by Kevin Bruce
This season has brought many an opportunity to examine and critique Coach Wilcox and his preparations, schemes and game calls. Many times I have pointed how lacking this overall defense has been in any number of areas. It’s now time to give some serious props to Wilcox. This was an excellent game plan drawn up in some respects with nothing to lose and the results were jaw-dropping. I’ll not dwell on the obvious like what took so long etc. as this is counterproductive and not insightful. Let’s just say that Necessity is the Mother of Invention and leave it at that. Stanford will require a new game plan but we’ll get into that subject later on.
Our defense was the base 3-4 Hybrid with man-up CB and mostly man coverage with safety(s). In prior weeks I’ve reported about halves (safeties) and quarters and thirds (CBs and safeties). We’ve run this basic coverage before but how we applied it yesterday was very different from any prior week. A tip ‘o the hat to Wilcox btw as he went heavy on Cover One with real man-through coverage with Su’a (I’ll explain later). Wilcox came up with an assignment specific defense with line twists (yeah!!!). Su’a was deployed against the most dangerous slot back threat (Duarte) with man coverage combined with inside read in case of run. Su’a was responsible for Duarte anytime there was a single or double slot set. This means that Su’a had Duarte wherever he went…period. Simple and straight forward. Wilcox used Su’a in a very sophisticated way and this was extraordinarily effective even against the touchdown that Duarte caught that was still good man coverage but a great throw and catch. Su’a really helped himself with the many NFL scouts during this game.
Wilcox also dialed up multiple safety blitzes using mostly Hawkins disguised to look a lot like corner blitzes. He actually called three in a row at one point. Wow! We also called and ran purposefully a line twist and it blew my mind. And of all player combinations available we used our two slowest guys on defense and still netted a sack of Rosen (Woods and Felix). Tears were welling up in my eyes!! Seeing Porter Gustin start at Rush End told me we were serious about putting the right people on the field to win the football game…excellent.
The defensive game plan concept was not just to take away the run game against UCLA but also to move Rosen around and give him different looks, whack him a bit and rattle his cage. His inexperience showed finally and he cracked under the pressure…this time. He is a very good QB btw and we’ll have to deal with him for the next few years. But for now he got schooled and he still hasn’t yet figured it out,” They didn’t do anything different. It’s just disappointing. I didn’t play like myself. It’s really frustrating. I just didn’t execute.” Yes true that you didn’t execute but Rosen saw things he was not prepared for and that is also good defense. I will also tell you that for a defense that is really fun to play all out with a focused scheme that is man-up time.
This game was a story about some redemption too for quite a few players. Nwosu who was relegated to second tier last week had a team tying six tackles (AJ had six too). Green showed what a freshman can do…again, Pelon is really strong and disruptive and Townsend played like I thought he could. And then there is Biggie. I was so happy for him…look he still needs help at CB and is probably a better safety or even a Su’a type OLB and he still is the go to CB by opposing QB’s. But he broke Rosen 237 attempts without a pick and got two not just one. Outstanding and please enjoy as CB is a tough position to play in isolation.
There were a lot of interesting stats but consider these: UCLA 3rd/4th down conversion rate of 33% (5 of 15) contrasted to our eye popping 10 of 21, 4th quarter TOP of 13:45 vs. UCLA’s 1:15, +3 turnovers net/gross, three sacks to UCLA’s one and one scoop-n-score. That is a great day.
Ok, there were some oops showing as well. Most notably our tackling and snap explosion. We get tired and our tackling really goes downhill. Similarly when tired we just don’t get off the ball worth a darn. This is problematic against ‘Furd as they live off missed tackles and tired teams…like back in September in the Coliseum. Also Woods’s pec/shoulder problems are showing up in missed tackles. He’s giving all he has but you can see he is suffering some and playing without all the upper body strength he obviously has. Too late in the season to heal up so offsetting him and drive thru/across the center or OG is a good solution.
So what about Stanford? It starts with the fact that they are the best team in the Pac-12. We all know they play 60 minutes and through the whistle. They are very well coached and prepared. They are tough and committed to TOP and smash mouth with opportunistic QB play. They screen better than anybody I’ve seen and they can handle tough games as well as any team in the country. Key question: What is Wilcox going to scheme up? If it were me 1) I look at Hogan as an older Rosen type QB who likes to keep his feet planted so you got to move him 2) find McCafferey 3) Rector on Biggie is a mis-match…watch out! 4) attack and disrupt and then expect a screen pass 5) Su’a on the TE but watch the slot back. I’m pretty sure were not going to get the TOP mis-match that we just saw against UCLA and Cody is going to have to put it up more. But keep Cody under center more and play power football. Simplify again and attack with upfield pressure and man coverage. Be assured that Stanford has a multi-set answer with delays, screens and rub routes ready to go so let’s get ready ourselves and see if Hogan can have another career day against us…I don’t think so. Fight On!
Kevin Bruce played linebacker at USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA.