Having guys on defense that can allow you to matchup in the passing game is essential. Vic Koenning actually spoke to that in his initial presser at West Virginia, noting that it’s a space matchup game now and that they’d be recruiting under that understanding. It sounds like West Virginia’s struggles over the last year or so have related to backing off their commitment to physical practices (due to injuries no doubt) but I imagine it’s also hurt not having Kyzir White in the slot.
The most common trick now is to downsize all the way to one of the LB spots (dime or pseudo-dime) until you can match skill personnel from the offense without yielding glaring advantages. That didn’t cut it for Alabama against Clemson but it’s still further along than many teams are.
Here’s how things are looking for B12 teams in building defensive packages with players that can give them a chance to erase matchup advantages from offenses. Hint, it’s mostly not good…
Caden Sterns (6-0, 205, sophomore)
B.J. Foster (6-2, 210, sophomore)
Demarvion Overshown (6-3, 210, sophomore)
Brandon Jones (6-0, 205, senior)
The Longhorns are stuffed to the gills with talented young DBs and their hopes in 2019 rest largely on how much consistent improvement there is from all of the sophomores that will be counted on as starters. But what gives them a big chance to be a difficult defense to match up against is having FOUR safeties with real size, physicality, and range as tacklers. Caden Sterns is the only one of the group that is a big time cover guy but the Longhorns could gain an advantage by playing three or four of these guys at the same time and just flooding the field with rangy, versatile athletes. Any of these guys save for Sterns is liable to essentially play some LB next season.
Tre Norwood (5-11, 170, junior)
Caleb Kelly (6-3, 230, senior)
The Sooners aren’t in great shape here and haven’t been for some time, which is partly why they’ve been terrible on defense. Caleb Kelly is still all potential, he needs to learn how to play an ILB spot so that he can offer the Sooners superior size and athleticism to match against slots and TEs in space. We’ll see if Brian Odom can teach him something.
Tre Norwood won Oklahoma the Big 12 championship by moving to safety and giving them three semi-credible coverage guys (rule of three) while still having either Kelly or Robert Barnes play the run. His ability to play coverage in a variety of different positions is huge.
I like Robert Barnes as a support safety and Tre Brown is a solid corner but neither are guys that give you matchup flexibility. Barnes can’t cover man2man and Brown isn’t big nor as flexible and skilled as Norwood although he’s a good cloud corner and a really useful guy.
Rodarius Williams (6-0, 180, RS junior)
AJ Green (6-1, 180, senior)
The ‘Pokes don’t have a ton going for them on defense but these two guys at least have played a lot of football and have some decent size. Jim Knowles’ best bet for next season is going to be more in going pseudo-dime and flooding the field with extra safeties of reasonable quality than relying on key matchup weapons. They have Kolby Peel (6-0, 210, sophomore), Jarrick Bernard (6-2, 195, sophomore), and Malcolm Rodriguez (6-0, 205, junior) back who all played a lot of football last year at varying levels of competency.
Jeff Gladney (6-0, 183, RS senior)
Garrett Wallow (6-2, 212, junior)
Innis Gaines (6-2, 203, junior)
Gladney is a big piece to the puzzle for the Frogs next year, they need him to be a lockdown corner that can regularly play without help over the top. He held down Tylan Wallace a year ago and when you can play OSU without having to regularly devote an extra man or eyes to him it’s a big boost. Wallow and Gaines (pending a full recovery) are TCU’s chess pieces for playing match coverage underneath and eliminating the quick game to inside receivers that much of the league lives off.
Gaines plays their SS position, which is either a slot man2man guy, an underneath zone defender, a blitzer, or the extra hat in the run game. Wallow is their sam/money-backer guy, the LB that tends to align in the wider space whom spread O’s are regularly looking to attack by putting them into space with run/pass conflicts. Both are really good.
Marcel Spears, Jr (6-1, 215, RS senior)
Greg Eisworth (6-0, 200, RS junior)
The best way to conceive of the Iowa State Cyclones’ D is like an old NFL Tampa-2 squad. Greg Eisworth is the middle linebacker like Brian Urlacher and then Spears is the will, like Derrick Brooks. The key to their strategy is having these undersized, de-facto LBs patrolling the middle of the field and denying access to routes and running everything down against the run.
They don’t really play matchups so much (although Brian Peavy often had some really tough coverage assignments) as they just keep everything in front of them and leverage the ball exceptionally well. If one of their young CBs can play some man2man though like Peavy that’d be huge.
Corione Harris (6-1, 180, sophomore)
The Jayhawk secondary had a lot of disguises and some sticky fingers last year, picking off nine passes with their starting DBs. Cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Corione Harris are back outside with Mike Lee and Bryce Torneden inside at safety. As far as trying to create winning matchups or surviving against an opponent spreading them out and hunting for weak spots Harris is their only real asset at this point. At 6-1 he’s got more size and length to try and match up with bigger receivers and give the safeties a chance to shade elsewhere.
Daquan Patton (6-2, 215, RS senior)
A.J. Parker (5-11, 175, RS junior)
No one has been hit harder by the “pass to set up the run” paradigm of today’s Big 12 than K-State. Their 4-2-5 quarters structure was good for run-stopping against spread Os but it never offered enough protection against the vertical passing that became dominant around the league, particularly with the level of talent that K-State has tended to field.
Chris Klieman’s background has been mostly with spread to run attacks and his solutions for it are like a blend of the Iowa State D’s conservative structure combined with isolated pockets and schemes where defenders play on islands. I think he may be quite happy with the level of athleticism in his LBs, particularly Patton, and may even play them three at a time and get a DT off the field. The key though is A.J. Parker, who needs to become an ace CB that can free up a safety like Jahron McPherson to be a late dropper into the box like Robbie Grimsley was for North Dakota State or Andrew Wingard was for Wyoming.
Overall I think K-State will flood the field with more linebackers than Bill Snyder used but then drop them and try to keep the ball in front more like the Cyclones.
Adrian Frye (6-1, 180, RS sophomore)
Things at Tech are about as grim as in Kansas. Frye got his hands on 15 passes last year, picking off five of them, and he’s got some good size and length to try and go up against big WRs. That’s pretty much it. You figure Matt Wells is going to revamp this roster with transfers before long.
Keith Washington (6-0, 180, RS senior)
The Mountaineers have a solid of experienced DBs and Kenny Robinson in particular is a good support safety, but they don’t have a lot of matchup erasers. Jovanni Stewart offers them some extra speed down near the box but he’s more of a run-stopping tool than a guy that can match up against someone in coverage.
Washington has some knowhow and length and that’s about as much as can be said for the Mountaineer defensive backfield.
Blake Lynch (6-3, 213, RS senior)
Last year Baylor gave Texas a little trouble by getting Lynch on Lil’Jordan Humphrey and similarly long and tall Derrek Thomas on Collin Johnson. They played a lot of man coverage with those guys and were then able to send numbers swarming to the box against the run.
Lynch remains and could be one of the big keys to Baylor’s 2019 season. What they need/want is for him to be able to play either nickel or corner and just follow the big guys that everyone likes to put on the field to run fade routes. Erase that matchup problem and then get the rest of the Baylor defensive backfield up to speed finally in this defense and maybe the Bears can avoid giving up multiple long touchdowns every week. On another note, they have a versatile matchup eraser up front named Lynch as well, James (no relation).
In the future we’ll look at some of the matchups that Big 12 offenses will present in the coming year and it’ll be obvious that 2019 probably won’t be too much easier on defenses than prior seasons.