On Saturday we saw Georgia Tech defeat the Miami Hurricanes 28-21 in overtime to pick up their second win of the season. It was an ugly game in which the Jackets struggled on special teams, committed a season-high nine penalties, and failed to convert a 3rd down in the entire first half. On the positive side, the defense buckled down and held Miami to zero second-half points to keep Tech in the game. In overtime, the Jackets took the lead on a Jordan Mason touchdown and the defense came up with one more stop to secure the victory and earn Geoff Collins his first ACC win as a head coach. A key part of Tech’s defense on Saturday was one of the rising stars in the Jackets’ secondary, redshirt sophomore DB Tre Swilling.
Swilling played man coverage for most of the game Saturday, and with the exception of a couple penalties, was able to shut down whoever lined up opposite him. On the play below, the Jackets bring six defenders on a blitz, leaving all the cornerbacks (including Swilling who is lined up at the top of the frame) in man coverage. Swilling stays squared up to the receiver until he commits to either side (in this case to the inside) and then stays on him like glue for the entire route. He uses just the right amount of contact to stay on top of the receiver without committing a penalty and stays strong as the receiver tries to gain separation before making his break around the 25-yard line. As the pass comes in he makes a great diving play to swat the ball down and force 4th down.
Technique is extremely important for a cornerback, but sometimes it just takes raw athleticism to make a play. On the play below, Miami attempts to run a screen to the outside wide receiver while the slot receiver blocks Swilling. On the snap we see Swilling initially backpedal and then instantly plant his foot and burst forward when he sees the outside receiver drop back for the screen. The slot receiver never even lays a finger on him and can only watch as Swilling blows the play up in the backfield for a 3-yard loss.
Man Coverage in the Endzone
Swilling made a huge play in the 4th Quarter when the Hurricanes threw a fade route his way on 3rd & goal. Once again, Swilling does a great job of staying squared up until the receiver makes his break, in this case to the outside. He does a tremendous job using his hands to prevent the receiver from gaining separation and stays on top of him the whole time. When Swilling sees the receiver turn back to locate the ball in the air, he turns his own head to find it as well (something Tech cornerbacks have struggled mightily with over the years). He spots the ball just in time and leaps at the last second to swat the ball away, bringing up 4th down.
One of the downsides to Swilling’s aggressive coverage style is that he’s going to draw a fair amount of penalties. On this 3rd down play inside the 10-yard line, Swilling gets caught using his hands a little too much. It’s clear he feels much more comfortable when he’s got his hands on the receiver, and twice we see him fully extend an arm in an attempt to disrupt the receiver's route. While I’m completely in favor of aggressive cornerback play (something that’s been lacking for years on the Flats), this was an unnecessary penalty on a play that probably would have been incomplete anyway. The penalty extended Miami’s drive and ultimately allowed them to score a touchdown. I’m not too concerned though, and as Swilling grows as a cornerback we should see mistakes like this less and less often.
Tre Swilling is a great defender, and he seems to be getting better each week. He has the perfect combination of athleticism and instincts, and he’s without a doubt one of the best defensive players on the team. If he can continue to excel in coverage and work on minimizing penalties, it seems perfectly reasonable to think he has a potential future in the NFL. For now, the Jackets have five more games on the 2019 schedule, and they’ll need Swilling to continue to step up big if they’re going to win more games this season.