JoS Archives: In Defense of the Defense

 This was a post that first appeared right after last season’s Pinstripe Bowl on January 6. The goal was to play a little devils advocate to all those calling for Chris Cosh’ head after the defensive struggles of 2010 and it’s surprisingly still quite relevant now. Read on and look for any additions/clarifications italicized and in parenthesis based on what we’ve seen this season.

A lot has been said about the shortcomings of the Kansas State defensive unit this season as they have been responsible for many of the losses. The most frustrating aspect was seeing the same offensive game plan used to destroy the Wildcats over and over and over again. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez seemed to be playing against third graders and amassed an estimated 9,341 yards rushing on the way to showing every single team remaining on the schedule how to hand it to K-State. After the debacle that was the North Texas shoot-out, I wrote a post that basically showed the only answer for future improvement was to cut the head off of the defense. While I still think that might be an option, I want to play a little devil’s advocate to an issue that has most fans on one side. Continue reading to find out just why it may not all lie on the shoulders of Chris Cosh.

The first defense for Cosh, and what I think is the biggest, is the tools that he has to work with. Most of the athletes he is trying to turn into solid defensive players came from the Prince era. As a hold over from the Prince regime, Cosh has a bit of responsibility in the hand he has been dealt, but the players recruited fit what Prince envisioned for a defensive unit. He wanted speed above all things and did so at the cost of size. That plan failed pretty miserably. If you dare to remember those ugly years, you will no doubt recall the amazing inability to be fundamentally sound. I don’t know how many times I was ready to throw something through my TV after a play that included 3 or 4 missed tackles. Those players make up half of the current team.

On the flip side, the players that have been recruited and brought in under Snyder round 2 are looking like some great building blocks. Ty Zimmerman is going to be great, David Garrett will be a strong defensive back as a senior, and Tre Walker made some strides as a freshman. That’s over ¼ of the starters for next year.  All of those are non-Prince guys and you have to figure more are on their way including LB Arthur Brown.

(As evidenced by this season, Snyder and the coaches brought in quite a bit more than just Arthur Brown. Many of the Juco transfers have been huge producers and are instrumental in the complete turnaround that is being seen as well as a 7-2 record. Each year is going to bring more players who fit the defensive scheme athletically and skill wise. It should just keep getting better next season. More returning starters and players with major experience in the scheme should make K-State’s defense even better next season.)

Exhibit B presented by the Law Offices of Cosh, Cosh, and Snyder Esq. is the overall youth of the tools talked about in the previous paragraphs. Kansas State’s D was young. 7 of the 11 starters by the end of the year were underclassmen, and 2 of those were freshman. (1 was a sophomore, and 4 were juniors in case you’re counting. Also 8 of the back-ups were underclassmen according to the depth chart for the N. Texas game.) After high school, I was fortunate enough to play a little college football. I played at the NAIA level and the biggest change for me was the speed of the game and size of the players. Everyone was bigger and they all moved faster. I can’t even begin to imagine going from high school to a major conference like the Big 12 and competing against FBS athletes. That has to take some serious adjustment time and we actually saw the growth take place in those underclassmen. Cosh might have done an incredible job of teaching the fundamentals but just not had enough time to let his guys develop. I think that’s exactly the point Snyder makes about having the extra practice time that comes with a bowl game and why it’s so important.

(Going to the bowl game did pay off in the long run with a bunch of extra practices and the experience gained. Those young players are now a year further along in their development and they’ve learned to adjust to the speed of major college football that was new to them last season. I don’t know that there is any better proof of that than the way K-State’s cornerbacks are intercepting the ball. Many of those have come on reading the quarterback and jumping the comeback routes that were just a bit too fast last season. The down-side to K-State is that many of the players are transfers which limits the amount of years they have to develop and get used to a higher level of play but it is working pretty well right now.)   

Defense point #3 for Cosh focuses on the defensive gameplan. One of the things Kansas State fans hated this year about Cosh was his “bend don’t break” style of defense. What if that was all he could do? Coaches learn pretty quickly what strengths and weaknesses their players have individually and as a whole. Let’s assume Cosh knew that a style of defense using blitzes would only open up the secondary to more disaster than what we saw as well as vacate the middle of the field completely. It’s possible he realized in spring training that the front four were not going to be able to hold the line so he installed a defense that would make the opposition run as many plays as possible to get down the field. More plays = more chances at a turnover, penalty, or an eventual stop and punt. “Bend don’t break” might have been the best possible option. Add a few more capable players and next year’s defensive look could be completely different.  At least I sure hope so.

(Cosh did add a few more capable players to the “bend don’t break” defense and it has made a huge difference… for good and for bad. The defense of last season was ranked right around dead last in every category. This season K-State currently has the 12th ranked rushing defense allowing 100 yards on the ground per game. Last season it finished 119th allowing 231 yards per game rushing. That’s an incredible improvement. Unfortunately, the pass defense has taken a big hit after playing OU and OSU back to back and now sits at 117th. That’s a far cry from last season’s 52nd ranked pass defense at the end of the season but remember, teams simply didn’t have to ever put the ball in the air to beat the Wildcats. This is still a huge issue. At this point, if the front four aren’t getting pressure, and seven playing in coverage isn’t working, change something. Figure it out. That’s what coaches do. This is the area that everyone is the most up in arms about and rightfully so. It’s one thing to be beat after trying every possible thing you can come up with, it’s completely different to be so stubborn that you refuse to make changes. If Cosh does get the boot, this will be why.)

Finally… well after staring at my screen for 15 minutes I still can’t come up with a fourth defense for the guy.  But you get the idea. If Bill Snyder decides that he wants to keep Cosh on for another go at it, I think we give him the benefit of the doubt this one last time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Bishop wasn’t Snyder’s first QB, and Kansas State didn’t have the #1 defense in the nation until 1997. Patience may be all it takes.

(The last two games have been atrocious but it’s absolutely true that the rest of the season has seen this defense do its job. I hate watching it at times just as much as every other K-State fan, but if the final record ends up being 9-3 or even 10-2, there probably won’t be that much anger about the scheme anymore. The scheme I can live with, the stubbornness I can’t. Unless there’s some massive failure by the defense over the next 3 games, you might as well get used to the idea that Chris Cosh is going to be around next season.) 

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Tags: Arthur Brown Big 12 Bill Snyder Chris Cosh Tre Walker Ty Zimmerman

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