Let’s not dance around the issue, beat around the bush, walk on eggshells, or otherwise metaphorically avoid trampling upon another man’s soul. State’s 2016 defense, when compared with what we’ve been accustomed to over the past six or seven years, was, more often than not, a bit of a turd.
Wait, wait. Let me backtrack. It wasn’t a bit of a turd, really. It was more of a brown paper bag. And inside that brown paper bag was a fairly large turd. And outside that paper bag was a recently lit flame.
And by the end of the season, that flaming, turd-filled paper bag was sitting atop our collective front door mat. We didn’t know what to do with it. We figured that it’d burn itself out before too long. But that would, best case scenario, eventually leave us with the smoldering ashes of a poo sack to clean up. Sort of a no-win situation, you know?
But seriously, the defense was bad. Really bad. As bad as it’s been in Mullen’s seven years at State? Yeah, probably. (Though Chris Wilson’s unit in 2012 was pretty horrific. I can provide y’all some scary links later, if you’d like.)
This was especially unfortunate because I really thought I liked Sirmon. From his interviews, he seemed like a smart dude who was more than willing to accept responsibility for his failures. He never threw players under the bus after a loss, but was quick to praise them in the wake of success.
It’s just that those failures kept on coming. I dug hearing how he needed to do a better job as a coach after one of our mid-season losses. But you can only hear that so many times before wondering whether something wasn’t going a bit awry.
Don’t get me wrong. The defense played well in the Egg Bowl and against A&M, and there were other glimpses of quality here and there. But did y’all watch the Auburn game? Or the Arkansas game? Or the Kentucky game? Or the Alabama game?
— Involuntary shudder —
But then, out of nowhere, as I’m reading the glorious post-game coverage of our basketball team’s road win against Arkansas, there’s word of some movement. Wait, what? Todd Grantham? The dude who led an almost invariably good defense at Louisville the past three years? He’s a possibility?
That alone was news enough. The first big-name coordinator hire Mullen had made in his entire tenure. Proven track record as a DC, recent success, NFL experience, SEC experience, etc.
But what’s this? Louisville wants Sirmon? We’re basically trading DC’s?
By this point, my mind was starting to melt. So I sought answers from the vast expanses of the interwebs.
Louisville fans seemed mostly happy to be ditching Grantham, and Georgia fans chimed in with “I told you so” here and there. “Third-and-Grantham,” they often exhorted. “Under-developed and under-utilized our talent,” they claimed. “He just road the coattails of Charlie Strong and wouldn’t have been able to do it with his own players,” they reasoned.
As for Sirmon? Well, Louisville fans didn’t seem universally thrilled. State only went 5 - 7 in the regular season, and followed that up with a close bowl win over a MAC team.
But there was cautious optimism. State’s players must not have been that talented. (Remember, State’s an SEC “bottom-feeder,” people.) Sirmon is a proven recruiter, and was just one year into implementing a new defensive scheme. Growing pains, etc. So, yeah, this could be exciting for Louisville, right?
To see through the partisan hoots and hollers, I went back to the well — what did the numbers say? Were there any clear answers or trends that I could draw from the holy font of statistics?
How about I just leave this here and let y’all come to your own conclusions:
(Sorry for chopping it in half. My robotic monkey IT helper is on the fritz today, so y’all are getting the slightly blurry DIY version. Three cheers for computer illiteracy!)