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Inside KU Football: Defensive Strategy

Carl Torbush
Carl Torbush

KU’s defense has been a bit of a rollercoaster in regards to the unit’s performance. Ever since I came to Lawrence in 2004, our defense has been either strong or terrible. After an Orange Bowl run and an 8-5 season to follow, many felt that 2009 would be another special season if the defense could hold up. Well, it didn’t, and KU crashed and missed a bowl. Out goes Mark Mangino, in comes Turner Gill, and he hires Carl Torbush to be his defensive coordinator. Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse on the defensive side of the ball, they did. KU was often on the wrong end of some videogame looking scores last year, and a big part of that was a struggling defense.

Now we enter year two of the Turner Gill era. It is no stretch to say that if KU wants to improve next year, its defense must take some giant strides. One thing that caught my attention from the spring game and recent practices is that KU has been using a lot of different looks on defense. There has been a lot of chatter that the Jayhawks have been tinkering with a 3-4 scheme, and throwing a lot of looks and philosophies around in practice. Good move? Well… maybe.

Back when I played tennis in high school, one of my off-season instructors told me "if you find yourself in a fair fight, your strategy sucks." Awesome quote, and something I took with me in regards to how I view sports and coaching. As I mentioned in my trick plays feature, shrewd coaching and strategy can often mitigate physical mismatches and inferior talent. KU might not have a ton of talent on defense, but anything that can give you an advantage is a plus, right? Maybe confusing our opponents, throwing a lot of different looks at them, changing up our fronts can give us an advantage. After last season, we should just throw everything but the kitchen sink at other teams, right?

Not so fast my friend (sorry Lee). Confusing the other team’s offense is great, but chances are we also confuse ourselves. Some of the best defenses under Bill Young were pretty simple - guys knew their assignments, were always in position, and made the plays they needed to make. KU has bigger (and simpler) issues to address on defense, most notably open-field tackling and coverage technique. Shouldn’t we be devoting our practice time to fundamentals and the basics and executing a few base sets as well as we can? Why do several things ok when we could do a few things great?

The answer may lie somewhere in the middle, but many KU fans either seem intrigued by the new defensive looks or view them as a waste of time. Perhaps this poll will finally be somewhat even…

So what do you think?