Before I look at the film again, and I still have to do the one for Sakerlina (oh joy), I can go ahead and tell you why we lost this game on defense: Linebackers.
We have both said this before, and its been a recurring issue all year. If you want to know why the defense gets worse as the year goes on, its two issues:1) other offensive coordinators are able to see how bad the LBs are on film and find ways to exploit it further as the year goes on, 2) talent. Those are the biggest two things.
Last night, Steele threw the Bees a new look up front. Both DTs played down, with a 1 and a 3 technique. Both DEs played in 2 point stances, and the OLBs played in a normal 5 yard-off stack alignment which at times looked like the OVER, with Maye backed up 7 yards deep. Clemson had assigned the Dive to all the Dlinemen, with the LB's on the QB, and the secondary support as the pitch. The coverage appeared to be Cover 4, which looks like man or zone depending on what they do.
I know why he did it. Lots of people are questioning the scheme and alignment. You have to put your OLBs at a normal depth, not close to the line of scrimmage because if you scoot them up outside the DE, you give up something inside. You want your LB to be deep enough to see the Wingback outside and also into the B-gap, thats a normal 5 yard alignment. Also you want them with more depth to play off the cut blocks. At times you saw them jump into the B-gap, and that was when the Safety was in the box to take his spot. Now, if you have a good MLB, you could possibly move one up (not both), but we dont. Brandon Maye was backed up at 7 yards so that he could see more of the backfield and follow the play, and not get too badly out of position on misdirection plays.
The DEs were in 2 point stances because they wanted them to have their eyes up and able to see the backfield. The interior linemen were down because they have to fire off the ball to stop the dive.
The biggest problem with us last night was the LB play. They were getting blocked by the guards and tackles on the veer, and didnt get off them. They didnt shoot into their gap. They were late in scraping to get to the QB, and never attacked him. Last night somebody was asking about whether you can hit the QB on every play, and you can. We played tentatively, tackled worse, and the secondary was late getting up on the pitch because they were getting cracked (safety) or arc-blocked (corners) by the WR or Wingback with cut blocks. Brandon Maye is a liability.
I dont like what Steele did; I thought he had a better plan in game 1. I would not have put the DEs in 2pt stances, because i think it contributes to them playing high with their pad level. I thought our inside guys did ok, but need to work on sticking to their keys and keeping an eye on the ball. Many times, Thompson/Jenkins blew up his blocker and was in the backfield but Dwyer was already beside him. I prefer having the best DE tandem in the conference as the force player on the QB, and let the MLB and DTs play the dive. Steele had taught them to both crash on the dive, which they didnt do as much of in game 1. Additionally, we were being cut up front and then the GT OL grabbed the ankles of the DLinemen, so they cant get anywhere.
But if you call for Brooks or Rumph to be fired, when Brooks only came on in March, youre crazy. Rumph has produced here in development, Brooks has a long track record of development on the line, and both recruit very very good. The DTs played worse as the year went on and need coaching, but I believe Brooks can get this fixed. I think Thompson is a future All-ACC player minimum, but he has had ups and downs this year. If he plays an entire game for once (not taking plays off, which was G. Adams problem when he was young) I think he becomes dominant inside.
Steele coaches LBs, and I would say he is hampered by inferior talent, but I think he could do better. Conner, as I said before, has peaked. He's better than Maye but not by much. Kevin Alexander is not a LB, he's too slow and doesnt have the experience there that we need at SAM. I think KA is better suited to DE. Honestly I think Sapp would do better at OLB than KA. Pass coverage by the linebackers has been an issue all year, run stoppage has shown up more and more as a problem. We dont have outrageous talent at LB even at 2nd string either. The staff feel like they hit on Hawkins, and I bet he plays a lot next year. Quandon Christian is another one they like. Tig Willard I expect to start. Tarik Rollins looks like a miss. Scotty Cooper will likely play a lot more again next year. They'll have to step up or we're in the same boat for 2010.
But I will not call for a defensive coach to get fired this year. We run a complicated scheme. Its easy to confuse players on their keys when you give them too much to think about. Saban could not get this scheme fully-installed at Bama or LSU early, and at both places he already had some of the talent to do it, its just a lot for them to master when you were used to playing a soft coverage. I expected us to be worse at pass defense but Harbison has taught them pretty well how to pattern-read. I will give Steele more chance to recruit, because if we dont get a LB in here it wont be lights-out next year, even if Maye improves.
If the defense doesnt do better next year, barring injuries, I'll think about calling for heads.
The offense did their job well enough to win. I am disappointed in the interior line, and how they dont fire off the ball against a mostly-backup GT defensive line, but I already knew Brad Scott sucked. They improved this year up front, but I don't see enough improvement to make me change my mind on his coaching.
Kyle Parker played subpar, he is young and it showed. I think we'd have a different opinion of him had we had the ball more last night, but he didnt impress with his accuracy at all.
CJ was CJ. He had us in this game himself. Now without him, I'm not sure what we'll have on offense next year.
In the preseason I predicted 8 wins and 2nd in the Atlantic. We did better than my expectations. Dabo has 3 years from me and I'm not going to waver on it. I can tell you now, I'm expecting 10 next season. I'm not putting up with losing. If they dont win 10, somebody will be responsible, and I suspect it'll be Brad.
We'll be covering each of the coaches after the (likely) Music City rematch with Kentucky. In the meantime we'll switch to recruiting and baskeball. I'll get to the film reviews soon.