Charting Success For Tall, WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — “Old school “feel” vs. new age analytics. It’s a common debate these days, as there’s seemingly a metric for everything in sports. West Virginia defensive line coach Bruce Tall might appear to be an easy classification in the former group, but that wouldn’t be the correct judgment. He, like many other coaches with a great deal of experience, is finding ways to use predictive analysis to help his players perform at their best.
One area in which this has come into play is in the area of snap counts for his defensive linemen. West Virginia has had a number of different approaches to its rotations this year, having swung from numerous substitutions to an ironman approach. Whatever the plan for a particular game, though, Tall has some help in determining the best times to make moves.
“I have a chart that I have up there [in the coaches box] that tells me when this guy is going to rotate in, but what you can’t chart is how many plays are going to happen in that series,” he said of the balance that he strives to achieve. “You never chart them getting a ten play series, but it can happen, so then you have to change and adapt. When you put a chart together, though it seems to work out pretty good at the end.”
Slavish detail to the data can remove some of the benefits that feel can provide. For instance, if the defensive line is playing well, getting pressure and showing good technique, Tall might leave them in a series or two longer. Or, if there are breakdowns, he might go with a full swap out of all three defensive linemen, to give a mental as much as a physical break. Those don’t necessarily happen on breaks between series, either. He’s been know to sub in multiple players just to try to break up rhythm of the opposing offense, or to get the chance to settle a player who is having a tough time. Those are items that charts can’t predict, but what they do help with is the oversights that can come in an intense game. As contests come down to crunch time, a coach might be so involved with getting a call or studying the field that he forgets a player has been out there for so straight snaps, so having the reminder and the schedule can help avoid that sort of problem.
Like many solutions, the best answer is a mixing of different tools. Just like the Mountaineers run different defensive looks and rush different numbers of players, so too can a melding of the old style and the new. Tall saw progress in the Baylor game from his players.
“It thought collectively the Baylor game was the best group output we have had, not only from a production standpoint but from a technique standpoint, said Tall. “We saw our guys doing the right things on a consistent basis. I challenged our guys about being labeled as inconsistent, and they responded. The key now is not to take a step backward, but to keep getting better and keep being more disruptive.”
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson agreed. He saw the line rack up three sacks, helping WVU nearly double its season total from seven to 13.
“They are coming along nicely,” he said of the defensive front. “I like where we are at. Each week you can see them getting better. It started at TCU and it has continued. They have game experience (now). They are active right now. I thought they did a really nice job of pass rush last week.”
While the numbers and productivity went up, Tall also cautions against getting too caught up in stats. Raw sack numbers might be the exception, as higher totals usually equate to better pass defense, but too much concern with yardage allowed can be counterproductive.
“You have to be careful about getting caught up in stats,” Tall noted, echoing a common theme of his boss. “The statistics in this league can make you feel like you aren’t doing a good job, but the ultimate outcome is to win the game. If you are paying attention to stats you probably aren’t going to be very successful.”