Author’s note: The format of these articles was getting a bit stale, so I’m trying something a bit different this week... and also trying to get slightly more in tune with the whole Woody’s Roundup theme. The first portion of this article is the same as usual, but after that things will look a bit different.
When a team’s offense runs up 59 points, the defense usually doesn’t have to work too hard to secure a win (the entire history of the Big XII notwithstanding). That was the case for the Jackets on Friday, and as a bonus, the defense even threw the offense a bone by forcing and recovering two fumbles and adding a touchdown of its own. The bad news is that they allowed nearly 500 yards of offense, and the peripherals weren’t the most promising... but the good news is that they caused a bit of havoc and ultimately did enough to give Tech a comfortable road win.
Week 6 vs. Louisville: Defense by the Numbers
|Points per Possession||2.8|
|Total Yards Allowed||483|
|Rush Yards Allowed||113|
|Opp. Yards per Carry||4.9|
|Pass Yards Allowed||370|
|Opp. Yards per Attempt||8.4|
|Opp. Yards per Play||7.2|
|Third Down Conversions||7/12|
|Fourth Down Conversions||2/3|
The raw stats are... not great. It’s true that Louisville racked up a lot of yards while in catch-up mode, and the entire fourth quarter was essentially garbage time. But there’s no real way to spin 4.9 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per attempt as positives. The latter figure is especially concerning given that Louisville quarterback Jawon Puma Pass (which admittely is a very cool name for a QB, but did anyone else find it weird how the announcers constantly referred to him as Puma Pass rather than just by his last name?) missed several throws to wide-open receivers even when he wasn’t under pressure.
For the second straight week, Tech forced only one three-and-out, though it’s worth noting that both of UL’s fumbles happened within the first three plays of those possessions. On that positive note, for the second straight week, Tech forced three turnovers, one of which went for a defensive touchdown (the Juanyeh Thomas pick six in the final minutes). The other two turnovers led to Tech touchdowns on the ensuing possessions.
The actual havoc rate was lower than it probably felt as the game played out. The biggest reason for that is that QB hurries are left out of the calculation, simply because they are somewhat subjective and are tallied very inconsistently from game to game (think errors in baseball—sometimes it’s simply at the scorer’s discretion). If, however, we include the seven QB hurries that Tech was credited with in the official box score, then the havoc rate jumps from 13.4% to 23.9%. The stuff rate, meanwhile, was low; excluding sacks, Tech held UL to no gain or a loss on just three of 21 carries.
Deputies of the Week
DE Anree Saint-Amour
Saint-Amour had perhaps his best game of the season and may well be a fixture in the accolades section the rest of the way. The senior lineman tied for the team lead with six tackles and had a brutal blind-side sack to end a Louisville drive in the third quarter:
It isn’t the greatest example of a pass rush, as the left tackle forces him to the outside a bit, but he’s able to get around the left tackle using his speed. Nose tackle Brandon Adams forces the quarterback to take a step back in the pocket, and he steps right into Saint-Amour’s path.
Saint-Amour was also credited with two forced fumbles. It’s honestly not 100% clear who forced either fumble—replays suggested it might instead have been David Curry on the first and Brandon Adams on the second—but in both cases, the ball popped out while Saint-Amour was bringing down the ballcarrier.
OLB Charlie Thomas
The Jackets may have finally found their answer at Jack linebacker. Thomas bounced between safety, wide receiver, and Stinger linebacker before finally ending up at Jack LB, and he has been a breath of fresh air at the position. The true freshman is a bit undersized for the position—he’s listed at 203 pounds—but he has room to grow. More importantly, Thomas already looks like a natural as an edge rusher in terms of speed and awareness, and he executed several stunts perfectly in the early part of the game to give himself a clear lane to the passer. One of them came on Louisville’s second possession, in which Thomas (#45, lined up across from the right tackle) also recovered a fumble:
In the first part of the play, Thomas is rushing and hitting the QB as he throws; a few seconds later, he’s suddenly over at the ballcarrier and alertly dives on the ball when it comes loose. It’s a fantastic hustle play from the freshman, who dominated playing time at Jack LB on Friday and appears to have locked up the starting job. He still needs to work on the coverage responsibilities of the position, but being a former defensive back, that should be easier for him to pick up with time.
Stinky Pete’s Special
It sometimes feels unfair to call out or mock a specific player for making a bad play. After all, these are relatively young guys playing a challenging game. But when it’s the entire defense combining for one massive derpfest against a backup quarterback at the end of a blowout win...
