Defensive coordinator John Thompson called me on his way home Monday evening after a long day of game planning for South Alabama to take my questions about the team’s defense Saturday. Most of you probably saw it – 381 yards of offense, 229 rushing yards, no turnovers.
“It’s causing some ulcers on the sideline, on the plane ride home and as we game plan,” he said.
Per usual, he was helpful and honest. Some of his observations…
1. Old Dominion’s tempo of its no-huddle offense was tough to deal with. The Monarchs normally play no-huddle, but ratcheted up the pace to try to wear down the Panthers, and it worked. Thompson acknowledged Saturday that it had been a factor, but after watching film and talking to players, he realized it was even more of a factor than he’d originally thought.
2. No turnovers. Old Dominion had 14 possessions and the Panthers couldn’t turn them over on any, a break in pattern after they’d forced four in each of the past three games. Cornerback Jamal Ransby nearly had an interception he would have returned for a touchdown had he caught the ball and linebacker Louie Muasau forced a fumble the defense couldn’t recover. If Ransby had made that play, Georgia State would have been up 13-0. The fumble, at the end of the third quarter, was on a drive that ended in a touchdown. Two pretty big non-plays.
3. Didn’t win at the line of scrimmage. Thompson said the linemen didn’t win enough their matchups, just stalemating. The front seven didn’t get into the ODU backfield, which is why Georgia State only had three tackles for loss out of 81 plays. “We didn’t knock them back like we should have,” Thompson said.
It wasn’t a great day for the line. “Interior of the defense, we didn’t tackle well at all,” he said.
4. Thompson schemed conservatively, which is something he’s done for much of the season, because the cornerbacks are all freshmen. The Panthers have played to prevent big plays, which was successful Saturday. The longest play Old Dominion hit was a 23-yard run. Georgia State had at least five plays longer than that.
Old Dominion had come into the game averaging 278 passing yards per game and had 152 yards Saturday despite throwing it 38 times. (Of course, the Monarchs also far exceeded their rushing average.)
Thompson said that he’s resisted committing eight men to the box because he wants to protect the corners. It serves its purpose, but at the same time it makes it that much harder to stop the run.
Thompson said that in game planning, secondary coach Anthony Midget said that “the training wheels have got to come off the secondary.”
5. The defensive line hasn’t gotten it done enough. Thompson conceded that “we’ve been inconsistent up front.” (Consider this about GSU’s three starting defensive linemen – Kalan Jenkins was a tight end in junior college and at GSU’s spring practice before switching positions. Christo Bilukidi and Khiry Karriem both joined the team in August.
So it’s not exactly a surprise that this has happened.
While the season is now eight games old and it’s hard to hear about the Panthers being a first-year team, I’d think the defensive line could use that as a legitimate explanation as much as any unit, though Thompson has said the defense is playing faster.
I sort of think of it’s like learning to drive. At first, you have to think about looking in the rearview or turning on the turn signal to change lanes. Eventually, it becomes second nature. I get the picture that that’s what it’s kind of like learning a new scheme.
I think, as is often the case, it’s not one thing, but a lot of things. What do you think?