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Greg Robinson and the 2013 Texas defense: Moving forward?

What was the meaning of Manny Diaz's swan song and how can Greg Robinson re-write it?

George Frey

I pored through 2012 defensive tape in order to write Scott Gerlach's my contribution to 2013's "Inside the Texas Huddle" and was often terribly confused, particularly in understanding our plan to defend the option. That is, until I clicked on some 2011 tape to finally understand what things look like when Manny Diaz's defense is working as intended.

Returning to 2012 tape, it became appalling how many yards of the Texas defense's record breaking run of ineptitude in 2012 were gifted to offenses through simple assignment errors. With this realization, I built my thesis around the contention that Diaz was trying to do too many things with the Texas defense and consequently was failing at all of them.

I still think this was true, but it's also becoming clear that Mack Brown's Texas Football program is one in which the athletes often struggle to learn the fundamental and gritty parts of the game. Amidst all the talk of our atrocious defense, few are asking Mack why can't we impose our will in the run game against New Mexico St, much less BYU? Why is it that Ash and the pass game are so much further along than the run game at this stage? Similarly, how is it that our coverage was able to lock down BYU in run-stopping fronts but we were demolished by the option?

Is it because it's more fun to practice and excel in 7 on 7 than to bang heads and get down in the mud? Is it because Mack Brown allows his athletes to put in less than is needed to be a legitimately physical team? We now have almost 15 seasons of evidence to suggest that Mack produces athletic but soft football teams who do not thrive at the more physical elements of the game.

When I dove into the 2013 BYU game film, I found the exact same thing. Manny Diaz had schemes and plans in place to handle BYU's option attack but his charges were usually a call late in response and a step late to make the tackle. There was a lot of thinking going on for the Longhorns on the field and not a great deal of aggression and physicality. This from a team and a culture that is already prone to lack of aggression and physicality.

The result? 550 rushing yards.

So what can Greg Robinson do?

As Scipio detailed, Robinson's preferred method is to outnumber and deny what an offense thrives on and scramble to defend the rest. "Nick," you ask, "isn't that what everyone does?"

Not exactly, and not like Robinson. Diaz for instance, however he may be characterized by his detractors, prefers to play bend, don't break on the whole while frequently mixing in "safe pressure" Fire Zones to attack specific offensive tendencies at specific times.

Diaz probably wouldn't have approached Oklahoma like this:

However, Diaz's schemes are what Robinson has to work with. He can't install a new defense in a week while game planning for Ole Miss. He couldn't install a new defense in a week without that ominous threat hanging over the horizon. He couldn't execute that kind of gameplan against today's offenses anyways..

Mack Brown did correctly note that Ole Miss will bring many of the same read-option concepts that Robinson will face all year in the Big 12. His only option is to take what Diaz was doing, tinker with it, probably shrink it down, and then relentlessly drill it in the hopes of having a prayer of executing it against the Rebels.

Here's Diaz's primary plan for handling the new era of spread-option/up-tempo offense, complete with horrendous execution:

That's a brand of Cover 3 defense. Palms and other two-deep safety alignments are struggling to offer modern defensive coordinators what they need to handle these new read-option teams.

You see, a team like Baylor has integrated the forward pass into option football, and you cannot hope to handle the multiple stress points they can apply across the line of scrimmage with your safeties lined up 10 yards deep unless they are very athletic and you are willing to bring them hard in run pursuit.

What's more, you need to have a defense that you can execute soundly against every threat an offense brings. You don't have time to make a different, exotic call for each situation or opposing formation. You can't sell out to stop the inside run when it's paired with an outside pass in the same play call.

Cover 3 was on the way out in football because of plays like "4 verticals" but it has resurfaced with pattern read principles because it can allow a defense to at least lock up the middle of the field and pursue the ball from there.

So Diaz basically stole the approach from simpler and sounder squads like KSU and Iowa St. and again revised his plan for the Texas Defense: Have a base MOFC (Middle of field closed) defense that can remain sound against spread trips formations, packaged plays, etc.

In the play above, Diggs will handle a bubble screen or quick out to the slot receiver and help force runs back inside to pursuit, which will heavily involve Thompson's ability to arrive and make an open field tackle. You saw how that turned out on the play above.

There's your first major problem with the Texas defense in 2013: Shaky tackling from the safety and poor leverage by Diggs, who manages to get driven off the ball.

Iowa St. had safeties who were excellent at keeping the ball in front and making those tackles last year: Durrell Givens and Jacques Washington. They still only finished 35th in S&P's defensive rankings last year, three spots behind Texas. It's hard out there for a pimp.

Diggs and Thompson did a terrible job here in executing what is plainly intended to serve as our basic answer to every question posed by the 2013 season. Diaz's main answer was this soft 8-man front...and I mean soft in the sense that it gets eight defenders from deep alignments to the ball in a hurry...also in the sense that it yielded 550 rush yards.

