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Texas-TCU Football Postmortem: Defense, Special Teams

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Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was fun.  The offense stagnated, the defense was exploited mercilessly, special teams were atrocious and they all combined in some sort of negative synergy experiment to prove that 1+1+1 = -43.

Defense

Texas clearly had an emphasis on containing Boykin. The blitzes we brought were of the containment variety, hoping for late pressure.  That's workable if you're organized and optimized on the back end but we're not that.

Texas fans wanted the freshmen DBs.  Because, you know, "talent!"  It's the correct instinct, but it comes at a cost. So, there they are.  That's what starting too many talented freshmen DBs looks like on the road against a high execution, well coached offense with good receivers and a dual threat senior QB who has started every game for TCU since 1978.  They lost their composure.  The early level of panic was palpable.  Blown coverages, an inability to make plays even when in position and we had the bonus of a defensive game plan that iso'd Hughes and Jinkens on TCU's 150 pound track star in the slot.  Four touchdowns for #25.  Might want to rethink that one on the chalkboard, Vance.  TCU saw something early there and we never adjusted out of it.

DL

it's worth noting that Shiro Davis didn't play and Desmond Jackson played sparingly, with Boyette & Cottrell drawing the start.  I think the staff had four games to evaluate what I've been observing here since the Notre Dame game and they'e starting to cut their losses with many of our seniors.

We asked the DL to contain Boykin and play the run and they were compliant overall within that narrow tasking. Some late line-ups caught us mid-stance and flat-footed against TCU's hurry up a couple of times, but for the most part TCU's offensive execution and our game plan almost made the DL play irrelevant.  TCU was attacking space and our fear of Boykin's legs gave him a stable platform for picking apart our DBs.  He didn't need Jared Goff level accuracy to get the job done and his arm strength means TCU can legitimately threaten every piece of real estate from sideline to sideline.  TCU has too much seniority and experience to outright bust plays and our DBs aren't good/experienced enough to play that sort of defense cohesively and sustainably over time.

We also played Ridgeway a good bit outside, presumably to get some pressure by collapsing the pocket in Boykin's face.  It didn't work.

LB

Unfortunately, Malik Jefferson chose the wrong game to show some improvement in his pure LB skills, but I thought he took some nice pass drops and played the run better.  He's dedicated to his craft.  Jinkens got destroyed on a ridiculously easy slant route TD, but he shouldn't have been placed in that situation without the safeties having his back.  We need a better defensive call against those personnel.  He had a nice TFL on a zone read and he exhibited a bit more discipline in the run game only to backslide in the 2nd half to his old bad habits.  Hughes was a non-factor.

DB

Brutal.

Antwuan Davis blew a coverage that allowed an easy touchdown toss.  Doctson toyed with Holton Hill - as a NFL ready WR probably should matched on a 18 year old.  When TCU's #25 wasn't destroying our LBs (that's on the coaches) he was also making our DBs look foolish.  We tried out Davante Davis and he blew (every?) several coverages in fairly rapid succession. Boykin has a very nice arm and our DBs continuously underestimated his ability to throw to the far hash or sideline with velocity.

Haines had a nice fill in run support on the option, but was otherwise limited by his first step and a TCU offense so wide open that he was either left with extreme angles or schemed out of meaningful help.  He was almost a bystander. Jason Hall has similar deficiencies and while the pair have experience, they couldn't help or stabilize our kindergarten corners due to TCU's use of space and their own deficiencies covering ground.

Duke Thomas played pretty damn well until Doctson got him on an out and up.  We've never seen that before.

Special Teams

I probably should have led with this since this will dominate the post-game talking points.

In the first half of play:

- Kyle Ashby moon-balled a snap over the punter's head for a safety.

- Michael Dickson had a 22 yard shanked punt when Texas had a real chance to pin TCU inside their 10 (or go for it - it was an attainable down and distance).

- Nick Rose missed two easy field goals and drilled a kickoff out of bounds, allowing TCU to start with the ball at the 50.

In combination, 1st half special teams tilted the game by at least 15 points.

Special teams is often used as a measuring stick for basic organization and coaching.  That perceptual measuring stick is a major problem for Strong.  The truth is that special teams have areas that are almost entirely silo-bound.  It's true that many aspects require nothing more than basic coaching, organization and passable athletes.  That's not where we're failing.  Huge swathes of special teams have a singular reliance on one specialist doing their job correctly. And if they can't, you're screwed.  That's where we are failing.

Is that a coaching issue?

Is it possible we're not repping special teams enough individually or in practice?  Or that the coaches create an atmosphere that makes sensitive specialists jittery?  Sure, I guess.  The hard truth is that a deep snapper either snaps it on point or he blows it.  It's fairly binary.  And there aren't a ton of coaching points.  A punter without pressure and a good snap either does his job or he doesn't.  A field goal kicker with a good snap, no wind and a solid hold either drills it or he blows it.

This isn't like watching a punt get blocked because your blockers allow a free man inside or a kickoff coverage team that's too stupid to stay in their lanes.

You will see horrific special teams = bad organization/coaching used as a lazy proxy following this game.  A lot.  I guarantee it.  I'm leery about that for the reasons I specified - specialist behaviors are largely silos.  Now, what the coaches are ultimately responsible for is getting the right specialist personnel who can execute their jobs.  Or creating the best environment for performance.  That's ultimately a coaching issue centered around recruitment and identification, but not one that will advance the narrative that you'll soon be enjoying from every media outlet.

As I've mentioned many times, Charlie Strong may ultimately fail here.  But we have an obligation to call it correctly and cite why he's actually failing - and those reasons are myriad and complex - and not just fall for the dumb populism rhetoric of the moment.

If that was all TOO LONG, DIDN'T READ LOL let's simplify: if Justin Tucker was our kicker, Nate Boyer our snapper and Anthony Fera our punter, we're probably not having this special teams conversation right now.

Conclusion

We utterly choked on special teams and our defense was absolutely whipped early succumbing to the road environment, our game plan and TCU's high level of play.  As the defense regained their composure and began to make a stop or two, a lethargic offense and ever present special teams errors made sure they stayed whipped.

I've spent more enjoyable Saturdays.