September 13, 2011
Coach Jones defending his defense
For the first time in Tennessee Volunteer football two receivers notched double-digit passes in the same game.
Past UT receivers include Alvin Harper, Cedric Wilson, Peerless Price, Robert Meachem, and Carl Pickens. Never before.
Is UC Head Football Coach Butch Jones able to explain the defensive breakdowns? What happened? Can it be fixed this season? Are the current starters capable of improving?
Mental errors vexed UC more than physical mistakes. Specific problems in the secondary should be resolved with player-coach interaction.
"We practice in phase and out of phase," said Coach Jones. "We go man coverage and we're out of phase and we look back for the football instead of going through and racking the ball out with the arm which we practice on a day-to-day basis. Those are the things through repetition and learning, that's the only way you get better. We don't have the luxury that if he doesn't make the play, we bring the next guy in. we have to do a better job as coaches of coaching the fundamentals. I told our players today, if you don't understand anything, we are teachers. There's a difference between teachers and presenters. Anybody can go up and present, but it's the teachers that have pupils who understand why they're doing things. I told our players that if they don't understand the fine details, ask questions. We do so much with mental and video tests that I think it's just a combination. This is where you rely on the maturity and leadership. We have good leadership on both sides of the football."
In the post-game press conference defensive tackle Derek Wolfe hinted at a serious problem.
"I think we were a little too disciplined in the way we were playing as far as our reads," said Wolfe. "They were doing a lot of play action and giving us a hard run play. When you come off in a run fit it is hard to get a pass rush going. We tried to correct it, but it didn't come together."
In the intervening days the defensive coaches addressed the problem. It is more than tinnkering though. Minds have to absorb even more information, instincts need to adapt.
"There are a number of times when we're in palms coverage or flow coverage, where we have the flat covered," said Coach Jones. "We sunk on it. Like I said, their scheme is very challenging because they run what's called a sprint-draw action. The sprint-draw messes with your linebackers reads because he has a hold in the box for the sprint-draw and you teach your linebackers and your secondary to read the hats of the linemen. When you have a sprint-draw, the hats are the same, whether it's a play-action pass or a drop-back pass. It really challenges your football intelligences."
The "sinking" cornerbacks clearly affected their coverage. Countless times ordinarily-stellar Camerron Cheatham dropped off Justin Hunter allowing for an unimpeded catch and initial step.
A depressing statistic drawn from the UC-UT boxscore is DB tackles. Drew Frey and Wesley Richardson combined for 16 tackles. The Bearcat corners amassed 21 tackles. Way, way too many.
CB Cheatham and SS Richardson set career-highs for tackles. Nickelback Chris Williams played very well, helping Battle several times.
On the other side of the field Dominique Battle returned. It was his first game action since 9/11/10. Battle played the run well. He even forced a fumble on backup running back Marlin Lane.
Unfortunately Battle's coverage mirrored Cheatham's. Too often Da'Rick Rogers created a five yard halo as the pass arrived. To be fair Rogers was a top ten player in the Class of 2010, but Battle has the most experience on UC.
Rogers' success demonstrated a surprising talent gap between UT's wideouts and Cincinnati's defensive backs.
"I'll tell you they're as talented of a group as I've seen in a long period of time," said Coach Jones. "When we prepare for teams, we talk to coaches and we knew coming into the game that Tennessee possessed probably one of the top two or three offensive lines in the entire conference. That was a very skilled unit. I thought bray was a great quarterback going into the game. They have great backs that run extremely hard. They possess many challenges. Their scheme plays to the strength of their football team and offensive line with all the different play actions they give you. I think they're going to win their share of football games. They're a very talent group."
Now that Tennessee is in the rearview mirror UC fans could care less how many games Tennessee will win. Coach Jones and the football team are looking forward. They don't have the luxury of speculation, but fans and writers have to wonder will Cincinnati win their share of football games?
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