Yesterday we took a look at what Ron Prince left Bill Snyder on the offensive side of the ball (short answer: not much). Today we look at the defense. Clearly not only competent coaching, but downright good coaching alone will help this D out quite a bit, but is there talent here? Do Snyder and co-coordinators Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning have anything to work with?
As always, we start with a look back at 2008:
S&P+: 94.3 (#79)
Standard Downs S&P+: 96.1 (#72)
Redzone S&P+: 96.1 (#72)
Q1 S&P+: 91.3 (#86)
1st Down S&P+: 100.0 (#62)
Rushing S&P+: 90.1 (#88)
Standard Downs: 89.0 (#93)
Redzone: 89.1 (#85)
Line Yards+: 89.7 (#100)
Passing S&P+: 96.6 (#71)
Standard Downs: 102.3 (#54)
Redzone: 105.3 (#45)
Sack Rate+: 119.7 (#35)
Well...their sack rate was pretty good. That's something. And they were above average in the fourth quarter! Granted, most of the time the game was long over by the fourth quarter (win or lose), but still. Also, while they certainly weren't great against the pass (71st in the country), they were pretty atrocious against the run (88th). As their Rushing PPP+ attests, they gave up far too many big plays in the run game, and it put them on their heels quite a bit.
If there's anything particularly good to report for KSU here, it's that they were at least competent in attack mode--when they were actually able to leverage teams into Passing Downs, they were slightly above average (104.0 Passing Downs S&P+).
And like the offense, they were worst on second downs. Still haven't figured out how that happens.
2008 Unit Ranking: #73 in the nation (#9 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
DE Brandon Harold (6'6, 264, So.)
DE Eric Childs (6'3, 238, Sr.)
DT Jeffrey Fitzgerald (6'4, 280, Sr.)
DT Daniel Calvin (6'3, 310, Sr.)
DE Grant Valentine (6'3, 240, Jr.)
DT Raphael Guidry (6'4, 267, So.)
DT Gabriel Crews (6'1, 310, Jr.)
DE Payton Kirk (6'6, 245, So.)
Hope, thy name is Brandon Harold. The true freshman from East St. Louis racked up 13.5 TFL/sacks in 2008 and forced a pair of fumbles. That alone wouldn't have been an all-conference level by any means, but for a true freshman it was pretty outstanding. At 6'6, 265, Harold passes the eyeball test, and if he improves even slightly as a sophomore, he should give Bill Snyder something to work with.
Despite Harold's performance, clearly this line was only average. Whatever success they had rushing the quarterback was negated by not standing up well to the run. The line gets a reinforcement this year in the form of Virginia transfer Jeffrey Fitzgerald. At 280 pounds, he's far from a giant, but his athleticism was on display his two years in Charlottesville. His freshman year in 2006, he was third on the team in tackles (as a DT!), racking up 16.5 TFL/sacks, intercepting two passes (!), and recovering two fumbles. In 2007, he was even better--while falling to fourth (gasp) on the team in tackles, he managed 18.5 TFL/sacks, picked off two more passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered one. At his size, it wouldn't surprise me to see him struggling on a down-to-down basis against good offensive lines (like Missouri's), but he's a playmaker, and he lines up next to another potential playmaker in Harold.
Rounding out the likely starting line are probably either Eric Childs (9.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF in 2008) or JUCO transfer Grant Valentine at end and either Daniel Calvin (11.5 tackles) or Raphael Guidry (8.0) at tackle. Calvin might get the nod here simply because he offers some really good size, which could in theory open things up for Fitzgerald a bit.
As I mentioned yesterday, I respect Snyder's abilities enough to assume that the front seven will be coached up to its highest possible level, and in Harold and Fitzgerald, and potentially Valentine or Calvin, there is some talent to work with here. As with some of the offense, though, the top of this depth chart is filled with seniors. Aside from Harold, they will be building things anew in 2010.
2008 Unit Ranking: #79 in the nation (#10 in the Big 12)
When I think of Bill Snyder (and Phil Bennett) defenses, I immediately think of linebackers. Mark Simoneau. Josh Buhl. Jeff Kelly. Terry Pierce. Hell, even Brandon Archer (or did he only play like an All-American against us?). The most shocking part of K-State's defensive decline under Ron Prince was the fact that the linebackers just disappeared. Seriously, name a K-State LB after Brandon Archer. You can't. I guess Ian Campbell sort of counts, but not really. And...KSU's LBs were 10th in the conference? Bill Snyder must be rolling over in his grave. Oh wait...nevermind.