...at that point it’s probably fair to laugh. Sure, maybe it’s emblematic of the tackling woes that have plagued this team for ages, but this was really just one of those plays where everything went comically wrong all at once against a very elusive runner. Plus the drive ended with a pick six, so it wasn’t all bad in the end.
Woody’s Finest Hour
Stunts were the flavor of the week, and defensive coordinator Nate Woody used them left and right throughout the game. That they factored so heavily into the gameplan was the good news. The bad news is that it was, for the most part, one simple stunt that got used over and over again: an outside linebacker (usually the Jack, but sometimes the Stinger) rushing off the edge but quickly cutting inside in hopes of finding a clear lane between the guard and center. It’s the play shown earlier where Charlie Thomas rushed the QB and then recovered a fumble several yards away.
The success of the stunts is reflected somewhat in Louisville’s overall offensive success rate (percentage of plays where they got 50% of the yards needed on first down, 80% on second down, and 100% on third down). Over the Cardinals’ first three drives, during which they struggled to protect against the OLB stunts, they had a success rate of just 20.0%. Their offensive line eventually adjusted, and for the remainder of the game, their success rate was 50.9%.
Stunts weren’t the only thing that Woody threw at the Cardinals. He also mixed in boundary corner blitzes and, on a couple occasions, a house blitz. That worked spectacularly in the second quarter:
All four linebackers blitz on this play, with the defensive backs in man coverage on the receivers and tight end. The playcall is a screen pass to the running back, which is designed to punish overly aggressive blitzes... but the clever twist is that Thomas—lined up on the near side off left tackle—is actually marking the running back, and he breaks off his blitz to cover the back as the play develops. Between overwhelming pressure and the target being covered, Pass has no choice but to throw it away.
Woody’s Darkest Hour
Woody continues to lean heavily on Cover 3 packages that require one or both outside corners to cover a deep third of the field, leading the corners to often line up 6-7 yards off the line. The issue on Friday—which is not exactly new—is that all the non-deep zones are at medium depth near the marker, leaving nobody to cover the flats or anything short over the middle. Normally, the medium-zone defenders are at least close enough to converge on a short pass to make a quick tackle. The fact that they’re conceding the catch is frustrating, but they can at least prevent any yards after the catch.
But there’s a limit to what is reasonable, and this is beyond that limit:
This is a third and 10 play—from the second quarter, long before the game got out of hand—in which only the three defensive linemen are within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. On third and 10. There are also three players covering deep offscreen. None of the players near the line to gain backpedaled at the snap, so the strategy seemed to have been: concede any short pass underneath and just stop him from reaching the marker.
It didn’t work, because Louisville didn’t even pass. They ran HB dive, and with the OL having a numbers advantage up front and time to line up blocks downfield, the running back picked up 12 yards.
- True freshman Juanyeh Thomas has seen only limited time at free safety behind Malik Rivera, but he made the most of it in this one. Thomas jumped a route in the red zone in the fourth quarter and ran it back 95 yards untouched, picking up his first career touchdown and giving Tech their final score of the game.
- Inside linebacker Brant Mitchell recorded his second havoc play of the season, stretching out to tip away a would-be touchdown pass in the second quarter.
- Tre Swilling and Jaytlin Askew each had a nice play in the game. On Louisville’s third possession, Askew made a great tackle to stop a receiver a yard short of the marker on third down, forcing a punt. A couple possessions later, Swilling rushed on a boundary corner blitz and, seeing the QB start to throw, jumped up and swatted the pass away. Askew was beaten a couple of times, and Swilling still needs to work on turning his hips properly to follow routes, but the duo have been Tech’s best corners overall despite their youth and should improve with time.
- One stunt variant appeared when Tech was in its dime package and had David Curry, the lone linebacker in the formation, cut around lineman Antwan Owens during his rush. As a bonus, Tech lined up in man coverage on the play with only free safety Malik Rivera in a deep zone. Unfortunately, it backfired and Pass found a receiver for a 34-yard score on a corner route.
- Charlie Thomas, senior Victor Alexander, and walk-on Josh Tukes were the only players to line up at Jack LB. It’s possible that true freshman Jordan Domineck will ultimately redshirt after playing Jack LB in the first four games. The same could be true for sophomore Jaquan Henderson, but Henderson was listed in this week’s participation report and might remain active on special teams.