Bobby Petrino is one helluva offensive coach. Running several schemes with several types of athletes, his teams have always found a way to generate points. It’s the other side of the ball where the Rough Ridin’ Romeo has never been the most attentive. No where has that been more apparent than at his return stop in Louisville.
There were issues on that side of that ball that derailed two marvelous seasons by the offense and Heisman Winner Lamar Jackson. This year in particular the Cards were consistently blah: Luhvl surrendered 47 offensive touchdowns (70th scoring defense), were 62nd in total defense, 70th against the pass, 62nd in TFL, 62nd in sacks generated, 53rd in interceptions, 96th in red zone defense, and 63rd in run defense, surrendering 4.13 YPC and 24 touchdowns on the ground.
Even given those issues, I’m not so sure about this move. From the Louisville-Courier Journal:
Louisville has officially named Brian VanGorder its defensive coordinator, the program announced in a release Monday.
VanGorder, 58, has 37 years of coaching experience at 17 different stops: four high schools, 10 colleges and three NFL teams. He has been a defensive coordinator seven times before in college, plus once with the Atlanta Falcons.
VanGorder’s last job was at Oklahoma State as a defensive analyst in 2017. He last served as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2014 until four games into 2016, at which point he was fired with his defense giving up 33.5 points per game.
VanGorder is cerebral and has had success: you don’t coach for 35 years without winning and without being damned smart. His best job was as the Atlanta Falcon’s DC and with Mark Richt’s defenses during the ‘Dawgs spectacular early-2000s run, where Georgia finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense and he won the Broyles award as the nation’s top assistant. But, VanGorder’s career definitely has the feeling of a man who has let the game pass him by or would be better suited for the pro game. Perhaps as bad, he has the reputation of being a
raging asshole jerk, especially to players.
But, being that product of the pro game, he’s much more comfortable playing out of a 4-3 base alignment, using one-gap under fronts and blitzing extensively, particularly zone blitzes. That complexity has led to some problems for players, to be sure. And they are particularly manifest in Year One of the transition. While that “4-3 blitz ery’body scheme and sitting back in zone” was well and good in the paleoball era, it has been less than effective as teams have moved uptempo and spread the ball around in space...and is especially stuck in its ways as more teams are using over-fronts. The results have been apparent on the scoreboard.
In his last collegiate job, VanGorder’s defenses surrendered 33.6 ppg in 2016. He was let go just four games into the season. And, that’s not an aberration. In his final stint, Notorious BVG’s unit allowed 28.3 ppg (66th) in Auburn’s three-win 2012 season.
As the game has gone a different direction, VanGorder has stayed the same.
This is a gamble by Petrino, and not a small one either. The hope is that VanGorder’s last year with Oklahoma State as an analyst gave him some greater understanding of how to stop air raid and spread option offenses, neither of which he was capable of doing at the Barn or with the Irish. Coupled with BVG’s ability to improve the pass rush along the defensive front, maybe Bobby is hoping to recapture their glory
nine months days in Atlanta and BVG’s great run in Georgia.
Given the complexity of the defense and BVG’s notoriety as a man that is hard to work with and hard on players, that makes this move seem like a lazy and uninspired hire by a head coach who wants a placeholder with familiarity.
But, hey, at least it gives him time to go on a nice bike ride. (Just eight more months of Bobby Petrino jokes!)