Setencich's Frat: Phi Beta Smackya

Amid last season's horrifying defensive performance, which included back-to-back nightmare outings against Missouri (62 points allowed) and Oklahoma State (51 points allowed), even the most loyal Tech partisans could have been forgiven for doubting defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich's football acumen.

Verily, Setencich's Raiders often resembled first graders attempting to solve advanced problems in non-linear physics. Dazed and confused, they were too busy fiddling with their slide rules to make routine tackles. As a result, the Raiders finished 106 out of 117 NCAA Division I units in total defense.

If, however, the first quarter of the 2004 season is any indication, Setencich's charges may be ready to write a dissertation. Through three games, including last week against the then second-ranked passing offense of TCU, the Raider defense stands 43rd in total defense. Perhaps the maligned defensive coordinator is not so daft after all.

And according to Setencich, it is proper defensive alignment borne of experience and repetition that is responsible for the dramatic improvement. Indeed, proper alignment, what he calls "...one of the most important things in football..." is the area of greatest improvement by this years' defense over the 2003 unit. He also claims that it is the facet of football his defense still needs to work on most: "You can't line up the same way all the time because the offense comes out differently all the time. So you have to make adjustments, and sometimes we don't."

For Setencich, this intellectual component of football is absolutely crucial. "A quarterback has to be smart. And offensive linemen have to call out at the line of scrimmage who to block. People think on defense you just run. That is not true. You have to be smart on defense. So the mental part of the game is really important. This applies to every single position on defense. And it ought to be universal to all schemes."

Setencich's borderline monomania for correct alignment, calls, and adjustments goes a long way toward explaining how he utilizes his personnel. Speaking of potential-laden strong safety Dwayne Slay, he notes that, "You know for Slay, as he learns our system since [missing] spring football he's behind, but he's played a few more reps each game, and as he learns he's very talented, he tries really hard; he's a good guy. I think, you know, Slay is a good player. Meeks might have improved because Slay is here."

Similarly, Setencich's approval of Khalid Naziruddin and Antonio Huffman, is predicated on their mental prowess: "They've been consistent. I'm never happy, but they're giving us some consistency in alignment and things like that." The mental aspect has also gone a long way toward determining player rotations. When asked why far more defensive linemen than cornerbacks have been deployed so far this season, Setencich's response was blunt: "Probably because those guys we rotate in the game are the guys we trust to do the right thing." And he is not referring to solving ethical dilemmas here; he's talking about correct alignment and execution of defensive calls.

As might be expected, given Setencich's emphasis on the cerebral side of the game, he does not envisage making radical changes in his defense throughout the remainder of the season. In his words, "We'll probably stay where we are." Possible moves of Slay and linebacker Fletcher Session to get them more playing time thus appear unlikely.

One major shift that Setencich and his staff did make before the season began was moving Chad Johnson from cornerback to free safety. According to Setencich, the switch has worked out well. It is also one example of him countenancing more mistakes in the name of increased speed and athleticism: "Well, he [Johnson] gives us a little more speed on the field. I think he's doing well for a sophomore. Now he and Rangel share time, and Rangel's played very well with limited speed. Chad may make a few more mistakes than Rangel does, but he overcomes it with speed." Setencich also spoke about the difficult situations his defense has faced because of Tech turnovers and failed fourth down plays deep in their own territory: "...I just know when you play on a short field, what the defense has to do is hold them to field goals, which we haven't done very often. It's all key situations. Someone's got to make a play on third down or make a play on fourth down. Right now, we haven't done that."

The last thing Setencich will do, however, is complain about the tight spots his defense often faces, or excuse defensive failures: "I have no control over what happens on offense. I have no control over what happens on offense with the other team. The only thing I can control is how we play, and that's how you have to approach it." Despite his defense's inability so far to force field goals instead of allowing touchdowns, Setencich likes what he sees from his unit and expects continued improvement: "We said we were better than we were last year and were clearly better. We only start two seniors so hopefully we can improve as the season goes along."

And improve they better, because Setencich is worried about the Kansas offense that Tech will face this coming Saturday: "...they're similar to our offense. You know, they throw a lot of screens: middle screens, running back screens. They do crossing routes like our offense. And you're frightened because any time you can give up a big play."

Perhaps one area of improvement will be the interior of the defensive line: Setencich believes that defensive tackle Dek Bake will be back in the lineup for Kansas.

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