Night and Day: Despite playing without starting corners Eugene Neboh and Cornelius Douglas and first team defensive end Dartwan Bush, the Red Raider defense bore scant little resemblance to the unit that got roasted in Saturday's scrimmage. And that is a very good thing.
Today the defense disguised its coverages, blitzed a great deal and played plenty of soft zone. Consequently, a befuddled Tech offense generated very little either on the ground or in the air.
The upshot of all this, despite Mike Leach claiming there is no hocus pocus, and Tommy Tuberville stating that players win games, is that schemes and tactics do matter a great deal. I saw the proof with my own eyes.
Caught with their Guards Down: Starting guards Beau Carpenter and Le'Raven Clark remain sidelined with concussions. This fact doubtless contributed to the ground game's ineffectiveness today, but is insufficient to explain the overall meltdown. Hence, backups James Polk and Alfredo Morales are good players too. The dropoff from starters to second-teamers is just not that great.
No, what we saw today was some darned good play out of Tech's defensive front seven. There was penetration, there was gap control, and there were linebackers, often on the run blitz, plugging holes. A job well done to this group.
Defensive linemen such as Jackson Richards and Kerry Hyder were getting their hands up and tipping passes when they weren't picking them off. Indeed, Hyder did just that in the play of the day, leaping high to snare a Doege rocket as it crossed the line of scrimmage. It was an amazing catch.
But the defensive backs were in on the act too. Bruce Jones, who looks like a player reborn, blanketed the short routes. Even when he didn't make the play, he was in position to. And that was a tremendous improvement over what he had hitherto done.
Flack for the Quarterbacks: Neither Seth Doege nor Michael Brewer had a good day today. In addition to looking confused by the defense, Doege had ball handling issues in the backfield. It was as if he was so concerned by the coverages that he couldn't concentrate on elementary things such as the center snap and handoffs. Brewer's problem was simple inaccuracy. It is a problem that has dogged him periodically in fall camp.
Jackson's Lack: During line drills today Branden Jackson repeatedly faced off against Terry McDaniel and repeatedly lost. To an extent, this is to be expected. McDaniel is a senior and Jackson a freshman, after all. But what is clear right now is that Jackson is not very physical at the point of attack. He doesn't have the upper body strength and the leg drive to bull rush and is not quite quick enough to speed rush a good technician like McDaniel.
Inside Scoop: In those same line drills Pete Robertson showed flashes of being the speed rusher Tech's coaches are hoping he can be. When Robertson is effective—and it's the only time he's effective—it is on a quick move to the inside. Robertson has yet to show he can beat a decent tackle to the outside, but he's extremely tough to control when he shoots the three gap. Today he beat not only Rashad Fortenberry with this move, but LaAdrian Waddle as well.
Making a Move: Freshman defensive tackle Michael Starts was impressive today, albeit against some of Tech's lesser linemen. In line drills, Conner Grooms simply couldn't handle him, getting run smack over twice. And in team drills Starts beat Jared Kaster for a sack on Michael Brewer.
Defensive Excitement: You could tell the defense was feeling good about itself today, because toward the end of practice they were carrying on like a pack of wild banshees, making all sorts of racket on the sideline. The last time I recall practice revelry like this was with the 2005 defense led by Dwayne Slay. That group was a wild bunch.
Bustin Bulletin: Kicker Ryan Bustin concluded practice by banging home field goals from 22, 30, 36, 38 and 43 yards. He's making it look easy.