There weren’t very many defensive highlights to choose from this week. Two of them were interceptions with the defenders being in the right place when the ball fell into their arms. But I chose to look at a particular defensive play that Tech hasn’t seen too much during this carousel of defensive coordinators – a linebacker running through the correct gap and tackling the running back with good form in the backfield.
As much as I ragged on him for his late game gaffe at the goal line, Micah Awe made a great read, came downhill in a hurry and stopped the running back in his tracks for a loss.
This may be a somewhat unspectacular play, but in a game where the defense couldn’t buy a stop late in the game (this one happened in the 4th quarter), I will take what ever we can get.
It starts with Tech in a nickel formation, but we’re going to be focusing on the front 6, particularly the linebackers.
Pre-snap read for West Virginia should be that they should run against this defensive look from Tech with only 6 defenders in the box versus their 6 blockers and one ball carrier.
Tech then shows a blitz with middle linebacker running up to the line of scrimmage right before the ball is snapped. Also, the safety in the middle of the field (Keenon Ward, standing near the official on the 50) is dropping into the box. Also, the nickel coverage guy is well inside his man, favoring the inside towards the strength of the offensive formation. I’m sure this is what David Gibbs was trying to do, but in the pre-snap read, he shows WVU a light box with 6 defenders, but then drops two more defenders into the box to regain the numbers advantage. Which is rather ballsy, trying to trick the opposing offense into running the ball when the defense hasn’t been good (at all) at stopping the run.
Following the handoff, we see Micah Awe mirroring the running back’s movement towards the bottom of the screen shot. Awe is the defender at the 44 yard line headed towards the line of scrimmage. Demetrius Alston, the defensive tackle closest to Pete Robertson before the snap, attacks the outside of the offensive line, effectively taking himself out of the play. Breiden Fehoko is double teamed. The blitzing linebacker (who I believe is D’Vonta Hinton) is double teamed and knocked backwards. Branden Jackson is double teamed with the right tackle and the blocking tight end chipping him coming out of the backfield.
At this point, it’s difficult to see Awe, but he’s already behind the line of scrimmage. He followed the offensive linemen and the running back to where they opened up the running lane. When it opened with all of the double teams across the line, he ran through the hole and stopped the running back before he could cut upfield.
When Awe meets the running back, he doesn’t leave his feet or dive at the running back’s ankles. He wraps him up high and keeps driving his feet to stop the momentum of the running back. With his feet still moving and having grabbed a hold of the back, he’s able to drop him and fall on top of the back, ensuring he doesn’t somehow slip out of his grasp and make it upfield.
He finishes the tackle with the running back on his back and Awe squarely in control of their interaction. Awe then executes some weird celebration, which I’ve never been a big fan of his celebrations.
This is one of the 70-something run defenses Gibbs said he called and it worked out pretty well with a linebacker following the offensive linemen and running back’s cues to where the ball was headed, and then used a decently good technique tackle to ensure that once he met the running back he wasn’t getting away. Tech is going to need more of this kind of play from the senior linebacker in these last two games as both teams are sure to test the leaky Tech run defense.