We can compare last years' trends with this years' trajectory. What are the observations?
1) Harsin knows how to call a real offensive game. This means calling base plays that establish defensive tendencies and then calling constraint plays that punish the defense for said tendencies. The issue is that we can't always execute even against inferior opponents. Whether it's a one-out-of-five breakdown on the OL, a TE miss, a FB whiff, a QB hesitation, or a WR miscue, there always seems to be something that needs to be overcome. Execution is not championship level. Yet. Is it improving? Leaving Oxford, we'd all say resoundingly, "yes."
2) Diaz knows how to pressure quarterbacks. He accomplishes this in multiple fashions using outright pass rush, coverage confusion, and passing lane disruption. The goal is negative plays, especially turnovers. He's had athletes that have shown well against a variety of opponent skill sets but his defense is susceptible to the big play. More so against composed and accurate quarterbacks. Is it improving? Leaving Oxford, we'd say resoundlingly, "no."
So where are we headed? At the end of 2011 and heading to 2012, the D was championship caliber and the offense was a work in progress according to the collective psyche. 3 games into 2012, the offense is trending up and the D has people scratching their heads. I'm no expert but I'm reasonably intelligent. When I apply my reason I come to a couple conclusions:
1) Our defense can still be elite but hasn't performed to expectations yet in 2012 (shutouts not withstanding since we can agree that New Mexico dictated without scoring). Keep in mind we have a new DT core and 2 brand new LBs. We trended up last year as personnel got more comfortable. Expect the same this year.
2) Our offense is improving but isn't all the way there (66 not withstanding since we can agree that Ole Miss is the smallest front 7 we'll face all season). Keep in mind that Ash is 19. Our tackles have faced the Wyoming, New Mexico, and Ole Miss ends. Our interior OL has been inconsistent this year in displacement. There's no definitive TE answer coming this year. But Ash has (figuratively) infinitely more reps since last year. Our OL are playing the correct positions. No TE means more Daje, DJ, Goodwin, etc. and that ain't all bad.
I'm encouraged. I still think we're a 9 win regular season team. I think we drop 3 out of the OSU, WVU, OU, TCU, KSU games. I don't know which ones (I have guesses). But here's to 4 and 1 in that group and a Big 12 title (shot of Don Julio at 2:40am in NYC).
What say you?