Monday Musings: chicken or the egg? Schemes or execution?

Monday Musings: Day two of the TCU hangover has commenced. We broke it out down Sunday on Talkin’ Bout Them Cougars, America’s favorite pod about the Houston Cougars hosted by a washed-up athlete and a guy that desperately needs Just For Men.

the daily #49 | 9/18/2023 | Archives

Infamy. Last week’s infamous ‘best Tuesday practice since I’ve been here’ will go down in Cougar lore alongside ‘we fire coaches that go 8-5.’ Since that best practice, the offense scored one TD in the first 3 quarters against Rice and was totally neutered by TCU.

The defense gave up 326 yards on five drives in the first half of the Rice game. TCU’s 35 first downs are the most given up by a UH defense since Texas Tech had 36 in that 63-49 game in 2018. Those are the only two times UH has given up 34+ first downs in the last ten seasons.

I guess my question is, what the hell has happened since that best Tuesday practice ever? Where’s the disconnect?

O No! UH is averaging 19.33 ppg in regulation. That would put the team 112th nationally (out of 130 teams). Thanks to the two overtimes at Rice Stadium, UH is 94th in scoring. But the fact remains that the offense has scored just 51 points in regulation in the three games. That’s six offensive touchdowns (and three field goals) in three games.

UH has scored over 10 offensive points in only two of six halves this year. In seven of 12 quarters, UH has scored three or fewer points.

In the last 30 games (120 quarters), which is all of 2021, 2022, and the three games this season, the Cougars have scored three or fewer points in a quarter 36 times.

Quotations. After the Rice game, Dana said, “First half is just unacceptable. Unacceptable. Played terrible.” After the TCU game, he said, “It’s obviously not acceptable. It’s bad offense.” But then he says the play-calling has been great.

“I’m happy with what’s on the sheet. I’m in every meeting. I’m happy with what’s on the sheet,” Holgorsen declares. Later, he adds, “Thought we had a good plan coming in, we’re just not executing the plan, we’re not making plays.”

Responding to a question about fourth down (UH is 2/10 on 4th down this season [117th nationally] while giving up 5/6 4th downs [120th]): “It’s not the play calls. It’s just not. We watch a lot of video, we come up with play calls, we come up with schemes, it’s the same thing that other people are doing, we’re just not executing.”

At some point, the play-calling has to match what the players can execute. Some coaches don’t change their system to adapt to the players they have; they expect the players to adapt. But in college football, you have to adapt to your players. Donovan Smith is different than Clayton Tune. Adapt. Matthew Golden is different than Tank Dell. Adapt. Jack Freeman is different than Braylon Jones. Adapt. If your playcall cannot be executed in a game (and you have repeated evidence of this), it’s not a good playcall.

Tyler Johnson and Patrick Paul anchor the OL // Photo by Mario Puente

Players Before Schemes. Find a plan that works for the players – don’t expect them to one day magically understand. During fall camp, a staffer told me that Belk’s 2022 defense was too complicated for the players. They didn’t get it. If that’s true, your plan should be scrapped when you realize the players cannot understand or execute it.

Because if the players don’t understand your teaching, that’s on you. Change your method. Break it down. Or simplify. Your job is to boil it down to something they can execute, not to keep teaching the same thing expecting different results.

The 2023 defense is doing the same thing as the 2022 defense did with similar results: UH was 111th in scoring defense last season and are 109 in scoring defense in 2023 (85th if you eliminate the Rice OTs). That’s bad; really bad when you consider UH is 11th nationally in turnovers gained (104th last year).

The results are the same and the scheme looks similar, too. What did we see against Rice? A soft zone where receivers nestled underneath the coverage, near the numbers, about 7-10 yards downfield, without a defender near their personal space. Against TCU? Same thing, but it was 15-18 yards downfield. They just stretched what Rice was doing, but the results were the same. Defenders playing back, not challenging them.

Same thing with the offense: Dana said TCU ran “the exact same” defense as Tulsa, where the Frog DC worked previously. If the OL cannot win their matchups against a three-man line, the linebackers will punch through those gaps and dominate. You cannot run the ball on them if the run game does not go outside. Running up the middle is probably not the best use of 1/3 of your snaps against TCU.

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