OK, so Charlie Strong was by far the best choice to replace Willie Taggart as USF’s coach, and they landed him with quickness and ease. Overall, everyone should be very happy with this transition.
One thing’s been bothering me, though. In the media appearances Strong has made since becoming head coach, he’s typically said something to the effect of “we need to slow down our offense to help out our defense.” I hope he’s just knee-jerk saying that because he’s a defensive coach at heart, or maybe he’s still suffering from some Big XII PTSD, because the data and evidence we have about USF’s offense tells a much different tale.
The Gulf Coast Offense has an image of being frenetic and up-tempo, running lots of plays very quickly. That’s just not true. No, the offense doesn’t huddle and they get up to the line of scrimmage quickly, but they aren’t snapping the ball quickly. First, the Bulls have so many different personnel groupings that players need to check in and out of the game, and that means the defense has to be given a chance to make substitutions of their own. Then there’s usually a pause while Quinton Flowers looks to the sideline to see if they can run the original play, or switch to another one. Finally Flowers claps his hands and they snap the ball. The Bulls aren’t getting called for delay of game penalties anymore, but they’re not snapping the ball with 30 on the play clock either. In fact, when you look at USF’s advanced stat profile, their Adjusted Pace ranks 60th in FBS, just slightly above the national average.
Yes, many of the Bulls’ drives are over quickly, but that’s because they have the most explosive offense in the country. USF’s offense has 77 scoring drives so far this season - 68 touchdowns and nine field goals. Of those drives, 36 of them lasted five plays or less. Eleven of them ended in just one play. If you’re scoring long touchdowns, you can’t really slow that down. Not only that, but any time you score points, there’s a timeout, followed by a kickoff, and sometimes even another timeout. All that means extra time for the defense to rest up.
Now, about the defense. The problem isn’t that the offense put them on the field too much. It’s that they weren’t good to begin with and they can’t get themselves off the field. Their stat profile bears this out - there isn’t anything that the USF defense is even average at doing.
From the very first game of the season, the defensive line couldn’t get a push at the beginning, middle, or end of a drive. (I could really stop there, because if your defensive line is bad then there’s no way the defense can be successful.) There weren’t nearly enough negative plays created. The whole unit has only managed 15 sacks all season. Opposing offenses have run for almost five yards per carry. Missed tackles and blown coverages are common, and you’d be hard-pressed to think of many players who improved from the start of the season to the end. Yes, you can point to some of the crazy tempo offenses on USF’s schedule this year and say that was a contributing factor. But even UConn, an appalling offensive team that plays at a snail’s pace, managed to run 75 plays against the Bulls, because USF couldn’t stop them from throwing for over 300 yards.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in the USF defense. No one will argue that point. What you can argue, though, is that the improvement needs to come from better defensive coaching (like what Charlie Strong made his name doing) and maybe some better players. Trying to slow down the offense instead would be a case of fixing something that is clearly not broken.