Hanna: Like with so much of the defense you have to take the personnel under account. I generally liked what I was seeing in terms of the aggressiveness. There were moments where I thought they might have wanted to tone it down a little bit. But, in general, I thought that Azzinaro had a good pulse on the tactical elements of setting up a defense. It remains to be seen how he fares calling a game, whether he’s able to create the right adjustments or match-ups going forward. I just think that’s so hard to judge him on based on this season because we were coming from behind so often and, obviously, there were serious personnel deficiencies there.
Keeping all that in mind I would probably say a C+ or a B-, something like that. I lean towards C+ because there were too many games where we gave up over 40 points, but those, in many ways, were almost inevitable. There’s only so much of that you can put on the defense when the special teams and the offense out them in positions to fail. Maybe a B-, something in that range.
Eberhardt: I was going to give him a solid B. The scores that we gave up aren’t great. Our inability to play well in third quarters for much of the first two-thirds of the season spoke to a – let’s not say inability or unwillingness – let’s just say a lack of adjustments at halftime. One of the things that I liked about Jim Mora, particularly on defense in the first half of his tenure at UCLA, was that he could reliably be counted on to come into the third quarter having adjusted the game plan for defense. And that was a step backward this year, which was disappointing.
Hanna: We miss you, Lou Spanos.
Eberhardt: That said, the overall improvement in the quality, the attitude, the presence of the defense is remarkable. These guys, taking into account their age and experience, know where they’re supposed to be. They all seemed to get better. They all seemed to be better deployed as the season went on. They were aggressive. There was flexibility because they were aggressive sometimes and not other times, and there was clearly an intentionality behind that. There was no blind loyalty to a specific philosophy, which was a point of frustration with Mora. I say a B, but pending future results.
Hanna: That’s perfectly fair. In a normal 3-9 year where you give up that many 40-point games you’re not going to give the defensive coordinator a B or even a C+. But there is so much context that has to be considered in these things. I think it makes total sense to see it in terms of a long-term projection and how it’s building for the long term, the idea that they are building philosophies on offense and defense that mesh together in terms of the aggressiveness and willingness to exploit match-ups in a certain way. It all seems like it’s placing building blocks in place for the future.