I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about the current defensive struggles in a few different places. The struggles are unfortunate, but not unforeseeable, and were potentially unavoidable. That’s not what anyone wants to hear, but that’s the truth.
I want to try and answer a few questions that keep popping up on social media (gross) and the comment section. I’m not telling y’all to not be frustrated regarding the defense, but I’d like to help you be more informed in your frustrations.
*Note: I am but a humble blogger, these are my opinions, which I attempt to back up with facts. Regardless, this is still my opinion.
Why has the defense become progressively worse?
Depth, or the lack thereof, was always going to take a toll on the defense. Some people still don’t believe that this was a total rebuild, but it was a total rebuild. Strangely enough, this happens to a bunch of teams. When you start the rebuild, the starting talent usually hangs around. You don’t get a bunch of starters transferring to other programs. Depth is the problem. The mass exodus of defensive depth at the end of the Snyder era, paired with exodus of defensive depth from the first Klieman recruiting class hurts this team.
There is good depth at corner, safety, and defensive tackle. Interestingly enough, corner safety and defensive tackle haven’t been an issue this year. Linebacker and defensive end, on the other hand, have been a cobbled together “who is available this week” type deal.
Take the defensive end position for example. I’ve heard the call to put an extra defensive end on the field, but I’m hard pressed to find one, let alone the requisite 4-5 needed to play a 4-3 defense. They simply don’t exist.
2016 Recruits Listed as DEs
Bronson Massie - Starting DE - Injured
Jordon Robertson - Transfer
2017 Recruits Listed as DEs
Anthony Payne - Transfer
Wyatt Hubert - NFL
Eli Huggins - Moved to defensive tackle
Spencer Misko - Moved to tight end - Transfer
Xavier Davis - ?
2018 Recruits Listed as DEs
Spencer Trussell - Reserve DE
Cartez Crook-Jones - Reserve DT
Derick Newton - Rest In Peace
2019 Recruits Listed as DEs
Kenny Givens (?)
2020 Recruits Listed as DEs
Kirmari Gainous - Reserve DE
Nate Matlack - Reserve DE
Ronald Triplette - Transfer
Tyrone Taleni - Reserve DT
Felix Anudike-Uzomah - Starting DE
2021 Recruits Listed as DEs
Ozzie Hoffler - Red Shirt
Kansas State has certainly recruited like they planned on transitioning from a 4 man front to a 3 man front at some point in the future. Find me 4-5 guys you would be comfortable starting at defensive end out of that group. What I see are a mostly strong side ends, especially in Klieman recruiting. Interestingly enough, a 3 man front with a nose guard, a defensive tackle, and a strong side end is much easier to come up with than a traditional 2 defensive end front when you look at the available talent.
Keep in mind, the best pass rusher on the roster is Khalid Duke, and he’s a better “edge” rusher (recruited as an outside linebacker) than a traditional defensive end. Ozzie Hoffler, the only defensive end in the 2021 class, is the same type of player.
Why Not Move Back to a 4-3?
First off, this team spent all off season installing a 3 man front. This isn’t Madden. The players aren’t programed to run every defense known or unknown. It might work if there was more experienced depth on the team, but outside of Massie (who is injured) and Trussell, how many guys on the roster have played the traditional, hand in the dirt, defensive end position? Those are the only two that I see. The 3-3-5 makes a ton of sense in terms of recruiting (easier to recruit safeties and linebackers than defensive ends and tackles) and the current roster makeup.
To my 4-3 proponents, what do you see that makes you think the solution to fixing the defense is adding an extra defensive end to the mix? Who on the current roster and healthy is a capable of rushing the passer and holding up against the run from the defensive end position outside of Felix on a regular basis?
Why Isn’t There a Replacement for Duke on the Roster?
It’s hard to find players like Duke. Let’s be real, the coaching staff liked Duke’s talent, but if everyone knew what he was going to become, he never leaves the state of Georgia (unless he crosses over the border and plays for Clemson). The Wildcats dipped into the state of Georgia again in 2021 for Hoffler, and I think you’ll eventually see guys like Krew Jackson or Gavin Haselhorst (although I think the coaching staff sees him as a replacement for Green) slide into that role, but they’re not ready yet.
The transfer portal seems like the best solution, but that’s a hard sell. Edge rushers are at a premium, and K-State is selling, “Ok, if everything goes right, our starter will take 75% of the snaps, and you’ll be on the bench. Please come sit on the bench in case he gets injured.”
At some point, you’ve got to build your roster. Waiting for that to happen sucks, and some coaches don’t win enough to see their long term plans come to fruition. Even worse, sometimes you wait for it to happen, and it never does. This coaching staff has nailed enough evaluations to give me hope, but the patience part is much easier for someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the program.
Trust me y’all, Clemson only has one semi-functional quarterback at the moment. Emotionally, I’m furious that the coaching staff allowed it to happen. When I calm down (a 3 hour window between 1 and 4 a.m. on Wednesday night) I understand that Trevor Lawrence cleared out the QB room. Not many guys want to sit around for their entire career and hope for mop up duty, or worse, sit around and then get recruited over when it’s their “turn”. Then I return to furious.
Will This Get Better?
No clue, but a step down in competition can’t hurt. Kansas State has one of the best strengths of schedule in the nation. Stanford is a weird 3-4 with wins over Oregon and USC. Nevada is 5-1 with wins over Cal and Boise State. Oklahoma is undefeated. Oklahoma State is undefeated. Iowa State has 2 losses, but those are both to ranked opponents. This has been a rough start to the year, but it eases up a little. Things should get better against lesser opponents. Let’s see how this plays out. I still see plenty of available wins on the schedule.
Should I be Frustrated?
Hell yes, please remain frustrated and angry if the alternative is apathy. Waiting for a roster to come together, with no guarantee the finished product is going to great, is tough. Like I said in my last article, there are plenty of “reasons” why the defense is struggling. I listed a few of them above, but at some point, you’ve got to make it work. This defense needs to figure out a way to make it work against Texas Tech. Just know, they’re going to have to try and make it work with the players currently available, in the system they’ve been coached to play. There isn’t a coaching “adjustment” that makes this better.
Hopefully it gets better soon. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a defense that can’t get off the field.