Expert Analysis: Defensive Backfield, TCU
I was hoping that we could ride the "Cardinal Wave" back to the C-House and pull off this win. I was hoping that the same team that touched the field last week against USC would show up again. I was hoping that the passion we played with would still be pulsing through the players' veins. I was also hoping that the stands would be packed on homecoming after we just pulled off the biggest upset of all time. Boy was I mistaken!
Before I talk about our beloved defensive backs, I want to talk about us… the "fans". We need to look at ourselves first before we look at the team. I actually attended the game this weekend for my Class of '97 ten-year reunion with my wife Krystal and daughter Zoe. I must admit after catching up with friends and doing the reunion thing, I didn't even get into the game until halftime. It's sad when your wife pokes fun at your school for not having any spirit and crowd support. She observed people having conversations during the action and was shocked by the lack of attendance. She just couldn't believe it - especially after the victory last week. Now Krystal did attend "The Ohio State University" and also worked in the athletic department, so she does understand the true definition of fans coming from the Big-10. I attended the season opener at Ohio State last year and it was an unbelievable experience. I kept saying to myself "WOW! This is big time football!" The crowd was packed and everyone was into the game. I was talking to some former players this weekend and we were reminiscing of our days at the Farm (good old Polk High) and how we liked playing away games better than playing at home. It didn't matter that the opponents' fans were yelling at us, the atmosphere was loud and we would feed of f of the energy. When we came home, the old Stanford Stadium always seemed empty as if no one really cared about us. Mr. Arrillaga just renovated the stadium to be more compact, but man, "we" still are not doing a very good job as fans. Too much talk and not enough YELLING!. We play football because we love the game, and part of that love is hearing the crowd go crazy! If no one ever came to watch us play, would we still play? We need to do a much better job supporting our team from the stands. We need our 12th Man! It is important that the students, alumni, and administration do whatever they need to do to pack our stands. Let's be sure no ticket goes unused! We can give away free tickets to all the local Pop Warner organizations in the area, invite entire schools down to a game, donate to the local YMCA! I'm requesting a "Call to Action" to transform Palo Alto into a community that attends Stanford Football from the kickoff to the last play of the game! [Editor: Amen, brother!]
Now that I've said my piece about us fans, let's get to the game this weekend against TCU. Let's start with the positives. It is very important that we do look at the highlights of this past weekend so we are always building and developing. Defensively, we did a great job in the first and third quarters coming out of the locker room and keeping them out of the end zone. Defensive coordinator Coach Shafer called another great "chess match". I love comparing football to chess because they are so similar. The players in chess are the coaches in football, while the players in football are the pieces in chess, "the pawns of the game". The main difference between football and chess is when you move your player in chess, the piece does what it is supposed to do. In football, it's a gamble! Sometimes the pieces do what they are told, sometimes they do what they want to do. If every player did their job the game would be a stalemate.
Coach Shafer was able to mix and disguise the coverages and fronts through out the game. TCU ran double tight-ends with slot WR's quite often. Instead of always leaving the corner on his side, our corners aligned side-by-side over the two WRs in the slot. This strategy left the outside linebacker inside to help play the run and put SS Austin Yancy on the backside allowing a bigger player there to stop the backside run. An excellent coaching strategy by Coach Shafer! There were a number of hurries and cover sacks with the zone blitz. The zone blitz is when you play a zone defense but at the same time send 5-6 men on a blitz. Normally, when teams use the blitz, they would run "man" coverage. The main zone defense ran behind the zone blitz in cover 3. The DB's played well in man coverage, generally blanketing the wide receiver on routes. I noticed Stanford running a different coverage look where we had the LB dropping deep in coverage. I love the way Coach Shafer has been adjusting to our opponent and mixing up the calls. Now all we need is for the players to understand the checks so they become involuntary. He keeps me guessing every week!
Bo McNally had another 10-tackle performance (his fourth double-digit performance this year) including one huge sack and a forced fumble. But when your free safety is your leading tackler it usually means that the the opponent is getting past the second level and the defense is giving up some yards. Not good.
Here is a quick breakdown of the game from the DB perspective...
· TCU's offense tried to spread us out and run screens underneath all day long. We were able to keep QB Andy Dalton guessing, eliminating the first drive after a cover sack by #20 Clinton Snyder to stop a third & long play. The secondary did a great job of staying back and over the top of the WRs in the first half. Dalton was able to throw accurate passes between the zones, over the LB's head and in front of the DB's.
· CB #6 Wopamo Osaisai had a great half reading Dalton's passes, making great breaks, and locking down WRs in coverage. Early in the second half, when TCU scored the first touchdown, Dalton was forced to tuck the ball and run it for the score after he saw Osaisai covering his man like "white on rice". Then on third down on the final offensive play of quarter, Dalton rolled out again and found his receiver covered by Osaisai. He threw it away and had to settle for a field goal.
· TCU's second touchdown came in the second quarter when RB Joseph Turner broke through the middle for a 19-yard touchdown run. The defense actually did a great job of corralling the ball and keeping it inside the box. Turner popped out and McNally lost his footing on the turf and slipped. A play he should have made, but we all have missed our number of tackles in the past.
· On TCU's last drive, Coach Shafer started off in a prevent defense, but then quickly returned back to his base defense. TCU started to attack the zone and were marching down the field to get inside of our redzone. Our d-coordinator was able to mix up the calls, coming out of the zone and even running man coverage and was able to keep TCU from scoring.
