When I dubbed the term The Case Rules a while back, I was presenting what I thought was a self-evident set of basic guidelines for defending the Texas offense when Case McCoy is at the helm. Namely, outnumbering the LOS, frequently bringing an extra defender to force a quick throw, playing press man on the outside, instructing your defenders to never allow Texas receivers unchallenged access to the open middle of the field. That means no crossing routes, no quick slants, no clean upfield releases on timing that allow McCoy to float the ball to a predetermined spot with confidence and good protection from an underrated Texas OL.
The allowable windows for Case to throw the ball are the deep out, any downfield NFL route, anything slow developing, and every single one of his check downs. And if he wants to take off running, by all means, roll out a red carpet and clean it with a whisk broom.
These defensive tactics are further aided by a Texas offense lacking in manufactured offense wrinkles (bootleg play action flip to TE or RB, the New England Patriot screen series, any general tendency breakers) to punish by play call what we can't punish with arm talent. Blame Major Applewhite and Texas TE development.
While the Case Rules seem risky, particularly for bad defenses that are used to paying for those sorts of tactics with 90 yard scoring highlights on SportsCenter, several defenses, particularly awful ones, that have stuck to the Case Rules have experienced inordinate success while more talented defenses intent on "doing what they do" have found themselves used by one of the weakest starting quarterbacks in the FBS (currently rated #80 in individual passing efficiency). A lot of Longhorn fans confuse seemingly random results with mysticism and traits of moxie and winnerness, but they have everything to do with scheme, scouting, and basic game plan discipline.
If you show me an opponent defensive game plan and I can be assured of some degree of adherence, I can tell you exactly how McCoy is going to perform. Despite fan and sportswriter delusions, McCoy has the least influence of any player on the football field on the level of success he's going to experience on game day.
Give me a chance to persuade you...
The Case Rules, not unlike the Laws of Gravity, and other immutable laws of Nature, exist whether or not you wish to acknowledge them. Because they're built around a simple understanding of probability and physical reality. Run them and your defense will maximize their ability - whatever ability level that is - to thwart the Texas offense.
Interestingly, the very worst defenses on the Texas schedule have implemented them to good effect while the most talented defenses Texas has faced have ignored their existence. Why? Do coaches with good talent focus on "just doing what we do" while lesser resource teams are always scrapping, cheating, and looking for tendency to seek any tiny advantage for their smallish DL and CBs who can't run? Or is it just a crapshoot of slow or medium speed adopting coaches, unable to tease our randomness from probability? Should a lot of us have gone into coaching twenty years ago?
For fairness, let's throw out partial starts against BYU or Kansas State - as these defensive coordinators weren't able focus on Case specific game plans.
Ole Miss represents fascinating transitional evidence - the Case Rules Archaeopteryx - and is the first chance for a 2013 defense to implement the Case Rules after some film study. The Rebels fail in the first half, sitting in loose off coverages, and McCoy blisters them for 11 of 13 and 104 yards and 1 TD. Texas leads 23-17 at halftime.
In the second half, Ole Miss implements the Case Rules. Corners roll up, the LOS is outnumbered, gimme throws are disallowed. McCoy goes a putrid 13 of 25 for 92 yards, reduced to a ineffectual short yardage passing game that would make Greg Davis cringe. Ole Miss rolls Texas 44-23, holding the Horns scoreless in the second half. Had they run the same game plan for four quarters, we're looking at a 55-7 result.
But that's just one game result. It's not generalizable.
Except that it gets generalizable very quickly.
Iowa State, Kansas, and West Virginia are the three worst defenses in the Big 12. And the three worst passing defenses. That's useful information for my contention. Because they all implemented the Case Rules to the best of their modest abilities.
Here is Case McCoy's combined stat line against those three teams:
123 attempts, 73 completions, 724 yards, 59.3% completion percentage, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
That's good for a 117.3 passer rating. That's 5.9 yards per pass attempt, 9.9 yard per completion. Against defenses surrendering well over 8 yards per pass attempt and 150+ passer ratings. That is....a very, very bad relative performance. As bad as it gets, actually. And it's the exact opposite of what a press man heavy, 8 man in the box stat line should resemble. Texas should be hitting multiple big plays downfield. But can't. And never will, outside of blind luck. McCoy is completely ineffectual in getting the Texas offense big play opportunities over the top in these games. Against defenses that do nothing but surrender them to everyone else they play.
