September 24, 2007

Signals from the static

Editors Note: This piece was written and submitted prior to the announcement of Lyle Setencich's departure

Those Who Competed: On defense, there were three to be precise. Jamar Wall came of the bench to spell starting corner Marcus Bunton who was getting murdered. Wall was not perfect, but his coverage was generally quite good against quality receivers, and best of all, he actually showed a physical side that I wasn't sure he possessed. If Wall continues to improve, he'll be everything we hoped he would. Chris Parker also did a nice job. He has been far and away Tech's best defensive back this season. Marlon Williams showed up, too. Like Wall, he made a mistake or two, but also made several standout plays against the run and was Tech's only physical linebacker. Aside Williams, Wall and Parker, however, this defense simply lay down and took it. Embarrassing but not exactly shocking I regret to say.

Is This the Dawning of the Age of Adarius? Not so fast, says I. He's a big, physical receiver with a lot of tools, but he's not the game-changer many people make him out to be. Michael Crabtree is better than Bowman right now.

DT Surprise: The only defensive tackle who's made a scintilla of an impact during both of the last two games is none other than Brian Jones. Lord knows he's no Randy White, but given the screaming lack of productivity from those who play in front of him, I wouldn't object to giving him the start against Northwest Louisiana.

Schematic Wreckage: Isolating the specificities of Tech's strategic woes on defense is like trying to pinpoint the damaged structures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The faults and weaknesses are so extensive and overwhelming that it's difficult to know where to start. That said, one thing that occurs to me is spacing. That's a term we usually associate with basketball, but I believe it also applies to the Red Raider defense. Hence, it seems as though on approximately half of the defensive snaps, Tech lines up in a 4-2 set in which the defensive linemen are spaced very widely, the linebackers are at least five yards from the line of scrimmage, and the corners are giving a cushion of Grand Canyon proportions. The safeties, needless to say, are not even in the picture. They might as well be in Burkina Faso. The result of this alignment is the creation of natural running lanes for the offense, either for the quarterback when he drops to pass or the running back if it is a running play. At any rate, whenever I see this alignment I cringe in the foreknowledge that a big play for the offense is coming right up.

The Woodshed: One of the reasons Tech's defense gets taken to it so often is the inability to shed blocks. Whenever an offensive lineman, running back, or even wide receiver locks onto a Tech defender, that defender is instantaneously neutralized and taken out of the play. With the exception of Marlon Williams a time or two, I do not recall a single Red Raider defender successfully shedding a block and making a play. Whether this is a result of physical weakness or poor technique or both is hard to say.

AmenPROla? Much attention has been rightly focused on the wondrous wideout Michael Crabtree. It is readily apparent that he is an extremely special player and that he will be a dominant player at any level in which he plays the game. But you know what? Danny Amendola is one helluva second fiddle in Crabtree's jamboree. On the season he is averaging an astonishing 10 catches per game, 13.1 yards per reception, and has three touchdown receptions. Amendola is also a tremendous downfield blocker. Now he does not have tremendous speed, but I am beginning to wonder if he might not have a future in the NFL. His lack of mind-blowing measurables will probably prevent him from being drafted, but like another free agent by the name of Wes Welker, it wouldn't shock me at all to see Amendola stick with a professional team and make a name for himself.

Until Further Notice: Given the almost total inability of Tech's defense to get off the field against a competent offense in any other manner than by giving up a touchdown, I support Mike Leach going for it on fourth down regardless of field position and distance. It seems as though Tech would have a better chance of converting a 4th and seventeen at its own five-yard line against Oklahoma than preventing the Sooner offense from scoring a touchdown even after an excellent punt. And I am deadly serious about this.

More Madness: In the middle of the second quarter the Tech defense was faced with a crucial 3rd and five situation. Mike Leach called yet another defensive timeout to motivate and strategize. The result? The Red Raiders came out in an alignment with three defensive linemen and nobody else anywhere near the box! Cowboy quarterback Zac Robinson ran the ball for a stunningly easy first down, and three plays later scrambled 45 yards for a touchdown. That loony alignment, my friends, was not the fault of the players. The coaches were squarely to blame for that little bit of idiocy.

Field Goal Folly: Alex Trlica missed a 51-yard field goal by inches on the first play of the fourth quarter. The kick was supposed to have been from 46 yards but a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back. Had the kick been from 46 yards it would have been good with room to spare, and on the final drive of the game all Tech would have need for a victory would have been a chip shot field goal. That delay penalty probably cost the Red Raiders the game. And how do you get a delay penalty coming out of a break between the quarters? Inconceivably bad coaching, that's how. Reminds me of Jerry Moore's early days. Moore, however, has apparently learned his lesson.

Offensive/Defensive Schism? One of the storylines coming into this season was the tremendous improvement in team chemistry over the 2006 Red Raider squad. And I don't doubt it at all. This team does have a better atmosphere surrounding it. But one wonders how long this chemistry can stand the strain if the offense continues to perform at a national championship level while the defense costs the team games through its abysmal play. At some point the offense may turn against the defense and then you have a team divided. Many a football team has been torn apart by lesser issues.

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