· Collectively, the secondary was playing more physically, fighting off of blocks and making plays. Sanchez was playing physical football. It feels good when your corners aren't afraid to throw themselves in the action. In the 2nd quarter, Dalton hit #88 Jimmy Young on a screen pass for a 20-yard reception. The positive note was that Sanchez made a courageous play taking on two OL with his inside shoulder, and keeping the outside half of his body free and the ball inside. This forced Young back inside where he was chased down from behind. On second & 12 on the final drive of the half, Sanchez drilled the TE on an out route while sitting in his cover 2 drop. Great break on the ball and a great stick by Sanchez. He even knocked his own helmet off! The next play Osaisai locked his man down and McNally rerouted a WR off of his route to the point where he landed on the ground!
We came out in the second half pumped up, congratulating each other after each stick. Getting all 11 hats to the ball.
· Early in the third quarter, Sanchez appeared to hurt his shoulder again.
· Later in the third quarter TCU sent two WRs down the middle to split McNally's zone coverage. McNally had a late break on the ball, and didn't have enough speed to catch Jimmy Young as he raced for a 70-yard touchdown. McNally kept his eyes on the QB too long on this play, he should have kept his head on a swivel, the two WRs at two- and ten o'clock, and read the QB's off-hand and shoulders. With repetition, he will master this. He will be just fine!
· The fourth quarter started with a tough fourth-down stop and things looked promising. But soon after we became lethargic and stopped playing ball. Early in the fourth, Sanchez gets turned around in man coverage after he loses his WR, resulting in a big gain. He tried to do a "speed turn" (a quick over-the-shoulder turn which sends the DB in the opposite direction) which is a dangerous move to use in man coverage because you take your eyes off of the WR. On the ensuing play, Osaisai gets blocked and then both he and Sanchez get caught inside on the block while RB Brown picked up 20 yards on the ground.
· Later on the drive, while facing third and goal, McNally came up to make a great assisted tackle on Dalton with #80 Eric Lorig for a loss. But on the next play Dalton found a wide-open Brown for a touchdown on a blown coverage by the DBs. Sanchez was aligned out to the left over a WR while RB Brown motioned to his side past the WR. For some reason Sanchez looked confused because he didn't adjust to Brown as he ran an out route for en easy score.
· On TCU's final drive, Dalton hit WR Donald Massey on a streak for a 31-yard gain over Sanchez. I don't know what to say - the call appeared to be a cover 3 zone and Sanchez just let the WR run right by him. He has to be able to disrupt the WR route by cutting him off, with his back pressing on the WR, and staying over the top. This will allow him to see the ball and make a play. One play later, TCU punched it in for the go ahead touchdown. We are still having mental errors and blown assignments that need to be remedied. We must communicate and echo the call to each player so everyone is on the same page. Just like last week, the big plays generally happened because someone's man was uncovered and there was a miscommunication. I know in the past couple of years our squad hasn't been accustomed to having a lead in the fourth quarter, but once we get up, we need to keep that momentum going! While I was standing on the sideline with the game clock ticking away in the fourth, I was surprised to notice that the team was flat. They were standing on the field like deer looking into headlights. No one was yelling on the field trying to get the men motivated to stop TCU. They lost their spark and no one was scrambling to get it back. We have to be prepared mentally to fight the entire game. I remember playing UCLA at home in '95 when we let a 21-7 halftime lead slip away. During the game we lost our focus mentally once we went up, allowing UCLA's Karim Abdul-Jabbar (the former Sharman Shah) to gain 178 yards on 27 carries in the second half!. Our defense, which had held the Bruins to just 139 yards in the first half, gave up five TDs in UCLA's six second-half possessions. Coach Willingham came up with a saying that year called "60-Minute Men". This meant that we played the whole game, not just one half, but all 60 minutes. This is another mental error that the men will master with time.
Plain and simple, our tackling was not up to par this weekend. I hope you watched the game carefully. There were far too many open field tackles that were missed. Too many times our players were leaping, leaving their feet and making shoestring tackles. I hardly saw players hit and drive their feet through their opponents. I know players like to tackle by hitting the ball carriers' legs with a shoulder. This technique is actually reserved for tackling bigger players, not for every ball carrier. We were tackling with our hands out, grabbing for the man, not leading with our shoulders or chest. I have a simple system about tackling that we teach at my Academy called "The L.A.W.S. of Tackling". It means to stay Low, Attack the man, Wrap your arms, and Shoot your hips. USC game hero Austin Yancy could have done a better job of supporting the backside run against TCU. Yancy had a difficult time at this position and had problems tackling all game. Not trying to be hard on him, just observing. TCU took advantage of him at times. McNally and Yancy could have completed a couple of open field 2-on-1 tackles that would have been "jaw-dropping" hits. A "2 on 1 tackle" is when two defenders hit a ball carrier with their shoulders on opposite sides of the runner's body. I can't help to think of John Lynch and how aggressively that guy plays. You're talking about a player! I sure remember back in '92, during my senior year in high school at Montclair Prep, Lynch's senior year at Stanford, when the Cardinal played at Notre Dame. Lynch blew-up Bettis on the sideline and he fumbled the rock. We need more of that! I believe this team has playmakers in our secondary and I am excited to watch them mature under this coaching staff!
GO C-HOUSE! Beat the Cats!
About the Author: Eliel Swinton [LSJU '97], aka "Coach E", is the founder of Carpe Diem Sports Academy (www.cpdsportsacademy.com), a CA-based program designed to change our communities by empowering our youth and families with leadership and life skills, nutrition, and athletic training. The Cardinal's "Most Outstanding Freshman" in 1993, Swinton started at all four secondary positions that year and went on to start a total of 30 games for the Cardinal from 1993-96 including the 1995 Liberty Bowl and the 1996 Sun Bowl at strong safety. This earned him the All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention honor as a senior in 1996, when he served as one of the team's tri-captains along with Josh Madsen and Brad "Bad Boy" Badger. Swinton later went on to co-star in MTV's hit 1999 football movie Varsity Blues as RB Wendell Brown. Questions or suggestions? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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