I would like to thank Kent Baer for taking time to talk with me and answer The Bootleg readers' questions. Kent went way out of his way to make this interview happen. I caught Kent on a day where he was on about 4 hours of sleep. He was involved in running one of Stanford's many summer camps and trying to keep up with a stack of recruiting tapes piling up on his desk.
What are some of the statistical goals of the defense (sacks, 3rd down %, passing completion %, etc)? (Irishguru)
Kent Baer: We do have goals, but I don't want to jump ahead of myself. I would rather win every game and be last in the Pac 10 in total defense than be first in total defense and not have a winning season. I've done that before, I was on a team at Utah State ...we were actually #6 in the country. We shattered every defensive mark in the PCWA (???) and didn't have a winning record. That first year at ASU I think we gave up 260 yards a game, one of the most prolific defenses ever in the history of ASU. We had great talent … we didn't go to a bowl game. Everybody talks about our going to a Rose Bowl and when you start a season giving up 69 points to Texas … all those stats go out the door. You have no chance to catch up (with stats). If you really go back and look at our stats in the Pac 10 we were really a pretty good football team. You don't go to the Rose Bowl and not be a good defensive football team in some way or another.
We do have goals (I hope I remember all of them). Just to give you some examples. The first one we talk about is to win. The win is the most important thing. The second one we have is to shut out the opponent in the 4th quarter. The stats will show you if you shut out the opponent in the 4th quarter your chances go way up. I think that's really important. The other thing is that gives you a psychological advantage. We talk to kids all the time about being strong in the 4th quarter. We are not going to give up any points in the 4th quarter. Another goal is to only give up 17 or fewer points. The only reason we come up with 17 is just a matter of stats over the years. Normally that team that is around 15-16 points a game is the team leading the league in defense. Another goal is to stop 3rd down conversions 65% of the time or better. I don't differentiate between the yardages. It could be third and an inch or third and twenty. We just say that we want to stop 3rd down conversions 65% of the time. We would like to be 40% in three and out. That's a huge stat. If anyone ever charted 3 and outs… you are probably going to find teams that wins games.
No run over 20 yards, no pass over 30 yards. These are just weekly goals that we have on a goal board. This means: don't give up the big play. Average three yards or less, 65% against the run. If you do that defensively when they run the ball, you are doing a pretty good job against the run. Average 7 yards or less per pass attempt - not per pass catch. This stat goes way back to when we played against BYU and Steve Young, Gifford Nielson, Mark Wilson, and Jim McMann. They use to throw for a million yards every game. Our goal was just to not give up the big play. Let's say they ended up with 300 yards and they took forty attempts. We are playing pretty close to the vest.
We want to score on D or set ourselves up to score. Then we want to get three turnovers. These things are huge. In my mind as a defensive coach, the takeover / turnover (my thinking has changed over the years) is the single biggest statistic in football. In other words if you are getting turnovers and you're not giving the ball up, your chances go way up. I use to believe that playing run D was the most important… I think that's second now.
What will be the biggest difference between this year's defense and last year's, aside from the loss of Riall and Willie? (Irishguru)
Kent Baer: I think we have a little more speed and quickness. I really believe we are quicker and faster overall from top to bottom. Willie and Riall were huge - you just don't replace Willie or Riall - you just have to make up for them in other areas. When you talk about the number of sacks those guys had, you know we have to figure a way defensively to make up for those somehow. Whether that's sacks or hits on the QB or more turnovers or what ever, that remains to be seen. The difference is that we have a little more speed and I do think we have more depth in some spots. That's a hard question to answer because we haven't played a game.
Any chance we may change schemes, move to a 3-4, or some other new set? (Hulk)
Kent Baer: (Laughs) No. There is no reason to change. If you play a 3-4, it's very hard to adjust. People may think it's easier but it's not. I would play a 3-4 if I knew they were always going to play a two back set. But if they break that set and you have to remove a LB because there are so many WR outside… now it's tough to play inside gaps with a one back scheme and now you have to adjust your front somehow. So you now have to make two adjustments instead of one. You have to make a front adjustment to reduce down and than adjust a LB. Where if you reduce your front all the time… you're always covered someway you just have to adjust linebacker or linebackers. Now we do play a 3-4 sometimes - we do it on passing situations and our dime package. It's been great for us, but there is no chance we will go to the 3-4.
On a similar note, what type of mix is anticipated between 8 man and 7 man fronts? Since we have a potentially dominant free safety roaming the middle and a good group of corners to pick from, one would think we could stack the line occasionally on 1st down and force teams out of their running games. How often if at all will the defense play an 8-man front? (Irishguru)
Kent Baer: We do stack the line if you watch us play. If you are watching us play, and they have two backs in the game, we have 8 people in the box all the time. I'm going to have 8 in the box as often as we can. If there is one back in there we are going to try and have 7 in there. In passing situations that's not the case; in a passing situation we are going to be in a 4 deep umbrella look.
How is our defensive recruiting shaping up? Are we very optimistic about filling the imminent shortages at DT and DB? (Hulk)
Kent Baer: I don't think we have a shortage at DT. We got a few young players there. If you look at our numbers, we have lot of young guys there. Trey Freeman is only a JR, Matt Leonard is only a JR, and all the guys backing up are only sophomores and freshman. We are continuing to recruit there, but I'm not sure we have a shortage of bodies. I like some of the guys we have recruited there - we just have to get some playing time. Secondary wise, we do lose some kids. My biggest concern is safety not corner. We've got quite a few corner-type guys now in Stanley Wilson, Leigh Torrence, and a couple of guys we signed this year. The biggest loss is going to be at the safety position. That is the position we are going to be recruiting towards.
Who do you expect to be the emotional leaders of the defense? (Irishguru)
Kent Baer: That's a good question. I think some guys have stepped up. I'm really, really pleased with Coy Wire. He seems to like that roll. He seems to handle to roll really well. Marcus Hoover becomes an emotional leader for us. I think it's very important we have somebody on the DL that does that for us. Between Tank and Simba, I think they create some leadership there too. Not quite as vocal as times as say Coy or Marcus, but still leaders. There are different ways to be a leader - by being an emotional leader or by actions and the way you play the game - and I believe that Tank does that for us. I don't think we are going to lack for leadership.
Is our team speed going to be improved at DE, LB, and DB? (Cardinal Scott)
Kent Baer: I don't know if we can become a faster team at DE without Riall. LB-wise with Coy, we do have some speed. Matt Friedrichs runs very well for an inside LB. I think our speed is good there (LB). I think overall speed, from top to bottom, is better than it was a year ago. We have three out of four guys in the secondary who run a 4.5 and probably closer to 4.4 at times and they've been timed at those speeds. That doesn't mean your going to be a good football team because you still have to play good football. I think the guys we've recruited especially at LB are really going to bring us some speed. Jon Alston and M. Craven have the speed that we were looking for.
In the second installment of our interview, Coach Baer talks about the defensive position units and the incoming frosh.