A few years back I wrote a really popular post called, “TCU’s Baylor problem” in which I explained that Baylor’s offensive scheme (which is now gone but has influenced the rest of the league) presented major stresses to TCU’s 4-2-5.
Everyone had a Baylor problem, really, but TCU’s 4-2-5 was designed to allow them to swarm the ball with numbers after the snap and that wasn’t really possible against Baylor’s “vertical or not” RPO offense where the QB was making “throw or run” decisions from extreme spread formations AFTER the snap.
Since that fateful 61-58 game, TCU has slipped defensively. I’ve seen/composed a few different theories for TCU’s struggles on defense over the last few years. There’s correlation with a few different ones so it’s not totally clear what the truth is.
Here’s some of the main ones I’ve seen.
1) Long-time DL coach Dick Bumpas retired
Bill Connelly discussed this as perhaps the main reason on “Podcast ain’t played nobody” once and it’s definitely been floated around out there. Bumpas retired after 2014, which is exactly when the TCU defense took a precipitous dive from the standard they’d established.
Strengths of this theory: Perfect correlation to TCU’s struggles on defense.
Weaknesses of this theory: TCU’s DL was good in 2015 without him, wasn’t bad in 2016, and could be good again in 2017. The Frogs have had issues across their defense since 2014 and they haven’t all been localized along the DL so this doesn’t work particularly well save for as a component of a problem.
2) The Air Raid practice install
An assistant coach at another school suggested this one to me, that the changes in the practice format to run the up-tempo, Air Raid offense makes it very difficult to emphasize team pursuit and team tackling on defense. I will say that you do see a ton of struggles across up-tempo and Air Raid teams in playing good team defense AND Dana Holgorsen noted that his changes to a more physical practice format were the primary reason for their defensive turnaround a few years ago.
Strengths of this theory: TCU fell apart defensively once the pre-existing 2014 unit graduated and they had to replace them. Since then they’ve struggled to field as many quality defenders or master the schemes they used to execute so well.
Weaknesses of this theory: The existence of every other plausible theory I’m listing here and my own lack of certainty about how much TCU’s practices changed when they adopted the Air Raid.
3) Lack of roster depth meets injuries/attrition.
Perhaps TCU just got unlucky or had a bad recruiting cycle or two? They had to replace a ton of guys after 2014 and several players from the first wave of replacements were then taken out of the equation by injury or attrition, which led to things like “starting weak safety Michael Downing!” and “190 pound middle linebacker Travin Howard!”
Strengths of this theory: It’s taken a while for the Frogs to rebuild their LB corps and it follows that replacing so much would take time.
Weaknesses of this theory: They seemed to have a lot of guys practiced and in place for 2016 and still got run over some, even after instilling 230 pound LB Ty Summers in the box rather than another converted safety. This also doesn’t really account for all of the struggles across the rest of the defense that wasn’t hit as hard as linebacker.
4) Gary overreacted or just erred in responding to 61-58
Patterson was surely shocked when Baylor hung 61 on them in Waco and ruined what should have been his perfect, breakthrough season. Since then he decided to go a bit smaller on defense, in part due to necessity and in part with intentionality. Recently he noted that they needed to get bigger again along the DL, I’m guessing he meant DT since they now have Ty Summers working at DE, more on that in a moment.
Strengths of this theory: They really got torched the worst at corner in that game so the most needed adjustment was just getting guys that could hold up on deep routes against Baylor’s sprinter WRs, they more or less did so last year once Texada was healthy and then still struggled vs the run because they were too small/inexperienced/imprecise in their run D.
Weaknesses of this theory: I think upgrading the speed of their secondary was probably a good and needed adjustment and it theoretically opened up their defense for new opportunities, some of which were seized upon.
I think all of these factors have probably played some part but my own preference is for theory 2. I think they changed up how they practice some and it’s made it harder for Gary to execute his traditional “make a ton of position changes and then use physical, grueling preparation to fashion a team of raw athletes into precise cogs in the 4-2-5 system.” That could have an impact on the DL, LB, and S as everyone needs to play on a string and the DL and LB ranks need to include guys that can inflict negative plays.
That’s tough if you’re trying to get positional changes up to speed with less practice time to do so. Also in support of this theory is how much cover 1 Gary has mixed in over the last two years. I asked him about it a couple of years ago and he said they did it because he needed something his players could “play fast in.” Meaning that he was struggling to get his more complicated quarters coverages installed properly.
Is that because Bumpas is gone? Or because the practice and install process had changed? Since we’re talking about coverage here I’m going to guess the latter.
Doug Meacham is now gone and the Sonny Cumbie prefers to keep things simpler on offense and also to stick with the run game. It’s possible that Gary’s intention to change up the practices in order to suit their defense was a factor in Meacham skipping town and Cumbie being elevated to OC.
I’m sure Bumpas was a great coach, but I’m on the lookout for a more characteristic TCU defense this year that can execute their traditional scheme paired with an offense that’s simpler and more run-centric.
Ty Summers moving to DE is frankly shocking to me. I mean, that’s essentially what every high school in Texas does now. They get their best inside-backer guy and put him at DE because that’s really the tip of the spear in today’s game. Still, he was awesome at ILB last year and now he’s gone??
The biggest deal, which you can see from the link above about TCU’s D this year, is strong safety. They rely on that position to do a lot against the run game and I’ve not been buying Ridwan Issahaku there and evidently neither is Gary Patterson.
@Tex_TenKiller noted on Twitter that Gary Patterson has been said to be spread more thin trying to coach up the DL in addition to serving elsewhere as head coach. Without a guy he deeply trusts up front in Dick Bumpas he’s been unable to delegate properly. That’s interesting and could explain some of the holes that have emerged for their defense outside of the DL. I still like theory 2 though.