There were other problems as well. While I was actually really pleased with the play of both Reed and Jeffcoat in this game, our DT's were not up to the fight against this OL:

You can see our DT's stood up and even knocked over by the BYU running back. That's a creaseless defensive front giving up 5 yards regardless because they were simply pushed backwards.

Now there's a lot of talk leaked from Bellmont about how Robinson suggested 8-9 man fronts to stuff the BYU run game and implying that Robinson would have done things differently and better. To this accusation I present Diaz's alternative play call for dealing with BYU: The 46 defense:

Undoubtedly he picked that up in Stanford over the summer.

We ran this a lot with mixed results. You get a linebacker, usually Edmond or Santos, on one edge with Jeffcoat on the other and Reed lined up inside as a 3-tech. Then another 3-tech and the nose tackle. We stuffed their full house formations with this scheme, with a few notable exceptions. One of those was revealed in Scipio's four diagrammed plays. The design of the front is to force the ball into the 3-tech's and nose with a single linebacker back there to clean up the mess and then a deep safety to erase any mistakes. Stop me if this already sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

In this instance, you see a guard slip to the 2nd level and look for the man on his right, the man on his left, and find no one to block. While he looks for someone to punish at the 2nd level, their tailback is dragging our interior DL for another first down.

Allow me to examine another snap we ran from this formation:

That's our defense running the gamut of mistakes you can make against a Power running team.

The offensive playcall is, in fact, Power-O. Our end man on the line, Santos, does a good job of forcing the ball inside and not getting cut. His tape from this game was another of the few bright spots.

Our linebackers take on the pulling blocks on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage, our deep safety Josh Turner takes a bad angle and dives at Jamaal Williams feet, our interior DL end up on the ground or hooked. Stunning.

Let me take a moment to note that in these MOFC defenses, the guy you stick back at deep safety SHOULD NOT BE the guy you are bringing back from injury and re acclimating to full speed football. I know people struggle with this concept but you want your best guy back there because the level of athleticism necessary to cover ground and erase mistakes demands it. With a player of Vaccaro's quality back there BYU's rushing yards total is decreased by a few hundred yards.

So let that put to rest the idea that had we simply followed Greg Robinson's recommendation for BYU we might have won. We did, and we didn't.

Let's pause again and note something else: There's nothing wrong with either of these schemes, there's something wrong with how we execute them...there's a lot wrong with how we execute them.

Diaz also had some other strategies he employed, such as DE/DT stunts that were successful at spilling the ball to unprepared linebackers:

We got BYU to waste an OL and Reed was able to blow up the Fullback's block at the line of scrimmage. Hill is forced to run outside into pursuit! For the man on my right! For the man on my...where is that guy?"

Jinkens has been hooked inside, despite having force responsibilities on the play. Another creative Diaz call blown due to a simple assignment error.

We also ran our old Palms defense (also done in by horrendous force play by Jinkens) and other attempts at scrape exchanges that failed due to bad fundamentals. Eventually BYU added Outside Zone and Power-O to their already extensive variety of ways to run Inside Zone and that was it. We were totally overwhelmed and lost. Diaz was playing chess but our defenders were playing checkers.

So where do we go from here? What can Greg Robinson make of this mess?

We're going to have to throw out a lot of what Diaz hoped to utilize in this scheme. We'll have to ditch many of the Fire Zones that could have been disguised from these looks. The DL stunts that (almost) caused BYU's veteran OL trouble? We'll have to pare those down as well. Why?

Because BYU only scratched the surface of what you can do today with read-option football. Ole Miss is going to run option plays that give their returning QB Bo Wallace the option to mix in forward passes. As a player on a modern defense you have to be disciplined and aware of how your base defense is intended to respond to each and every one of these play packages. Assignment busts will be no less painful than against BYU when the possibilities include Jeff Scott darting through a hole, or Moncrief housing a short pass.

Texas could have packed the box tighter more frequently against Ole Miss, assuming they could reliably tackle on the back end, but that isn't a viable option against Wallace or B12 QB's that don't throw like Taysom Hill. Josh Stewart and Tevin Reese are out there waiting for us...

The fact is this: Overall Diaz had the right idea but he couldn't get his defenders to execute it. There's a good chance that Greg Robinson has a weaker understanding of what we're dealing with in the Big 12. He will certainly have a weaker understanding than Diaz of what the different parts of our playbook are for.

Robinson has a track record of getting physical play in the midst of Mack Brown's Texas Football culture, but this also came at the only time in the program's history (other than 1998 with Ricky and Mackovic's OL) when Texas had a physical running game meeting the defense in practice.

He also did a great job of stuffing Syracuse' offense by attempting to convert it from an option approach to the west coast offense...which requires entirely different skills from the primary play makers. Very effective there.

Mack and Greg must hope that they can understand how to execute Manny's vision in a day, and then overcome a two month head start enjoyed by the rest of the schedule while then helping our defender's minds and muscles understand how to execute Manny's vision.

Sound unlikely? It is. Let's just fire Mack now and get it over with.