Charles Fischer asked me to express my thoughts about the Oregon defense and its new coordinator after spring practice. They’re almost all positive.
I’ll admit I was not a Brady Hoke fan when he was hired. I wanted an “intellectual”, and I judged Brady Hoke to be a “tough-talking buffoon.” Wrong. Oh, the tough talking part was right — but in a good way. And getting rid of my buffoon prejudice was helped by his significant weight loss. But Hoke’s image more significantly and positively changed for me because of :
1. Listening to him talk — at the Oregon Coaches Clinic. He definitely knows his stuff, and I was impressed by his presentation of a badly needed “simple but thorough” defensive system. His macho rhetoric also seemed refreshingly needed to rebuild the Ducks’ defense. “A team will reflect the personality of its coach.”
2. Watching him (and his assistants) teach — at an Oregon practice. As I said in a previous article, “Rah-rah rhetoric in a bad teacher is worthless.” Coaches Aiken, Pellum, and Neal are excellent teachers, but sometime last year they lost their way. I called it then “delusions of grandeur.” The Duck defensive coaches seemed to think their players were better, smarter, and more thoroughly prepared than they actually were. The Ducks way too often played confused and made game-changing mental errors.
Coaches should be judged by how closely their players play to the maximum of their potential. And many physical “mismatches” should be accepted. But mental mistakes must be unacceptable. Longtime Arizona State Head Coach, Frank Kush, used to make any players who made mental errors, AND those players’ assistant coaches, make punitive runs up a very steep hill, by the practice field.
Brady Hoke appears to have that same distain for mental errors. He preached it in his clinic talk, and he and his assistants definitely seem to be enthusiastically practicing it. Playing fast is a good thing; but practicing too fast — not thoroughly and precisely learning all the very necessary “little things” — can lead to confused, slow-playing, unaggressive, critical-mistake-making football players.
It wasn’t the 3-4 front that caused Oregon to be a bad defensive football team. It was HOW the coaches taught the 3-4, and the many other supplemental defensive schemes. It won’t be the 4-3 front that turns around the Oregon defense; it’ll be the way the coaches teach it.
So far, I’m very impressed with everything I’ve heard and seen.
3. Listening to Duck defensive players talk about how they’re being coached — on post-practice videos. They all seem to be honestly enthusiastic and optimistic about the defensive education they’re receiving. Beats the hell out of guarded skepticism. Fortunately, the Duck defenders are all very well-cast for the responsibilities of their positions.
Brady Hoke is making a genuine attempt to change the culture of the Oregon defensive players, and they know and appreciate that.
4. Watching and analyzing the spring game. Yeah, the defense kept it simple, but you know what else was missing, besides a lot of different defensive “stuff”? Defensive MISTAKES and offensive touchdowns. We all know how explosive the Duck offense can be, and I never heard significant criticism of the QBs, but a constant Duck offense only scored 5 TDs. One touchdown was because of an easily correctable mental error by a Duck safety. Two others were 50-50 jump balls [great catches by Dillon Mitchell] in the end zone. In thoroughly going over the game tape, I didn’t see a significant defensive mental error.
Keeping it simple and, therefore, playing smart, fast, and aggressive can be a wonderful thing. To me, the best coached defensive team in college football is Michigan State [and now Ohio State, which copied the Michigan State system], and they do less “stuff” than any other teams. But Michigan State and Ohio State almost never make mental errors, and the opponents’ offenses almost always make mistakes that give the ball back.
Brady Hoke wants to be a lot more attack-oriented than those other guys. He wants to make things happen, not just wait for them to happen. Can he attack and still keep it mistake-free?
Hopefully, we’re gonna have a lot of fun this year watching Brady’s Bunch show us how defense should be played. “Be the predator, not the prey.”
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove