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Roushanalizing a Poor Run Defensive Performance

Keshawn Simpson’s first half TD was one of 4 on the ground by the WKU offense. (Photo by USA Today)

Keshawn Simpson's first half TD was one of 4 on the ground by the WKU offense. (Photo by USA Today)

Keshawn Simpson’s first half TD was one of 4 on the ground by the WKU offense. (Photo by USA Today)


Entering Saturday’s game both offenses were expected to post big numbers offensively, primarily in the passing game. Surprise surprise, Neal Brown and Bobby Petrino’s teams both had 216 yards carrying in the season opener. The most perplexing issue for UK fans was the perception that the hyped-defensive line wouldn’t have trouble slowing down WKU’s running attack. Surely the UK Dline that was on average 30 pounds heavier wouldn’t be able to be pushed around by the WKU offensive line. The Dline took heavy criticism from fans and media alike for the poor performance; criticism I want to put to an end.

What people need to understand is the role of a 4-3 defensive line (and defense in general), is that each player has a gap responsibility. Dlinemen are taught to engage the Oline with arms extended, holding down their gap while freeing linebackers to make plays. Za’Darius Smith didn’t believe Western was giving them fronts they weren’t prepared for, “not really, we were all on point- it was just gap responsibility.” After watching film, the Dline did an exceptional job throughout the game holding their gap; runs up the middle were often gobbled up by the DTs or the RB bounced outside, with the ends preventing plays from being stretched to the outside.

Where WKU got most of their yards was off of cutbacks. When re-watching the game, the initial lead blocker received contact immediately (usually from Avery) with the covering OLB arriving on scene too late, giving Antonio Andrews & Co, too much time to pick up steam. Even the easy reads -like following a pulling guard- were missed at times by the LBs, turning 3 yard runs into 12 yard runs. Avery Williamson had 14 tackles and a fumble recovery, but knows that it still doesn’t cut it, “I’d say just not filling our gaps well, that’s the biggest thing. I had a few mistakes in the 3rd quarter where I just didn’t hit my right gap- we practiced and we practiced it but you see something and you think you’re doing the right thing, when you’re really not. It just happens sometimes, everybody makes mistakes.”

While you can’t blame all run defense woes on linebackers, you can’t say that the Dline got dominated upfront. Of all the short yardage plays on 3rd down, only twice could you say they got beaten off the ball- there was simply no linebacker there to make the tackle in time. Coach Stoops isn’t one to put down his players, blaming the entire team for the run defense woes.

“I was very disappointed, and I can’t put it all on any one person or any one group.  Any time people are getting big chunks on first, second down like they’re doing, then that’s poor team defense.  It was at all levels. It was D‑linemen trying to do too much, and it was poor pursuit at the second level by the linebacker position on things that we worked extremely hard at, and then it was poor position and poor reaction from the secondary in certain situations. So it was everybody.”

The one critique I could find watching film is defensive lineman failing to easily get off blocks, but that criticism kind of hits a wall when Stoops believed they were ‘trying to do too much’. The poor OLB play could be attributed to the variety of players that were subbed in and out of the game. Consistency can only help the defense’s superstar Avery Williamson, “It does feel good to have one guy in there that you’re comfortable with, one that you’ve been playing with.” The staff is attempting to mitigate this problem by putting TreVaughn Paschal in the starting Will linebacker position. TreVaughn had 4 tackles Saturday- matching his 7 game total from last season- providing solid pass coverage and a bigger body to slow down the run game.

avery tackles WKU

While this isn’t run related, I also didn’t appreciate the pass rush criticism on the Dline either. The unit did start slow when it came to putting pressure on the QB, but that’s for a couple of reasons. First, the Petrino/Brohm offensive play-calling completely eradicated any chance of a pass rush on the first few drives. There were few 5 and 7-step drops, using play-action and 3-step drops to get the ball out of Brandon Doughty’s hands quickly. Simply put, you can’t get back to the QB in less than 2 seconds. Secondly, the nature of facing a new person head-to-head takes some time to adjust to. After playing against the same offensive lineman for a month, it’s easy to learn how to exploit their tendencies. It takes awhile to ‘figure your guy out’, but once they did, Doughty actually took a good amount of heat. He was only sacked once, but hit 3 times with the ball in his hand and twice after his release. Of Doughty’s 34 attempts, about only half of them provided pass rush opportunities. Getting to the QB 6/17 times isn’t great, but it’s a start.

While the DLine’s play wasn’t stupendous, it wasn’t atrocious either. They failed to control the game defensively, but even in a Stoops’ system that encourages playmaking on the defensive line, 6 tackles by Za’Darius Smith is a ton for a DE. You can’t expect for d-linemen at any level to account for more than 40% of the team’s tackles- Saturday they had 28% of the team’s tackles. There is room for improvement, but the debut performance up front wasn’t as bad as everyone thinks.

Some other Notes From Watching Film

– The roughing the passer call on Mikey Douglas that eradicated a UK fumble recovery will earn that ref a mark on his record. The call was made when Doughty was knocked to the ground only .47 seconds after releasing the ball. No person can blame a game on one bad call, but it can degrade some confidence when a ref won’t let you have fun and smack a QB around. On a positive note, Douglas had a great game when subbed in to keep Mister Cobble’s legs fresh.

– Nothing can kill a drive like unforced errors. While the dropped passes were in short supply compared to last year, the 5 false starts were more than enough to kill the offense’s rhythm. Zach West lost his starting LG spot at camp, but after the many mental errors he has returned to his starting role.

Khalid Henderson had a roller coaster of a day, but unfortunately it ended on the down slope, losing his starting job to TreVaughn Pascahl. Henderson was second on the team with 1o tackles, but his pass coverage was poor. One play he got completely turned around, proceeding to miss a tackle before getting back up and forcing the fumble. This perseverance makes me confident that we haven’t heard the last from him.

– If you thought there were a lot of Freshmen playing last year, this year may be even more youthful. Saturday the Cats had 11 players make their first career starts in the game (five on offense, six on defense), which is a school record for most first-time starters in a game, according to records kept back to the 1993 season.


Roushanalizing, kind of like rationalizing but only better, Thanks @AFlenerKSR


Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

42 Comments for Roushanalizing a Poor Run Defensive Performance

  1. Jeremy
    12:22 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I thought the secondary was weak. Most of WKU’s completions were caught without a defender within 7-8 yards. The missed tackles? Geez!

    I am confident Stoops will have these guys ready to go next week. I’m so happy BBN has Coach Stoops to lead their football team!


  2. Joe Joe
    12:26 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I will be a happy UK football fan if I see improvement each week. That’s all I want to see. By the end of the year, maybe we can give Vandy, Missouri, Tennessee a good game. Right now, they would all stomp us… most likely.

  3. Big Blew
    12:30 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Isnt analizing something that happens in prison?

  4. UKHowell84
    12:32 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I agree with #1, couldn’t stand watching all of the room allowed to the receivers. We will get better though, and I hope the fanbase sticks with Stoops.

  5. Derek
    12:33 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Great explanation. Thanks. I would love to hear from someone with the knowledge that Nick has on why WKU was better prepared than UK? They faced the same circumstances?

  6. RICK
    12:41 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Spin it any way you want, the only reason we scored is because Western fumbled a few times , we did not make them fumble they just lost the ball. Could have been a lot worse, the defense sucked. Having said that hope to see it better sat and GO BIG BLUE.

  7. afidler
    12:42 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Roush Analizing?

    Eek. Not a fan, and neither is my girlfriend. I’ll pass!

  8. Freddy
    12:49 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Thank you Nick, the D line is takin way to much crap for the run D… too many ppl are saying there not impressed with Z Smith but personally i love the way he played. He never gave up on the play and was makin plays down field after the linebackers missed there assignments… kudos to the D line for there performance and to you Mr. Roush for bringing this to light.

  9. Dano
    12:57 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Most of us understand this year has few expectations. We only hope to see the team get better each week, and leave it all on the field. Blown assignments and over pursuit can be fixed. I am REALLY confused by Whitlow starting. He is not the air raid dual threat he was supposed to be. Playing against our D, he should have looked good in practice, but Smith was so much better it was not even close. Team is just not on the same page yet.

  10. Clay
    12:58 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Cobble had zero…zero!…tackles. No way that can be justified. Rumph not much better. You must have watched a different tape than I did: DT’s were practically stationary and in no way did they control the gaps. More should be expected from seniors who were professed to be of SEC quality.

  11. cracka
    12:59 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    nick, that’s a nice article, dude, don’t listen to some of these knuckleheads … i agree with everything … a lot of people are also criticizing the db play; we all know we are very young and thin there (esp with cody not traveling), but i’d like to see you write up about that unit’s performance

  12. The Water Boy
    1:01 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    This is spot on. The Linebackers did a terrible job of staying at home.

  13. Eddie
    1:07 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink


  14. jpg
    1:14 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    5, Petrino who is regarded as one of the best offensive coaches in college football, inherited a team that went to a bowl last year. WKU brought back a large portion of their talent from that team, while Stoops (1st HC gig) and staff inherited a team that went (2-10) and was de-developed by the previous staff.

    Stoops came into a much poorer situation at UK than what Petrino did at Western.

  15. Real UK Fan
    1:23 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Spin it any way you want. The D-Line stunk and the restof the defense was as bad or worse.

  16. R. Smith
    1:24 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Is this article the result of too many comments regarding the level of criticism given to the football team from this site and the fans in general post loss?

  17. Beatle Bum
    1:32 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Best post on KSR in quite a while. Would love to see more of this kind of analysis. Well done!!

    (regardless of what the other saps say, this sap wants more).

  18. jpg
    1:36 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    16, people are criticizing because of all the positive things that have been occurring around the program. Fans garnered unrealistic expectations for our 1st game against a very good coach. People need to realize the hill this staff has to climb.

    I do not get all of the anger (fans saying they expect 4 wins at best, than explode over this loss?) some fans have over this game. Everyone needs to chillllllll. The staff will figure things out.

  19. STEVE!
    1:44 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    This article and all of the other attempts to excuse and justify our team’s performance might be credible if we had been playing one of the Top 10 teams we will face this year, but this was Western Kentucky, and our veteran defensive linemen outweighed their offensive linemen by an average of 30 pounds. Imagine what will happen if we have a similar performance against just about any other team on our schedule. Hopefully, the coaching staff will find a better combination of personnel and strategy soon.

  20. Big Fat and Slow
    1:47 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Our defensive tackles are big, fat, and slow, but how did Lee Corso put it? I’d rather have big fat and slow linemen than little fat and slow linemen.
    Actually I thought the linebackers were the problem, not hitting the gaps and yes our defensive backs are still playing 10 yards off the receiver. Come on now….. get close and hit someone.

  21. Matt 2.0
    1:54 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Uk lined up in a 4 front D the whole game. In this D you will have a 3 technique and a 1 technique. The concept behind this is to cause gap pressure, which will cause the Oline to block the gap defender. I saw little ‘arm extended’ Dlinemen for uk. They where constantly getting reach block on the zone plays and I didn’t see them get double teamed on any of the man blocking schemes. The linebacker play was bad but the way western was running zone blocking schemes the Dline has to be able to move laterally and not get reched. The 3 technique got reached several times without a combo or chip block on him, causing the tackle to release to the 2nd level quickly blocking the linbackers. Can KSR please learn football so they can help educate the readers with insightful topics and discussions. I don’t want to beat up on nick but I didn’t see the DLine doing anything in the game

  22. MustangCat
    1:59 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I don’t have to study game film for hours to figure out that game?! Is this article even serious?! The WKU DEFENSIVE FRONT was in OUR backfield all day long! They had penetration on half the plays. Their tackles for losses was what? 9? 10? 11? what was ours 2? 3?. Linebacker play was horrible, no argument there. But we were standing up at the snap, and engaging in what looked like patty-cake?! Rarely saw anyone in their backfield, especially on run plays. They were getting 4-6 yards before we even got to them! Runs off the edge was incredible. There was no pursuit at all?! They were going outside 5-6 yards – AND THEN TURNING UP-FIELD??? There has to be GAPS SHOT, ya know?! The line of scrimmage in CRUCIAL, and we were not engaging at all. We were conceding. I don’t know if Stoops over-prepared for Petrino or what?! The D didn’t look they had no idea what Petrino was gonna do. Their Middle LB was shooting the gaps every other play. We were on our heels, playing reactionary. The DB’s were WAY too far off of the receivers. OUR receivers didn’t have time to do more then catch the ball on those immediate step drop throws. We were LUCKY they didn’t have a couple of pick-sixes!! We did this nonsense all last year under Joker. I hope this is not indicative of the D we will run under Stoops. Honeymoon will be over fast if it is. Surely this is just the old Joker mentality flashbacks. PTJS’s! Post Traumatic Joker Syndrome!! I root for my boys, but i call a spade a spade too! He’ll have more then one game to prove himself, and i think he will turn out to be a good one. But that game was shockingly bad, on all fronts.

  23. I'll Buy That
    2:03 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Hey Matt, I’ll buy what you are selling, at least it sounds good. I guess in looking back, I didn’t see the Dline do anything either. I bet they were first in line at the buffet table. They need to rest because they are too darn fat. While your at it, what the heck were the defensive backs doing? I had to close my eyes when we were on defense as we couldn’t stop anything.
    That being said, I’m hoping for improvement each week and that won’t be a difficult task from last weeks road killing. It’s a process, and at Kentucky a long process. Joker did not leave behind one real SEC player.

  24. I don't get that
    2:04 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    #14 True, Stoops came into a much poorer situation at UK because UK is in the SEC. After WKU plays UT, their schedule lightens up. However, relative to each other, how is UK’s situation worse than WKU’s? Sure Joker’s recruits are not SEC caliber, but I am betting UK’s last 4 recruiting classes ranked higher than WKU. Funny how everyone is patting Mr. Roush on the back for this post when he himself on Saturday posted UK should win by 90 points and UK’s D line was among the best in the SEC! You all are thanking him for rationalizing and yet he (and othe bloggers on this site) were just as guilty as some fans for b/s expectations. For the record, I predicted a loss to WKU and a 2 win season. What disappoints me is the team looked ill prepared, scared and like they had not been thru a spring practice and fall camp with this staff.

  25. I'm One of Those
    2:17 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I am one of those guys that thought we’d win the game. I figured we would just have better players and that last year was a fluke. But you’se guys are right in saying we looked ill prepared. I guess that comes from the coaching staff not having any head coaching experience. I hope everyone learned something including the coaching staff. We were not competitive at all. If we don’t improve 2 wins might be a stretch. I really didn’t see any talent out there.

  26. Wow
    2:19 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I’m amazed at the number of commenters on this site who have missed their true calling. Never knew there were so many experienced coaches in our fan base. As for me, I’ll leave it to the guys who are paid to coach and who I assume want to win more than any of the “experts” who are favoring us with their expertise.

  27. Jim 1
    2:20 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Talent and time folks. Stoops and his staff have very little upper division 1 talent and some who may not be division 1 talent at all. You can analyze the defense and offense all you like but it all comes down to talent. Some of the starters would be hard pressed to even make the 4 deep depth chart on most SEC schools. Don’t expect much untill this staff has brought in better talent.

    The key will be can Stoops follow up with another talented recruiting class ? If he can things will get better in time. This is a good staff but don’t expect them to go bear hunting with a bb gun.

  28. Bad D-line
    2:29 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I have to disagree with Nick’s analysis. The roughing the passer call was correct under the new NCAA rules. Also, a few plays later, when WKU had 3rd and goal from the 2, they ran right up the middle. Mike Douglass was “pancaked” by the WKU lineman and ended up on his back on the goal line while the running back waltzed into the end zone. Granted, the linebackers and secondary were worse but the d-line did not play well against a Sunbelt opponent. If they are dominated by an inexperienced WKU line, what happens when they get to the SEC?

  29. special eddie
    2:34 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Another thing that the D-line was trying to overcome was getting their legs taken out from the much smaller o- linemen. Once they get to go against linemen that will stand with them you will see how special those 4 guys really are IMO.
    So please if you don not have some intelligence of the game of football, please keep your damn mouth shut and cheer! After all you are a fan….Right?

  30. special eddie
    2:35 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    DO NOT^

  31. matt 2.0
    2:47 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Special eddie, Its college football and every good olinemen will cut block. Its what the yare taught to do. Why would you stand up and block a 325 pound man when the rules let you cut him. Maybe you should learn the rules of the game before you comment.

  32. Puhleeze
    2:48 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    #29. Lol, oh Eddie, so you are saying that our D line is going to look much better vs. Bama, FL, UGA, etc. because we will be competing against bigger O linemen? (News for you, the elite SEC o linemen are both BIG and nimble). Geez, we may improve our D line play, but it will NOT get easier! Lol, then you follow up that baloney telling others they don’t have football intelligence? Comical!

  33. Just Say'n
    2:52 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Just say’n that when I turned on the TV to see something last Saturday, I saw nothing, but I’m not giving up.

  34. BluKudzu
    3:17 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    I suppose I watched the wrong game.

    I saw an SEC school get dominated by a Sun Belt conference team, on both sides of the ball. I think it is very telling when a player from our “strength of the team” (the defensive line), has exactly only one more tackle than our kicker against a Sun Belt conference team. That in and of itself, should tell you how weak the defense played. They looked confused and scared the entire game.

    The offensive line play I saw looked undisciplined and lack blocking fundamentals. They too looked as if they played scared and totally confused.

    It is bad enough we get killed every year by Louisville, now we have to add Western? Really?

    If the team is as poorly prepared against Miami, We will get humiliated again. I guess we are back to the 70-0 days of Curry. We are far worse this year, at this stage, then we were last year.

    A Sun Belt team hung 35 on us, and it should have been far worse. This game was lost between the tackles, on both sides of the ball.

    Horrible line play cost us more than any other area.

    That was the game I saw.

  35. Jim 1
    3:36 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    UK fans just don’t get it. The major problem with this team is talent. You can’t teach talent and Stoops or any other coach can’t win without it. To win you need good athletes with football ( IQ ) and UK has very little of either. Coach Stoops will not blame his players and read between the lines when he says it is what it is.

    You might be correct in your blaming certain situations, but the greater blame falls on talent. Talent can cover up a lot of mistakes. Folks give it time or you will be frustrated for a long time. GO CATS

  36. WeAreUK69
    4:00 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Thought exact same thing on the Mike Douglas penalty .. its football !! What else was he supposed to do in such a short time ??

  37. jpg
    4:26 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    24, Stoops inherited a team that was DE-DEVELOPED by Joker and staff!! I t does not matter where the recruiting rankings are for a class if the staff its self can not develop the talent they bring in. Stoops inherited a team full of players that were in Joker’s toxic system.

    On the other hand, Petrino inherited a team that brought back most of its talent (ex: one of the top backs in the country). That team was coached by Willie Taggert, who did not get fired like Joker, but was offered a bigger gig at South Florida. Taggert developed his players at WKU, while Joker did the exact opposite. Why do you think Stoops is playing so many freshmen?

  38. MustangCat
    5:41 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    bottom line is that UK is a team that averages close to 3 stars by most every name. WKU does good to average 2 stars. That is a HUGE difference. Granted, Joker set most of them back a year – or two. But, WKU would LOVE to have the talent level we have, because they’ve never seen it there. Just like we’ve never seen the likes that Alabama has. We were embarrassed. Not so much by WKU, but by ourselves. From what i saw, the freshmen had better integrate quickly. If they don’t shine this year, we may not have any other options. Thrown to the wolves again.

  39. Jim
    6:15 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Stoops First year coach….Oh wait so was petrino. No excuse….outmanned, outcaoched outplayed period. UK has a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong way to go. They prved no better than last year at all.

  40. ScottBGKY
    9:35 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    #21 Matt 2.0, you hit the nail on the head. This article, while well written, is way off base. In a 4 man front the defensive linemen have to create havoc. We “caught” the o-line all day. The fired off the ball, we stood up, caught them and tried to read which gap the play was heading. Can’t do that at this level in my opinion. We were 2-3 yards off the LOS and way too high. We need these guys low and shooting their gap blowing up plays in the backfield.

  41. Look Around
    9:44 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    Hey guys. Did anybody happen to check out that Mike McIntyre was able to take Colorado’s abysmal roster and win by two touchdowns? Oh yeah that was a true road game as a 3 point dog. I’m not here to tell you that he beat a great team but he did beat a team a Pac-12 school should beat. An instate rival from a smaller conference but still a FBS school. Kind of like our situation. My point being that there was plenty of clay for Stoops to work with and win this game. He simply did not have his team prepared and that is disappointing. Everyone keeps saying they know this staff will make it better in time but how do you know that? When has Stoops ever rebuilt a program? When has DJ Elliot ever run a successful defense? I am hoping that this staff has the ability to fix this but what I saw Saturday did not inspire me.

  42. Facts
    11:53 pm September 3, 2013 Permalink

    …. that we have many freshman playing. Then states how many new players are starting. You do realize a new starter can be an upperclassman, right?