If there's immediate hope to be derived from this unit, look at Alex Hrebec. As a freshman last year, he racked up 49.0 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, a forced fumble, and a long interception return. Having Hrebec for another three years has to excite Snyder at least a little. And really, I probably shouldn't sell Ulla Pomele short either. He's a senior, and he's probably already peaked, but he did manage 47.5 tackles and 8.5 TFL/sacks last year, plus two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The two of them should provide the base for a decent LB corps, though you'll notice the same problem as with other units--too much of the wrong kind of experience. Of the six LBs (and Rovers, in the case of maybe Boswell and Tigner) listed above, four are seniors. In 2010, Snyder will be working with Hrebec, Tigner and a host of newcomers. As I mentioned yesterday...how long does Snyder plan to stay this time around? He'll need quite a few years to get a team full of experienced Snyder recruits.
2008 Unit Ranking: #62 in the nation (#10 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
CB Joshua Moore (5'11, 184, Jr.)
S Courtney Herndon (6'0, 211, Sr.)
S Tysyn Hartman (6'3, 207, So.)
CB Billy McClellan (5'8, 170, Sr.)
S Chris Carney (6'1, 190, Sr.)
CB Otis Johnson (5'10, 175, Sr.)
S Adrian Stryker (6'1, 206, Sr.)
At 62nd in the country, the secondary represented the strength of the K-State defense in 2008. The biggest reason for that: Joshua Moore. From the cornerback position, he led the team in tackles (not always a good thing for a cornerback to be doing) and racked up a pretty nicely disruptive stat line: 5.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INTs, 12 passes broken up, 15 passes defended, and a fumble recovery. He displayed enough skill that I'm going to say that the high tackle level was a good thing--that he wasn't just adding the tackles up by giving up a lot of receptions.
Consider me a big fan of Joshua Moore. Everybody else? Um...well, Courtney Herndon (6.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INTs) is really not too bad. Tysyn Hartman is young and relatively athletic. MY MAN. Again, of the seven names I list above, five are seniors, but at least Moore and Hartman will be around in 2010 (assuming Moore doesn't go pro...I'll assume for now that he's not quite that good). The rest are relatively replaceable, though there will need to be some experience somewhere in 2010.is...
2008 Unit Ranking: #105 Net Punting, #28 Punt Returns, #24 Kickoff Returns
K Josh Cherry (6'1, 183, Jr.)
P D.J. Fulhage (5'9, 180, Jr.) - 33 punts, 32.2 net
KR - Brandon Banks (5'7, 150, Sr.) - 18 returns, 27.7 avg, 1 TD
PR - Brandon Banks (5'7, 150, Sr.) - 5 returns, 11.6 avg
Beyond linebackers, the other thing you probably think of in regard to Bill Snyder's best team was devastating special teams. Needless to say, ranking 105th in net punting is devastating, but in the wrong way. Good coaching will help the coverage units quite a bit, but more will be needed from D.J. Fulhage as well.
If it is determined that Brandon Banks can handle a monster load of touches--60-80 catches, plus both kick and punt returns, he's definitely the best option returning kicks/punts. If not, I would assume that Aubrey Quarles will resume his kickoff return duties. He only averaged 21.0 yards per return over 26 kicks last year, and he's not as explosive an option as Banks, but again...Banks is so freaking little!! How many hits can he take? Maybe I'm making too big a deal about his size, but...150 pounds!! And that's a kind estimate!!
As TB said in yesterday's comments, if you have basically the same cast of characters and infinitely better coaching, that suggests that you will be better. I cannot determine how much that applies to the offense, but I can definitely see how that applies to the defense. Between Harold, Hrebec, Moore, and maybe Hartman, there is some underclass talent and athleticism here. Combined with some decent seniors--Fitzgerald, Pomele, Herndon--I could see this defense improving a decent amount in 2009. In 2010, however, that may be a different story. But we're not talking about 2010 yet. If Snyder is able to execute at least a small turnaround and get K-State to six or seven wins, and lord knows they should at least get back to five with games against a rebuilding UL-Lafayette team (yes, they're rebuilding despite not being that great last year) and TWO 1-AA teams (UMass, Tennessee Tech), then it will likely be the defense making the biggest difference.
I can't escape the nagging feeling that K-State will upset either Kansas or Missouri (or, technically, both I guess) this year, simply because a) they'll be improved enough to throw in a scare against somebody, and a young Missouri team with 25-30 freshmen, RSFrs, or sophomores on the two-deep is always going to be a prime candidate for a scare, and b) Bill Snyder is a combined 8-1 against Gary Pinkel and Mark Mangino (5-0 against Pinkel). If they win one of those two games and hold serve at home against Texas A&M and Colorado...well, that's six wins even if they don't win a game on the road all year (aside from the baffling trip to Lafayette, LA, on September 12). I think almost all K-State fans would consider that a pretty damn good season, even though the overall talent level still has quite a way to go before Bill Snyder can think about sneaking in and stealing another North (or, of course, Big 12) title.
Projections on Friday.