PULLMAN – A college coach’s career is littered with paths untaken and in another universe Brady Hoke might still be coaching the Washington State Cougars as they head into this weekend’s matchup against the Oregon Ducks.
Instead he’ll be on the opposite sideline, coordinating the Ducks defense and doing his best to stop Mike Leach’s unique offense.
Leach’s predecessor at WSU was Paul Wulff, who got the job back in 2007 over a number of other candidates, including Hoke, who was then the head coach at Ball State.
Of course there’s no guarantee Hoke would have taken the job, or that he would have stayed in Pullman if he was successful. His career zenith was pretty spectacular, coaching the distinguished Michigan Wolverines to an 11–win season in 2011, followed by three forgettable ones that led to his being fired in 2014.
Hoke not getting the WSU job was just one very early domino that fell toward the Cougars eventually becoming a program defined by its offense, no matter how well the defense performs. On Saturday Cougars fans will finally get a look at what a Hoke defense looks like, and wonder how it would have played in Pullman.
But you don’t have to wait. Ducks beat writer Andrew Greif from The Oregonian was kind enough to answer a few questions about the UO defense the Cougars will see on Saturday.
What changes has Brady Hoke made to UO’s overall defensive scheme?
Andrew Greif: Oregon had run a 3-4 scheme since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2008, but Hoke has gone back to a 4-3 base. The most immediate change was that Oregon’s outside linebackers suddenly shifted to defensive end. No position change is seamless but players say their responsibilities coming off the edge are roughly the same – only now they have a hand in the ground. Given Hoke’s background as a defensive line coach, it wasn’t surprising the majority of the changes were felt at the line of scrimmage. His main change was not only adding an extra lineman but shifting their roles; linemen are no longer responsible for two gaps on the offensive line but one, which theoretically changes UO’s defense from a read-and-react, plug-the-gap front to a more aggressive one, as UO linemen try to get upfield on every snap.
Does Hoke have the personnel to successfully run his defense?
Hoke was asked this after Oregon’s loss to Colorado, actually, and while he didn’t explicitly say he did not have the playmakers, he came close to it. One position Oregon is trying to restock to fit Hoke’s ideal image of a 4-3 defense is linebacker. In the 4-3, linebackers must play all three positions and more downhill. In the past, UO linebackers were a bit more specialized (inside/outside) and were typically undersized. The Ducks are searching for that textbook MIKE linebacker.
How do you see the matchup between Hoke’s defense and Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense playing out?
Looking into my crystal ball, I see Oregon’s defense getting pressure against the left side of Washington State’s retooled offensive line. Oregon has 12 sacks this season, and outside linebacker Troy Dye is just the type of playmaker Hoke loves, who can get to Luke Falk even given a narrow window of opportunity before the ball is out of Falk’s hand. But if Dye can help Oregon win some battles, Falk’s experience and chemistry with his receivers is expected, at least by me, to win the war. The Ducks’ secondary is improved from a year ago when Falk threw for more than 500 yards, but it’s still thin and features young players in key roles.
Thanks again to Andrew for the insight. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewGreif and read his Oregon coverate at www.OregonLive.com
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