I talked to FIU defensive coordinator Todd Orlando for about six minutes after Wednesday’s practice and before a meeting he had to attend.
To anybody who's not watching with T.Y. Hilton stars still in their eyes, the big difference between 2011 FIU and 2012 FIU -- or between What Everyone Thought 2012 FIU Would Be and What 2012 FIU Is -- is the defense. FIU's offensive numbers, despite no Hilton and having a true freshman at quarterback for two and a half games, are up across the board. But out of 120 FBS teams, FIU ranks 106th in scoring defense (giving up 37.38 points per game as compared to 19.46 last year); 99th in pass defense (246.75 yards per game vs. 226.62); and rushing defense (168.00 vs. 118.62). Their turnovers garnered are slightly down, 1.38 per game to 1.54. Special teams hasn't helped with the fumbled returns and kicker Jack Griffin becoming as reliable as a 1974 Chevy Vega. Still, it's the experienced defense that has failed most calamitously.
Discussing players and staff he still would be working with for at least four more games, I didn’t expect Orlando to toss anyone under the Greyhound and he didn’t. The one question I wish I’d asked is “What do you look back on even as you’re in the middle of the season and say “’I/We as coaches could’ve done this better?’”
I tried to get this up Wednesday night before my furlough started, but had trouble getting onto the blog. So, Happy Sandy School-less Friday (still can't believe schools aren't open today)...
What’s happened with the defense this season?
“Execution needs to be better off of that. We haven’t been finishing plays. Last year, if you want to compare some of the stuff we had, we finished a lot of plays. We’ve had turnovers, pressures and all that stuff. We haven’t had that production from last year. That would probably be the biggest thing.”
When you say you haven’t been finishing plays, can you give me an example?
“Last game against Troy when – I don’t want to pick on Cheese because Cheese is not the problem – but just finishing those plays. (Cornerback Jose Cheeseborough had a chance at an interception the play after FIU quarterback Jake Medlock threw one. Cheesborough had both hands on the ball, but couldn’t bring it down. Troy scored a few plays later.) And a couple of opportunities for sacks. Even at home, had an opportunity to make some plays on some things. We’ve got to get back to getting that right.”
Is it also a matter of starting the season by giving up a bunch to Duke, then Akron and it snowballs into a lack of confidence?
“I don’t think so. Obviously, you always as a coach are worried about that part.You lose a couple of games and you don’t close out a couple of games, that’s obviously a big concern. But our kids from that standpoint are really good. They’ve been that way since I’ve been here and they’ve been that way since Coach Cristobal got here. They understand that there’s a certain way that – most of the time, it just comes down to technique. Technique and fundamentals -- ‘hey, you know what, I’m a little bit concerned about this and I lose focus.’ Trust me, I’d be the first person to tell you that part. But I don’t see that (a loss of confidence). I don’t see it in practice and I don’t see it in games. Just for some reason, it’s happening.”
How surprising is this considering you had all these guys back and --?
“It is. But from the same aspect of it, the beginning of the season, when you look at the beginning part of it, we’re going to have played a couple of bowl teams. You’re playing them on the road. But some of the recent games, to me, we have to make sure, when the game’s on the line, especially at the end of the game, we’ve got to do our part with it. We’ve got to be able to …That’s probably the thing that’s most frustrating the last two games. We’ve had opportunities to close games out and we haven’t gotten it done.”
From an outside observer’s view, it doesn’t look like you’re doing much different schematically throughout the season. Have there been changes you’ve put in schematically during the season?
“Yes, we have. We’ve had to. Any time you go in, obviously, you’re getting into a second year where people are accustomed to what you’re doing with it. We’ve done that. That’s part of what my job is – making sure we’re doing things, self-scouting our own things, make sure we’re not becoming too predictable. We’ve changed up. Now, just got to get better at executing all the stuff with it. Sometimes, it’s not about the amount you have, it’s how you’re executing taking on blocks, getting off blocks and tackling. That’s where we have to become better, too.”
Seems like early in the season, guys were running free in the secondary, more recently, you’ve had guys there, they just haven’t made plays.
“Exactly right. In the beginning of the year, too, you played some legitimate guys. You played the Louisvilles, the UCFs, the Dukes and those guys had legitimate quarterbacks to go along with legitimate receivers. Now, our kids understand what they need to do and they’ve done a much better job, but, like you said before, just finishing those plays. Jeremiah McKinnon had an opportunity down in the Middle Tennessee game to make a play ont eh beal, Richie had a chance to make a couple of plays on the ball. They’re there, it’s just, like you said before, just getting up there and cleaning those up. And I was proud of the guys they got behind us a couple of times last game, but, for the most part, they did a good job from a cover standpoint. But it’s not the DBs, it’s collectively as a group, in terms of stopping the run and the pass.”
How frustrating has this been?
“It’s frustrating. Obviously. There’s nobody who takes it – probably myself and Coach Cristobal, you can probably ask him, you can ask the whole coaching staff (is frustrated) with it -- but obviously I’m not accustomed to this. I’m not accustomed to not being able to close out games defensively. It’s tough. It’s like anything else. It’s a hard profession from that standpoint. You move on, you keep working, just like if you’re a kid playing. You go in there and you work even harder to get it right because there is a formula to getting it right. You can’t just sit there and say ‘this is this’ and ‘this is that.’ You make it happen. If you’re struggling in one phase of it, you get back in there and find things out that can make it better. That’s what we’re doing constantly.” (High wind completely obscured his last sentence.)
How would you rate the job you guys have done coaching the defense?
“Obviously, it’s very average. From the standpoint of us coaching, if you’re looking at it coaching-wise, the results are very average. We’re always going to coach. We’re always going to teach. We’re always going to go out and get the stuff in and we’re always going to break down film with it. That part, we’re always going to be great. I’d put this crew with anybody in the country. But if you’re saying “how are we coaching?” from a standpoint of myself, not the guys on the staff, you’re talking about me as a defensive coordinator, the results aren’t coming. You answer that question. From that standpoint, there’s a lot that goes into it in terms of preparation, in terms of film, in terms of getting the information to the kids, in terms of practicing. Now, it comes down to game day, whether we can get out there and put our kids in the best possible position to make plays. That’s my job.”