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Most of the people I’ve talked with this week were so frustrated with the offense following the SMU game that, in some ways, they gave the defense a pass. But in his press conference earlier this week, Major Applewhite was asked about if the UH defense has been improving or not.
Here’s his response in its entirety:
“How many points do we allow? How many points are we giving up? What type of third down defense are we playing? What type of red zone defense are we playing? How many takeaways are we creating? Those are the key things that I am looking at. Yards can lie.
If you get people off the field with field goals, if you’re taking the ball away and creating short fields for your offense, and getting them off the field on third down, those are successful traits that you look for.
I’m not always going to look at total rushing yards or total passing yards given up. Those aren’t always great indicators on winning or losing, but ultimately holding the team to one less point than you score. That’s what we talk about. That’s the reality.
When you get in games you may be able to dominate an opponent and hold them to zero points in the first half. We’ve done that. We’ve been in some other games where they were shootouts with explosive offenses. South Florida two weeks ago was an example of that. You know you’re going to give up some yards. There’s some skilled players there.
We have to play good red zone defense, take the ball away a few times, and play great on third down. Those are the things we look at to evaluate our defense to see how successful we are. Obviously effort on ball security and tackling and the basic fundamentals of defensive football are important.”
Major’s response was curious. Is this the first step in shoving Mark D’Onofrio out the backdoor? Or does he think that by ignoring the question that no one will point out how bad we’ve been?
Let’s break it all down point by point:
Major’s Defensive Keys
“How many points do we allow? How many points are we giving up? What type of third down defense are we playing? What type of red zone defense are we playing? How many takeaways are we creating? Those are the key things that I am looking at. Yards can lie.”
Yards *can* lie, Major. But these numbers don’t –
- Points given up: 31.7. 96th in the country. 8th in the conference.
- 3rd down defense: 111th nationally. 10th in the American.
- Red zone scoring defense: 120th. 11th in ACC.
- Takeaways: 35th (tied with 12 others). 4th in the league.
If those are the keys that the head coach is focused on then he can’t be too pleased with his defensive coordinator. The bend bend bend but don’t break defense has never improved in these areas.
“If you get people off the field with field goals, if you’re taking the ball away and creating short fields for your offense, and getting them off the field on third down, those are successful traits that you look for.”
Opponents average 4.44 points per scoring opportunity (drives that go inside the 40) – 67th in the country. We are T-84th in TDs given up and T-115th in FGs made by opponents. We’re T-104 in red zone touchdowns allowed and 91st in percentage of red zone trips that end in a touchdown.
GoCoogs Insider Research: On 43% of drives, an opponent scores on the Coogs (35 TDs and 21 FGs on 130 total drives). In fact, opponents score more than they punt (54 punts – 41% of drives).
Are those the successful traits you’re looking for?
UH is also 114th in 3rd & long success-rate and 101st in 3rd & medium success-rate.
Tell the truth time: we aren’t getting anyone off the field, Major! Judging a drive a “success” because you hold them to 3 points is ludicrous when you’re also giving up 4 TDs a game.
Along with all that, UH is ranked 129th in Time of Possession – dead last in the country. For a team like UH, this is largely controlled by the defense. Despite scoring 48 points a game, we’re never playing from too far ahead. Your offense can’t control the ball if you can’t get it to them without giving up points.
The Wrong Mindset For Today’s Game
“I’m not always going to look at total rushing yards or total passing yards given up. Those aren’t always great indicators on winning or losing, but ultimately holding the team to one less point than you score. That’s what we talk about. That’s the reality.”
If he talks to his team about winning by one point then he might not understand the City of Houston and UH fans. One-point wins aren’t moving the needle here.
If the head coach isn’t “always going to look at” the fact that the Coogs are 129th in pass defense (last in the country) or 120th in total defense (11th in the AAC), I suppose that’s good news for D’Onofrio. But that’s the only way any of his overall performance can be seen in a positive light.
Of the statistical categories Major mentioned, here’s where we stand in comparison to other AAC schools:
- Points given up: 8th
- 3rd down defense: 10th
- Red zone scoring defense: 11th
- Takeaways: 4th
- Rush defense: 3rd
- Pass defense: 12th
- Total defense: 11th
- Time of possession: 12th
Major didn’t address first down defense (118th – last in the AAC) or scoring defense (96th – 8th AAC). He could have spun the scoring defense ranking in a positive light: with all the yards these teams put up against us, at least they’re not always scoring!
Time To Tell The Truth
Major largely told the truth about what are important numbers. Naturally, though, there was no follow-up about how bad those important stats have been or how they will affect his assessment of D’Onofrio.
He glossed over the fact that he has a top-five offense but all he requires from his defense is “holding the team to one less point.” That’s a pro-style, run-it-up-the-middle mindset that doesn’t work in this era. He tried it against Rice, Tulsa, and SMU this year and was faced with second-half deficits in each game.
In two losses this year to mediocre teams, the Coogs have given up an astounding 108 total points. That’s 15 offensive touchdowns. 1218 yards. And 923 passing yards.
It’s time to tell the truth, Major: you botched this hire. It’s time to rectify the situation and start over.
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