Earlier this season, Toledo’s David Fluellen racked up 100 yards receiving against Missouri on 10 receptions, a combination of screens and flairs. Last Saturday, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw came in with his team trailing 17-0 at Missouri, and he picked Missouri apart with screen passes. The Gamecocks’ Mike Davis finished with 10 receptions for 99 yards, and Shaw also utilized his tight ends on screens and underneath passes over the middle.
Missouri plays what has often been referred to as the Tampa Two defense, which was named after the Tampa Bay Bucs defense under Tony Dungy. Even Dungy himself admits that his cover two defense is vulnerable to draws, screens, and flair passes to the running backs out of the backfield. I once heard Dungy identify the best way to combat those screen passes in that defense is to have linebackers who can really run and tackle in space.
Earlier this week, a couple of the Missouri coaches talked about defending the screens.
Head Coach Gary Pinkel weighed in.
“We’ll have to work on that,” said Coach Pinkel, talking about defending screen passes. “That’s an area that, in that (South Carolina) game, we got hurt a few times”.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do with screens,” explained Coach Pinkel. “It’s not necessarily just defensive linemen. It can be linebackers. It can be a lot of different things that you can try to do it. But you know, we’re a pretty aggressive defense, and people are going to connect on a few (screens). They got us. And, we’re going to work to get that controlled. A couple of those, we had in place, but we got blocked, or we missed a tackle. If you make the tackle, it’s a 6-yard gain. If not, it’s a 21-yard gain.”
Missouri Assistant Coach Alex Grinch, who coaches Missouri's safeties, also weighed in on the matter.
“We’ve just got to play better,” explained Coach Grinch, when asked what the Tigers need to do to stop the screen passes. “Just play better. You know, when you’re in position, you’ve got to make the tackle. And you try to get as many guys at the point of attack as you possibly can, just like any other play in football. And in the end, once you’ve got bodies there, you’ve got to get off blocks and make a play. There’s certainly not a magic bullet. There’s not a magic answer. But, we’ve got to do better. We’ll find a way.”
I asked Coach Grinch if there are schematic changes that would help the Tigers defend the screens?
“There’s always schematic things,” replied Coach Grinch, implying that some schemes that might work against screens would leave you vulnerable to something else. “There always is, no matter what the play. But, it’s a give and take. In the long run, everything is designed to stop every play. So, we’ve got to play better.”
I asked Coach Grinch why Toledo’s success with the screen pass hadn’t led to other teams utilizing the screen pass more often against the Tigers?
“A lot of times what happens is if you defend it well once, a lot of times, it goes away,” explained Coach Grinch. “If you don’t defend it well early, they keep coming back to it. Like any other play.”
Coach Grinch said that he expects to see Tennessee utilize the screen pass against Missouri.
“No question about it,” said Coach Grinch.