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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

DC Hello? Shooting Blue mentions Rivals is hinting one Jay Hopson likely to be Michigan's next defensive coordinator. Hopson, a grad assistant at Tulane when Rich Rodriguez was offensive coordinator there, has been Southern Miss' defensive coordinator for the past three years. Relevant statistics:

YearRushingPassingPass EffTotalScoringSacks

The notable gap between yardage and scoring defense in 2005 was, as you might expect, almost wholly a product of the 7th-best turnover margin in the country and is sadly not indicative of magic beans that turn touchdowns into 20-yard field goals. The rest of the results are pretty mediocre, though Southern Miss often finds itself staring down the barrell of a matchup with a Florida or Virginia Tech and operates at a severe talent disadvantage.

Unfortunately, C-USA's website -- which seems almost deliberately unhelpful -- does not provide conference-only statistics so we can measure Hopson's performance against his peers. Some rough measures: in '06 USM led the conference in pass efficiency and scoring defense and was about 12 yards back of conference leader Tulsa in yardage terms. This year they again finished first in scoring defense and finished a paltry yard behind conference leader Houston in yardage defense. Indications are that after a rough start Hopson did well enough.

We're fortunate that college football's foremost blogger, with apologies to Orson, happens to simultaneously be college football's foremost Southern Miss fan. "Hopson" brings up two hits on SMQB. The first, after a depressing 20-17 overtime loss against East Carolina:
It has to be tough to be a coordinator at Southern - the Jays (Johnson on offense, Hopson on defense) are each the fourth in their respective positions in the last decade, but not much changes in scheme or result. The offense is relentlessly conservative, in a near-constant bog, while the defense is stretched to the breaking point to hang on to some kind of control. At a sparsely attended game like Saturday's, USM fans have pretty much free reign on the field afterwards, and SMQ took the North end zone as a shortcut to his car. When he ran across Hopson en route to the locker room, he told the coach, "Nice job hanging tough by the defense," which was not much consolation but was true: it gave up a couple drives, including the 60-yard, game-tying march over the final four minutes of regulation, but it also scored as many touchdowns as either offense, on a length-of-field interception return by no-name Eddie Hicks that momentarily turned the tide at the end of a frustrating ECU drive, and held the Pirates to the field goal attempt in the overtime after allowing them to get first-and-goal at the three. Before that, on ECU's tying drive, it had done exactly the same thing, and barely allowed the touchdown on a fourth-and-inches QB draw from a five-wide shotgun set; that's six stops at the goalline within a couple of minutes - that's at least fighting. In regulation, USM's defense allowed 10 points (the first ECU touchdown was a kick return) and about 275 yards. It gave up no true big plays. You have to be able to win with that.
A second note from the same post:
USM was back in a 3-3-5 look for almost every snap Saturday (for NCAA Football aficionados, this is actually more of a 3-4 than what you would recognize as a 3-3-5 from the game, but roving safety Brandon Sumrall moves out on slot guys occasionally and isn't a true linebacker), which SMQ had thought was employed just to deal with Houston's spread, but apparently worked so well there that it's the standard set now, because ECU ran plenty of traditional fullback/tight end sets.
Hopson appears to be versed in the 3-3-5, which often looks like a 3-4 against "2x1" sets that have unbalanced personnel and often uses a not-quite a linebacker in the vein of Sumrall. There's a chance the forty bucks I dropped on Jeff Casteel's "How to run the odd stack" video won't go to waste. (Casteel evocatively described the duties of the "spur" and "bandit" safety-type objects that flank the front six in the 3-3-5 like so: the bandit is a weakside player who "gets his meat cooked," generally given the responsibility for chasing a strung out player down without having to deal with a nasty blocker. The spur "gets his meat raw" and is forced to take on tight ends and fullbacks and the like. So it wasn't a total waste in any case.)

That's all well and good and hopeful and such. This in the aftermath of a Boise State housing, not so much:

USM Defensive Coordinators since joining C-USA
Coordinator W-L Pts./Game >20pts. >30pts. Yds./Game >400 yds. Avg. Rank-Total D
J. Thompson (1996-98) 25-10 19.6 16 6 - - -
D. Wommack (1999-2000) 17-8 15.0 11 2 274.7 1* 5
T. Nix (2001-04) 29-20 19.4 24 8 335.8 12 31.3
J. Hopson (2005-) 18-11 21.4 20 8 351.5 11 50

How much of this is on Hopson's ability and how much of it is on things he can't control we won't know for a while. You can spin that "T. Nix" preceding him either way after one Tyrone Nix was run off the South Carolina campus, pitchfork-toting mob in tow:
  • Nix left the defense in shambles, I say! This excuses Hopson's rough first year!
  • Southern Miss coordinators are fail!
Hopson, if hired, would be a wildcard. He has some experience, some knowledge of/affinity for the stack, some success, and some decided meh going on in the doldrum days of a coach heading for pasture. Judgment is withheld.