Why hasn't this gotten more attention or study?
It's also worth noting that this scheme lulled Texas into an inordinate 41 pass attempts per game, while attempting only 38 runs, including sacks. Place sacks into the passing column and Texas has a nearly 60/40 pass/run split.
Of course, Texas won these games because they were more talented at >80% of their starting positions. The Case Rules don't impact the wildly improving Longhorn defense or a run game that can still make hay against outnumbered fronts over time. Texas is just flat out better. But it bears mentioning that Iowa State was won on a fluke (that was a fumble in my backyard) and West Virginia defeated only in overtime (where Malcolm Brown fumbled what would have been the decisive score). These were very near things. Coin flips.
But here is McCoy's stat line against OU and TCU - two teams with secondaries that will have plenty of guys in the NFL, if not the All-Conference teams. Both defenses rank in the top 1/3rd of the league in every conceivable defensive metric.
40 attempts, 22 completions, 418 yards, 55% completion percentage, 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions.
That's a 152.5 passer rating, a sizzling 10.5 yards per attempt, and 19 yards per completion. McCoy, though throwing the ball only half as often as against the scrubs above, is getting the ball down the field despite coverages that are supposed to prevent that.
The simple answer - shown on the game tape in each instance - is that every single one of his long pass plays to Marcus Johnson or Mike Davis was thrown to a known spot before the snap with no DB jam or reroute at the LOS.
Case can read a defense and he knows where to go with the ball pre-snap. It's his only real gift. In that sense, he's like a starter kit Ken Dorsey, with even less physical ability, if that's possible. And Texas has talented WRs who can get down the field in a hurry if you're not going to even touch them. As West Virginia, ISU and KU demonstrated, even bad cornerbacks who are willing to reroute can cripple the Texas passing offense. TCU and OU - in what can only be described as stubborn arrogance, if not outright incompetence - didn't adhere to the most basic and glaringly obvious lesson of the Case Rules: touch the Texas receivers early, bring an extra man to force an early throw, alter timing on downfield throws. Pass interference is your safety help. TCU and OU let Texas run its receivers through their coverages unchallenged, hoping to make plays on the ball. Wrong approach.
OU was particularly egregious, often playing "off" coverage on 3rd and intermediate and routing Texas WRs inside, precisely where Case wants to and can throw to them. When they weren't doing that, they were allowing stop routes to the sticks. The result was a series of easy 3rd down conversions to Jaxon Shipley and Kendall Sanders that complemented the Marcus Johnson untouched wheel route. TCU didn't exactly cover itself in game planning glory either. Same song, different verse - Texas scorched them downfield. They at least forced some turnovers when Case got a little too cocky about what was actually putting the wind in his sails.
Not surprisingly, in these two convincing wins, Texas ran the ball over 70% of the time. With nearly equal success with which they ran against the KU, ISU, TCU triad (3.9 yards per carry vs. 4.3 yards per carry) who outnumbered the LOS. Does anyone think TCU or OU have comparable personnel to those teams? Even if they're a little down in talent level? No. We don't think that.
So what does it all mean?
1. When really bad defenses running identical game plans relatively outperform above average to good defenses, smart people should take notice of that.
2. Case McCoy has almost zero control over what is going to happen to him in a football game. The defense dictates what's going to happen. Period. Exclamation point. While it's very exciting to create narratives of Winnerness around Case's variance and you're more than welcome to do it if it makes the football fun for you, it's like listening to a Middle Ages physician hold forth on disease.
3. While the evidence here is compelling, both on film and in terms of advanced analytics, many coaches, whether by predilection, human nature, or simple stupidity aren't guaranteed to make the necessary adjustments. Gary Patterson and Mike Stoops failed at their jobs horribly while the DCs at WVU, KU, and ISU did their very best and should be commended. Even if they all had Ls at the end of the day.
4. Texas Tech has a bad defense. Evidence suggests that if they run the proper game plan, this game will be very competitive unless our defense just mauls their struggling offense.
5. Be very afraid of Oklahoma State and Baylor's defense if they have DCs with IQs north of 100. Because they represent the first two talented defenses that may actually implement the Case Rules. Fortunately, OSU has its own troubled offense. But Baylor...oh my.