Jay Hopson, Further Dissected

Submitted by Brian on December 17th, 2008 at 2:47 PM

WOTS is that yesterday's post on potential defensive coordinators is for naught and we are most likely looking at an internal hire: Jay Hopson, the linebackers coach and former Southern Miss defensive coordinator.

When it looked like Hopson was destined for the DC job last year I scoured Sunday Morning Quarterback for any information the internet's most prominent Southern Miss fan had provided on his defensive coordinator and assembled the results in "Jay Hopson Dissected." I also fired off an email to Matt Hinton himself, asking him for a take. By the time I got a reply Hopson was in, but as the linebackers coach, and the reply was no longer relevant.

Now it is, and I present to you Hinton's take on Hopson. Warning: it is not puppy dog tails. I'll let this stand on its own; further commentary in a separate post. Before we get to the nitty gritty, an update from Hinton:

Re: Hopson, I should add to that e-mail that over the last couple years I've come to really appreciate the talent on USM's killer defenses in 1999-2000, including Adalius Thomas and Patrick Surtain. The defenses immediately following those were anchored by a couple all-American linebackers, Rod Davis and Michael Boley, and a few other very good players. Hopson didn't have anyone of that caliber from 2005-07.

So, again, meh performance in the doldrum years of a coach heading out to pasture.

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Hopson would make a lot more sense as a position coach at Michigan, as some of your commenters have noted. He’s young and didn’t distinguish himself in the job – his defenses occasionally looked good against some of the weaker teams in Conference USA, but I wouldn’t even read into the high finishes within the conference (first in scoring defense all three years of Hopson’s tenure, first or second all three years in almost every other relevant category) because USM is the only school in the league that still pretends to play a little defense, and certainly the only one that still played like it expected to win games with it. This year the “Nasty Bunch,” as the D was known in fatter times, allowed 24 points to Marshall, 34 to Central Florida, 29 to Memphis, 30 to UTEP and 31 in the disgraceful loss to Rice, the last game being the reason the entire staff is searching for work right now (though, to be as fair as possible about such a disaster, offensive turnovers were far more responsible).

It’s not fair to look at the outcomes against Tennessee, Florida, Virginia Tech, NC State and the like because of the talent deficit USM faces against those teams, although Southern Miss had a short stretch of better-than-respectable (if inconsistent) defensive success against much bigger schools in the late nineties, and the fact that we tasted the blood of annual top 10 national units in those years may have led to some unfair expectations towards the defense in the last few years - those teams had Adalius Thomas and Patrick Surtain, two future Pro Bowlers, and though there's been some excellent individual talent since, Hopson hasn’t even coached a player who’s landed a regular NFL roster spot (though current linebacker Gerald McRath will certainly change that in the next couple years). Again, though, USM has not consistently played well against C-USA offenses with comparable or lesser talent since well before Hopson was on board, and though his overall numbers were slightly worse than his predecessors’, he was just status quo. It’s putting it kindly to say his defenses in Hattiesburg were mediocre. Generally I’ll always associate him with underachieving teams, even if the defense was still always better than the wretched offense.

Michigan fans will not like this, but Hopson’s defenses seemed to suffer from complete paralysis, mental and physical, against offenses that require more discipline than baseline reading and reacting. The team is rarely on TV, and never against any quality opponent, so I don’t get to watch them week to week, but the few times USM has been on a midweek game the last three years have ranged from frustrating to embarrassing. I remember seething through a loss at Tulsa in 2006 because the Hurricane ran a dinky spread offense with no hint of a deep threat whatsoever, and Southern never adjusted to, looked prepared for or even aware of the existence of the possibility that Tulsa would keep running the same junior-high-basic read option play. Take this play from the 2006 C-USA Championship loss to Houston as a very extreme example of a trend against any kind of option – it’s not great quality, but watch the reaction of the safeties, #6 (walked up here like an OLB) and #15:

They react like they have never conceived of a very simple, old-fashioned triple option play. That game is another good example of the consistent failure to adjust, and to be content to sit in zones without much blitzing and refusal to put pressure on the dinky horizontal passing game teams like Houston run, instead letting them run for miles of yards after catch. This year, the loss to Cincinnati in the bowl appeared to be more of a talent issue (the speed that that happened is also disturbing, as USM owned Cincinnati in C-USA less than five years ago), because Ben Mauk had to make a lot of plays under pressure, but after some early problems he carved the Eagles up pretty easily. Boise State in September came out firing and doing whatever it wanted offensively from the first gun. Basically, I always felt Hopson’s defense were put on their heels easily, accepted trying to bend and not break and rarely tried to force offenses out of their comfort zone. But this could be more of a talent issue than I realize; USM has been very lean in the secondary and really struggled in man-to-man coverage when it wasn’t playing too soft. It’s hard to make the translation to Michigan’s players.

Schematically, USM’s base has always been a 4-3, but it’s also always shown a lot of variability – prior to Hopson, it was regularly in “organized chaos” mode, with two down linemen, sometimes one down lineman on passing downs, people hopping around and shifting irregularly before the snap and blitzes coming from god knows where. His units were very, very conservative by this standard. They were also regularly in the nickel, simply as a result of playing a lot of spread offenses in-conference. Most of the time, as you noted earlier from a previous post of mine, this was a three-down look, technically a 3-3-5 because one of the outside linebackers was a DB, but closer to a 3-4 in actuality – unlike the stack West Virginia ran under Rodriguez, which is an eight-man front with one safety deep and two up like linebackers (I think of it as a 3-5), Hopson’s 3-3-5 generally kept two safeties deep. It was much less effective against the run, but that apparently was the tradeoff he felt was necessary to protect the secondary. The numbers show a stronger pass rush than I remember in 2005 or 2007, but again, I only saw USM in person or on TV a handful of times in any of those years.

