Four ways to Friday: What USF's defense must do vs. Navy
Since USF's 46-30 loss at Temple last Friday, criticism of the Bulls defense has been upgraded from steady to scathing.
Depending on whom you ask, the Bulls can't tackle, fill gaps, shed blocks or all of the above. Everything and everyone, from the coordinator (Raymond Woodie) to the scheme (4-2-5 base alignment), have been skewered. In the unscrupulous dimension of cyberspace, the Bull Sharks have been repeatedly harpooned by anonymous critics.
So what must Woodie's unit do to redeem itself against No. 22 Navy? How can the beleaguered Bulls neutralize the most coldly efficient triple-option in America?
We don't profess to have the exact answers. If we did, we'd be calling plays instead of chronicling them. But based on what we've observed (often in repeated viewings) and have been told (by coaches and players), the following areas must be rectified.
1. Stay in the gaps. You hear the term "gap integrity" a lot when it comes to the Bulls, and for the most part, they possess it. The problem arrives when the Bulls get blown out of a gap (by a double-team, blocking fullback, etc.).
Check out the :40 mark of this USF-Temple highlight reel and watch how Owls FB Nick Sharga simply bulldozes his way through USF's second level. Bottom line: It's one thing to be in a gap, but another to stay there. Friday against Navy (which also employs a fullback), the Bulls must find a way to shed blocks or have someone in the gap.
How? Switching to a linebacker-heavy formation and loading the box are two options. We think they'll do both.
2. Don't lose on cuts. Few teams in the country subsist on cut blocking (taking a defensive player down at the knees), and no one does it as effectively as Navy. This poses an obvious problem to USF, and most everyone else for that matter: How do you replicate it in practice?
You can try to simulate it with your scout team, but can those guys really do it like Navy? And how much preseason practice time should be devoted to it when few opponents do it extensively?
"We don't allow guys to cut our starters," Coach Willie Taggart said. "But sometimes we've got to practice cutting, so we protect ourselves."
What Taggart and Co. likely have done is show tape -- ad nauseum -- of how to repel cut blocking: Eyes on the defender, arms extended, ground given to avoid the block.
3. Play with energy. The Bulls' collective listlessness was, by far, their most inexcusable deficiency at Temple. Players are guaranteed only 12 games a year, with anything beyond that gravy. Twelve games. Nothing short of a serious personal off-field matter pardons sluggishness.
Credit MLB Auggie Sanchez -- the defensive captain -- for owning up to the shortcoming on behalf of his team ("We didn't play with passion, and that's on us," he said). Look for the Bulls to be juiced Friday, and look for Woodie to remain on the sideline (instead of the coaches box) to get in a face or two when needed.
4. Tackle, tackle, tackle. While the first three items can be effectively addressed, tackling has been a chronic issue for this team all season. Can the Bulls suddenly starting wrapping up and taking down with authority against the Midshipmen?
Yes, but a lot depends on how well they execute Item 1 on this list. "A lot of it comes with getting in position to make the tackle," Taggart said.
"But it is tougher now, but you can't make the tackle if you're not in position to make the tackle, or if you're not spilling to your teammate to where the help is coming from. So I think our guys can do a better job of filling their gaps and doing their assignment from that standpoint so we can all gang tackle and not have the one-on-one tackles."