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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

January 7, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Did Holt make a difference with the USC defense?

Nick Holt’s arrival at UW has sparked a debate over just how much impact he had at USC.
As Holt detailed yesterday, he didn’t call the defensive plays at USC on gameday during his three years as defensive coordinator — that was left to head coach Pete Carroll, who served as his own DC from 2001-05 before giving the job to Holt in 2006. Carroll ceded the title to Holt in an effort to bring him back after Holt had left for two years to become head coach at Idaho and then, for a day or so, to take a job with the St. Louis Rams.
Holt said Tuesday he did all the mid-week coordinator stuff, such as planning game plans and practices, but that on gameday, Carroll had final say on the defense.
The question a fan asked is what did the stats look like before and during Holt’s time as defensive coordinator.
College football stats can be tricky to make grand judgments about because personnel can change so rapidly from year-to-year. But given the debate, I thought it a worthy subject to investigate.
So here are some numbers.
First, remember Carroll arrived in 2001 as head coach — I’m providing the 2000 stats as a way to compare where it was before Carroll took over. And remember also that Holt worked as his linebackers coach from 2001-03 before leaving for Idaho, then returned as DC in 2006.
TOTAL DEEFNSE
2000 — 343.3 yards per game
2001 — 330.8
2002 — 284.9
2003 — 336.4
2004 — 279.3
2005 — 360.9
2006 — 295.8
2007 — 273.2
2008 — 221.7
SCORING DEFENSE
2000 — 30.6 points per game
2001 — 17.3
2002 — 18.5
2003 — 18.4
2004 — 13.0
2005 — 22.8
2006 — 15.2
2007 — 16.0
2008 — 9.0
RUSHING DEFENSE
2000 — 125.7 yards per game
2001 — 155.2
2002 — 83.2
2003 — 60.2
2004 — 79.4
2005 — 130.5
2006 — 91.1
2007 — 84.2
2008 — 87.3
PASSING DEFENSE
2000 — 217.3 yards per game
2001 — 175.6
2002 — 201.8
2003 — 276.2
2004 — 199.9
2005 — 230.4
2006 — 204.8
2007 — 189.0
2008 — 134.3
As you can see, USC’s defense did improve markedly in 2006 when Holt took over as DC from 2005, which was the worst USC defense of the Carroll era. However, you can also see the 2005 season is an aberration and that the Trojan defense has always been pretty salty during the Carroll era, dropping by 13 points a game upon his arrival in 2001 and other than 2005, not wavering much.
The 2005 season was the year the USC defense had a couple of memorable meltdowns, notably against Notre Dame (the 34-31 Bush Push game), Fresno State (the 50-42 barnburner) and Texas (when the Longhorns beat USC 41-38 to claim the national title).
Holt was gone in 2005, and maybe that made a difference. On the other hand, you can see he also wasn’t there in 2004, the year USC won the undisputed national title and had the second-best defense of the Carroll era.
Carroll didn’t immediately decide to give up DC duties after the 2004 season, doing so only in February when he heard Holt was moving to the Rams and quickly convincing him to come back to USC, instead. At the time, Carroll said bringing Holt back as DC would free up some of his time to allow the staff to become more efficient.
The defense improved markedly in 2006 and continued the next two seasons, with this year’s defense ranking as one of the best in school history. The 2006 season, however, was also the year there was a notable influx in young talent into the starting lineup such as Taylor Mays, Rey Maualuga, Kevin Ellison and Brian Cushing, all recruited during the time Holt was not at USC.
So was it that new talent, or the return of Holt that made the difference in the improvement from 2005 to 2006 and the last three years, or some combination of both? Or was it maybe just a return to the Carroll norm, with a spike up this season when there was so much experienced elite talent on hand?
The fact observers will answer those questions a number of different ways is one of the biggest reasons Holt made the move. At UW, should the Huskies suddenly become one of the top-ranked defenses in the conference a few years from now, Holt will get all the credit he could want.

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