Matt

Comments

caup

December 17th, 2008 at 3:02 PM ^

That was not at all encouraging. Visions of the Toledo and Purdue games were dancing in my head when Matt was describing 2006 Houston game.

CincyBlue

December 17th, 2008 at 3:22 PM ^

What makes Jay a good candiate this year but not last year?

If he ran that same sh*t at Southern Miss, what makes RR think he can do any better at Michigan?

I am now offically worried about him as DC.

Ninja Football

December 17th, 2008 at 3:25 PM ^

"...though, to be as fair as possible about such a disaster, offensive turnovers were far more responsible)."

Ladies and gentleman, we have our answer for the ridiculous amount of turnovers: Jay Hopson. Who knew?

Don

December 17th, 2008 at 3:30 PM ^

"... another good example of the consistent failure to adjust, and to be content to sit in zones without much blitzing and refusal to put pressure on the dinky horizontal passing game teams"

This, after all, is the Michigan way, so Hopson would be carrying on the tradition.

Mlaw1984

December 17th, 2008 at 3:41 PM ^

Rivals has an interview w/ Dequinta Jones' coach and he talked about how Hopson would be great b/c he always keeps the offense guessing by blitzing and heavy pressure.

And isn't that what we heard about SS? Then we saw 10 yard cushions on all receivers and 8 men dropping.

Bronco648

December 17th, 2008 at 3:45 PM ^

I can't say I would be too thrilled with Hopson @ DC. What I have a hard time understanding is why RR would decide to implement the 3-3-5 if UM doesn't have the personnel. It might have the players in a year or two but certainly not right now.

=P

Ziff72

December 17th, 2008 at 3:53 PM ^

While Brian claims this man is "informed" about S Miss let's make sure we take in a few factors
1. this is 1 man's opinion.
2. Said man said he only got to see 1/4 of the teams games.

The resume of Jay Hopson is not long and glory filled and would not be my 1st choice, but let's not jump off the deep end. The factors and timing leading up to each Saturday's or Sunday's performance are staggering this is not nearly enough data to get too excited 1 way or another about Jay.

Let's remember these facts.
Ara Pasegian went winless 1 year.
Bill Bellichick was fired.
Bob Stoops gave up 60 to Nebraska as D coordinator @ Florida
Pete Carroll was schooled by Mike Riley this year.

I must say that watching Auburn over the years and the D coordinators that have come and gone T. Tubberville must be able to coach some D out his ass. They are always tough.

Someone mentioned the guy from TCU.. they have been pretty wicked over the last couple years. I looked up his bio...decent before he got to TCU, but nothing spectacular..it mentions he spent a year at Western not sure what happened there.

caup

December 17th, 2008 at 3:53 PM ^

If we use the 3-3-5 next year we'd have a returning front line of Van Bergen, Martin, and Graham. The LBs would be Ezeh, Mouton, and... Fitz? The DBs would be Warren, Cissoko, Brown, Williams, and..BSmith?

That's 9 out of 11 guys who either started or saw significant playing time on actual defense last year.

smiley12

December 17th, 2008 at 4:49 PM ^

Where was the weak link in our defense? At LB. Obi Ezeh had a great beginning(two games, to be exact)then learned how not to fight off blockers; John Thompson ranged from average to horrible; Jonas Mouton started the season invisible, but actually came on somewhat at the end.

The reserves? Marrell Evans? Austin Panter? Brandon Logan? Brandon Herron? Exactly.

Naming this guy DC would be a big mistake. The Big Ten has probably a dozen NFL caliber offensive linemen capable of blocking two players(DL first, then LB)on the same play. I don't think this guy saw many players who could do that at USM.

First fix the problem at LB. Or else we'll have a repeat of last season all over again.

bronxblue

December 17th, 2008 at 5:57 PM ^

I don't see the benefit in burying Hopson before the guy has a chance as the DC. These boards are littered with calls for Shafer to be given more time, that 1 year is not representative of his abilities, the team was incredibly young and struggled as a result, etc., yet it sounds like people are already looking for reasons to show Hopson out the door. I'll agree, his pedigree is not great, but it also feels like people are really frustrated that Shafer was let go so quickly, and so are directing the disdain down on Hopson. He is going to inherit a better defense overall next season compared to the one Shafer picked up (it couldn't be much worse), and I am going to reserve judgment on this move until at least he's had more than 0 games to prove what he can do as DC at UM.

Don

December 17th, 2008 at 5:59 PM ^

"And isn't that what we heard about SS? Then we saw 10 yard cushions on all receivers and 8 men dropping."

heh... this was said about Herrmann and English, too... "yeah, they're gonna be real aggressive and really get in people's faces etc etc."

I'll believe it when I see it. I know being real aggressive isn't the proper strategy in each and every game situation, but every time I see 10-yard cushions on 3rd-and-7 I want to shove an ice pick in my eye to distract me.

wile_e8

December 18th, 2008 at 6:34 PM ^

"It really doesn't affect me because my defensive line coach is still there," Campbell said, speaking of U-M assistant Bruce Tall, who also attended the banquet. "It also doesn't affect me at all because I don't know where I'm going. Even if I was still committed there, it probably wouldn't make a difference because my coach is still there."

Is it just me, or does it sound like Will is doing a poor job of pretending he might not come to Michigan? Nice backtracking job there...