In an attempt to counteract the hurry-up offensive style favored by Indiana, several Virginia defensive players will be responsible for knowing the game plan well enough to adjust coverage and schematic calls on the fly, Defensive Coordinator Jim Reid said Wednesday.
Virginia Coach Mike London explained this week that the Hoosiers often will head to the line of scrimmage as soon as the previous play ends. The goal is to fluster the opposing defense and prevent the defense from making desired substitutions. Once at the line of scrimmage, Indiana’s offensive players look to their sideline for the play call from coaches who have had a chance to see the opposing defense’s personnel and how it initially lined up.
But in limited dosages late last season and more attentively during spring practice, the Cavaliers prepared to face spread offenses – such as the one Indiana employs – by asking some of their key defensive contributors to learn the defensive scheme well enough that they could alter calls in a hurry at the line of scrimmage based on factors like down, distance, the opposing offense’s formation and opposing wide receiver splits.
Reid said the introduction of this tactical measure is part of a larger push by the entire coaching staff this season to make the players claim more ownership of their team. Before the start of training camp in August, Reid said he had simplified the defense too much for the players last season and that he wanted to challenge them more this fall. This approach fits into that objective, as well.
“You can kind of massage it into different offenses and different calls, different formations and different tempos,” Reid said. “I’m excited to watch the players do this. Actually, there were a couple of times we did this last weekend (against William & Mary). One time with great success, another time with moderate success. But I think the players like it. It makes it a little bit more intriguing and fun for them.”
At one point during the William & Mary game, Reid said, a few of the defensive players recognized a certain split by the Tribe wide receivers that the players thought indicated something to which the opposing offense might be susceptible. The players adjusted the original scheme call to one that would have an extra defender blitz. Consequently, Reid said, Virginia ended up with a pass rush that chased the William & Mary quarterback out of the pocket and forced him to throw the ball out of bounds.
In another instance, cornerback Chase Minnifield and strong safety Rodney McLeod changed the Cavaliers out of a coverage call that, Reid said, “would have put us in a little bit of a risk.” Minnifield and McLeod adjusted the call, and although the Tribe ended up completing a pass on that play, the gain was not enough to achieve a first down.
“One of the players did not get the (adjusted) call, and I think we would have had a sack if everybody had gotten it,” Reid said. “But it was a good experience. I think we’ll employ that quite a bit this weekend.”
Among the players who have been tasked with the responsibility and authority to adjust the defense’s scheme or coverage call at the line of scrimmage are Minnifield, McLeod, middle linebacker Steve Greer, weak-side linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, free safety Corey Mosley, and defensive tackles Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath. If Indiana opts into an Oregon-like hurry-up offense mode, those Virginia players – all veterans – will be charged with helping the Cavaliers defense adapt. Quickly.
Reid said the coaches had discussed during spring practice and into the summer the possibility of having certain defensive players wear wristbands with schemes and coverages to switch to under specific circumstances typed on them.
“But,” Reid said, “inevitably what happens is you make a call from the sideline and people are looking at their wristbands while the ball is snapped. That usually does not produce a good result.”
So the players will have to depend on their own recall of the game plan.
“We’ve been preparing for this for quite a while,” Reid said. Indiana “most likely won’t be the last team that we face (that uses) the spread offense.”