Opinion by George O’Bryan –
In his “Leave No Doubt” speech, Coach Stewart told his players they had to hit harder and play faster. On Saturday against Alabama, the defense played faster, but they did not hit harder.
Prior to the Alabama game we heard both coaches Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley state that they were concerned about tackling, and it was an issue in the Alabama game.
During the coaching interviews after the Alabama game, I heard coaches Tony Gibson, Tom Bradley, and Ron Crook all talk about players being out of position and playing out of control.
They also pointed out missed tackles. Players miss tackles when they simply grab and hold-on to the ball carrier.
On this day WVU’s tackling reminded me of a square dance, because the WVU defense would grab an Alabama player and then 3 or 4 WVU defenders would join him while they danced down field for sometimes 15 or more yards with the Alabama ball carrier. The WVU defense had very few big hits in this game.
There was also the pushing of Alabama ball carriers out of bounds. How many of you remember the LSU game where they scored a touchdown on special teams because WVU players unsuccessfully kept trying to push the LSU player out-of-bounds? That kind of tackling is hard to watch.
Tackling is about hitting with the body, wrapping your arms around the guy, and driving him back. This is not a square dance or patty-cake game, and if this is how you tackle then go sit on the end of the bench, guard the water bucket and tackle anyone who comes near it. When the game is over you can honestly tell people you played end, guard and tackle in that game.
Since high school these players have heard “maintain your lanes”. You hear sports announcers frequently state “you can’t give up the outside”. And WVU’s defense gave up the outside to Alabama by not maintaining their lanes.
The lack of sacks was primarily due to playing out of control. It is important to play fast, but when you play too fast you are playing out of control. That puts you out of position to make a play.
When Alabama motioned to its left, then countered to the right, the ball carrier moved back with the motion to the left. Three WVU defenders were too close together, and when one reacted 2 others went with him. They were not close to making the tackle, and Alabama ended up with a huge gain. At least two of the 3 WVU defenders were out of position. That is playing out of control.
No coach can teach a player everything. Good play comes from good instincts. I can promise you no one taught Tavon Austin how to run the ball like he does. This is all Tavon. Coaches can only teach a player so much, and then the rest is up to the individual player.
During a game the defense, even more than the offense, has to adapt and over-come to be successful. It is up those players to find ways to counter what the offense is doing. Good defensive players, no matter their position, have learned to adapt and overcome shifts by the opponent. That is also true for the offensive line.
When Coach Stewart stated “Don’t Leave Your Wing-man,” this is exactly what WVU’s defense did when it failed to maintain its lanes.
To improve, WVU’s defense must do the following:
- Maintain your lanes
- Play under control
- Use proper tackling techniques (or take square dancing lessons)
- Pay attention to players coming out of the offensive backfield to avoid holes in the defense.
- Never allow the opponent to get behind you.
- Stop thinking and just play the way you’ve been taught.
- The bottom line is, learn to adapt and overcome.