The front seven were the biggest problem yesterday, and it wasn't even close. From defensive linemen losing containment to linebackers missing tackles, there was rarely a bright spot. So what exactly were they trying to do? Well, I'll try to explain it and let you draw your own conclusions.
It's no secret now -- and Jeff pointed it out last week -- that the Cougars were employing a different kind of scheme than they were in the past. It may have looked the same on the surface, but the assignments and philosophy were different, especially on the defensive line.
In order to best utilize Brandon Rankin's speed and strength, the gap-control scheme has changed. On the strong side, Travis Long and Bernard Wolfgramm are charged with eating space. On the weak side, Rankin and Kevin Kooyman are charged with penetrating and getting loose in the backfield.
Behind them, Myron Beck's assignment was to diagnose plays and shoot gaps. On the weak side, Alex Hoffman-Ellis was expected to be stout and make plays in the event Kooyman and Rankin were unable to carry-out their assignments. The middle linebacker's job was to plug the gaps created in the run game. Only one of these things happened in the linebacking corps yesterday.
So, here lies the problem. On the inside, Wolgramm and Rankin did fine, for the most part. On the ends, Kooyman and Long frequently lost contain, whether it be from getting too far upfield or not getting penetration at all. With no contain on the edges, Kendall Hunter was able to get the corner, run over a defensive back or two and march down the field. Hello, record day.
Part of keeping containment also lies in the hands of the weakside linebackers. If the players on the weak-side get caught up in the flow of the play, it leaves ample room for cutbacks. Rallying to the ball is always an emphasis in football, but when the defense sells out to rally play-side, the backside opens up and creates a cutback lane that anyone can run through. The weak-side of the Cougar defense did just that yesterday. Alex Hoffman-Ellis' speed was negated because he was frequently caught in the mass and unable to recover to make the play. OSU created a flow to one side of the field, and the Cougars took the bait.
Many times, thought, the linebackers were in the right spots. The coaching staff couldn't have picked them up and placed them in a better position on a lot of the run plays. They simply didn't execute. They couldn't tackle Hunter and looked helpless bouncing off him time-and-time again. How many times have you seen a linebacker simply grab an ankle and hold on for dear life like a defensive back clutching a tight-end? I saw it too many times yesterday. The linebackers simply have to be stronger than that.
This doesn't mean the linebackers are terrible and that there's no hope for them. Yes, they had trouble tackling Kendall Hunter, but I get the impression that a lot of teams are going to have trouble tackling Kendall Hunter. Hunter is a big, physical back that has breakaway speed. He made the Cougar defense look absolutely terrible. Once he was into the second-level, there was little hope of dropping him. Part of the problem was our own execution and part of it was simply because Hunter is a very good back.
If you thought we ran out a 4-3 and stuck to our base defense all day, you thought wrong. The Cougars showed a 4-3, a 4-3 with a standup end (more like a 3-4 over/under), a 3-3-5, and plenty of nickel and dime packages. The front four were charge with controlling the line and the back seven needed to step up and make tackles, no matter what the package. Vince Grippi said it best before the game.
The Cougars, especially their back seven, must make tackles in space. They are going to have multiple opportunities, and they need to be successful at least 95 percent of the time. If they screw up more often than that, Oklahoma State is going to light up the scoreboard.
They didn't make tackles and the defense got lit up. It's easy to look at the missed tackles and place blame on any and everyone. Instead, hopefully you understand what they were trying to do schematically against Oklahoma State and how the lack of execution influenced the game.
The problems the Cougar defense had aren't so huge that they can't be fixed. The scoreline indicates that the defense was broken. What I say doesn't indicate that at all. We faced a very good running back and he tore us to shreds. Every mistake the front seven made was magnified. If the linebackers can tweak their assignments and wrap-up, the defense will look exponentially better going forward. It was the first game. Mistakes happen. Learn from them.