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Texas Longhorn - TCU Horned Frog Post-Mortem: Defense

How to turn a prevent offense into three quarters of ass-kicking. The Texas defense "playing well" against TCU is nonsense.

Cooper Neill

In his post-game press conference, Mack Brown was asked about TCU QB Trevone Boykin and said:

I thought he did a good job. We didn't make him do much. He didn't have to throw. We couldn't score so they had 300 yards of offense, I mean 299 or something, so it was a game where we couldn't move it. We didn't force them into doing more than they needed to do offensively.

Well, sure. And while the Texas offense putting up 13 points and 4 turnovers did nothing to help the winning cause (and I hope my offensive post-mortem is sufficiently scathing), it's fascinating that Mack Brown believes that only our offense scoring has the ability to make the opposing team abandon the run and "do more than they needed to do offensively."

Let me suggest that there are other possibilities, such as the Texas defense stopping the run. Or having the defense sniff out and destroy a four play TCU game plan from one of the bottom three offenses in the Big 12. Which consisted of nothing but the same running plays they've put on film all year, absent any real attempt at a passing game. A game plan specifically designed to shorten the game, limit possessions for BOTH teams, and stake TCU to an early lead. Manny Diaz essentially consented to TCU's game plan for three quarters before realizing that's all there was. We also owe a great debt to Gary Patterson, who likely left 14 points out on the field by simply not going for it on key 4th and 1 (on our 1) and a 4th and 2 (inside our 20) against the Texas defense.

But, hey, they only scored 20 points. So great job, defense. We're told that's "the bottom line." That should be enough. That's stupid. A bit like taking pride in not getting knocked out in a boxing match after your opponent destroys you in all of the early and middle rounds throwing exactly the same two punch combination and then spends the rest of the fight on his bicycle, content to let it go to the cards. You still lost 118-110, dummy. And he never broke a sweat.

By the way, I'm not parsing quotes here - it's pretty clear that Brown blames the loss almost entirely on the offense, and most Texas fans agree. While not wrong, it's an unsophisticated way of viewing the game. And it reveals a consistent misunderstanding of pace, possession, and game context. And tells you a hell of a lot about Brown's analytical model.

Let's be clear, TCU kicked our defense's ass for three quarters. Until they decided not to. Or we caught up. Either is an indictment. Happy to prove it below.

I'm abandoning my typical format for some more general comments:

First Half

  • In the first half, TCU had only four possessions. And limited Texas to only five. They scored 14 points off of those four possessions and missed a 33 yard field goal. 29 plays, 176 yards, 6.1 yards per play. 80+% of their plays were runs.
  • TCU's first two drives went for a combined 23 plays for 153 yards (6.7 per play average). 20 of their 23 plays were runs. They netted 7 points from these two drives and missed a 33 yard lay-up field goal. They had five runs of 10+ yards in those two drives. That's awful.
  • Had they gone for it on 4th and 2 in our red zone, I humbly submit that they'd have been up 21-3 at halftime.
  • This is poor defense given the lack of diversity in TCU's running game, their demonstrated inability to run consistently throughout the year, and 12 days to scout them. We weren't ready to play on both sides of the ball. Not just offense.
  • Their next possession after two successful run-heavy drives was instructive: they threw the ball on 2 of 3 downs. 3 and out. Punt.
  • Their final possession of the half was after a Texas turnover on the Longhorn 16. They run an ill-fated reverse bailed out by a questionable Kendall Thompson targeting penalty and then run Matthew Tucker on simple runs for 11 and 1 to score a touchdown. That can't happen in red zone defense.
  • By any reasonable understanding of football, TCU's offense - at least as measured by their risk-reward output vs. results on available possessions - is thoroughly kicking our defense's ass. If you disagree, by all means, educate me.

Second half

  • TCU now has a 14-3 lead and they can see something is rotten on our offense. That starts to inform their offensive play-calling in the 4th quarter. But the 3rd quarter is more sold ass-kicking.
  • TCU's first three possessions of the half are instructive. On their 1st, Boykin throws on 2 of 3 plays (remember their 3rd possession in the 1st half?) and he throws a bad interception to Adrian Phillips. Uh-oh, Horned Frogs. It's slipping away from you.
  • TCU gets back to their knitting. On their next possession, they run 10 consecutive times for 64 yards to the UT 1 yard line. On 4th and goal, they charitably kick a field goal instead of taking a near-certain 6. They add another field goal after hitting a wide open Ladarius Brown in play action and then continuing to run the ball effectively until Aviante Collins gets a penalty and puts them behind the chains. They kick the field goal after going 38 yards in 8 plays. Right back where they were in the 1st half, controlling us completely.
  • It's now the 4th quarter. TCU will have 4 of its total 11 possessions in the 4th quarter and their only interest is in running the ball, a risk averse pass call, and punting on every possession. They even stop running zone read for fear of a fumble! On one 3rd and 13, they run Matthew Tucker on a dive. Not a draw. A dive. On another 3rd and 12, they run Boykin on a called draw.
  • Over their next four possessions (including Victory formation), TCU runs 11 plays for -3 yards. They're not even trying to mount offense. It's incredibly conservative, it's purposeful, and whatever you think of it, if your takeaway from it is that the Texas defense rose up and played clutch fourth quarter defense, I can only shake my head.
  • Before their ultra-conservative 4th quarter air-out-of-the-ball act, TCU ran 47 plays for 302 yards at 6.4 yards per play. Their primary inhibitor of points production was a missed field goal and two 4th and shorts where they opted to kick.

General Comments

  • Manny Diaz used his bye week to tinker with more ideas instead of work on our own fundamentals, work on stopping TCU's bread n' butter running game cold, and try to turn Boykin into a turnover factory. Look at some of the games and alignments we were playing in our front 7 in the first half. To put it simply, he doesn't get it.
  • On a few instances, TCU runs a spread look with no TE that puts five Texas defenders in the box despite Boykin and a RB in the TCU backfield. FIVE. Although our slot coverage guys are shaded inside and peeking in the backfield. So what? They can't help at the point of attack. They're only help in theory. Each time, Boykin audibles to zone read or an inside zone play. TCU averages about 15 yards a play out of that look until we adjust in the late 3rd quarter.
  • Boykin extends two drives by breaking contain on our "mill around at the LOS blitz" meant to confuse their blocking schemes. As has happened throughout the year, assignment discipline goes to shit in Diaz's stunts and Boykin scampers around end because the DE forgets the bigger picture. Late in the game, we assign a late force, stay in our lanes with four rushers, and Boykin is tackled for a 1 yard loss. If you watched any TCU film at all, you're doing this from the first snap of the game.
  • Tackling was poor, as usual. But just run-of-the-mill bad. Not spectacularly, hilariously bad as against OU.
  • It took us three quarters to catch up to a TCU offense that we should have had pegged from the opening snap.
  • A TCU spread offense that threw on around 60% of their downs coming in (add in sacks/scrambles) was able to transform themselves into 1995 Nebraska, running on 81% of their downs out of purely spread formations. Boykin, averaging 36 pass attempts per game in his previous four contests, threw it only 9 times. That's a complete imposition of will.

We are a really poorly-coached defensive football team. And no, our defense did not play well.