Change in Defensive Scheme Pays Off


by - Correspondent -
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BOISE, Idaho - Reggie Herring's defensive switch to a 3-4 look and full-time
nickel package paid huge dividends in Clemson's 49-24 Humanitarian Bowl win
Monday, even if it didn't fool Louisiana Tech or show up in the final stats.


Faced with the knowledge that the Bulldogs averaged 42 pass attempts and 313
passing yards per game, Herring - the Tigers' defensive coordinator - decided
to pull a defensive lineman from the starting lineup and add an additional
outside linebacker in hopes of better covering Tech's four and five wide
receiver sets.


And though the Bulldogs ultimately threw for 401 yards on a Clemson secondary
giving up 226 yards per game coming into Monday, the numbers are somewhat
deceiving:


At the end of the third quarter with Clemson ahead 42-10, Tech quarterback
Luke McCown had completed 15-of-32 passes for 188 yards and thrown two
interceptions. He would throw one more pick in the fourth quarter and leave
after being sacked six times by the Clemson defense.


McCown and backup quarterback Maxie Causey combined to throw for 213 yards
against Clemson's second-team secondary in the fourth quarter.


"Somebody asked me coming off the field why we didn't play this scheme all
year," Herring said. "Well, in the regular season we didn't face anybody who
threw the ball as much as they did. We faced teams that ran more two-back set
and came right at you, ran play-action and things like that, and this scheme
isn't what you want against that type of offense.


"But we ran it some against South Carolina when they went to the shotgun and
confused them a bit, and it worked again today. It's basically getting better
athletes in space for coverage, being able to keep fresh defensive linemen
that we could roll in every three plays or so."


"It wasn't surprising. We anticipated them playing that kind of scheme," La.
Tech head coach Jack Bicknell said. "Teams usually end up playing us that
way. We play that way ourselves."


Regardless, the scheme was successful in all areas. By disguising coverages
and blitz packages, Herring was able to keep McCown off balance and, more
importantly, keep La. Tech's big plays to a minimum.


It also provided one final, somewhat surprising, moment in the sun for
beleaguered senior linebacker Braxton K. Williams.


After failing to hold both a linebacker slot and star safety position earlier
this season, Williams had been relegated to special teams play. He wasn't
even listed on the two-deep chart for the Humanitarian Bowl.


But three days of solid practice in Boise vaulted Williams into the starting
spot ahead of freshman Eric Sampson, and he responded in a big way: Williams
finished with seven total tackles (three unassisted), two for losses totaling
13 yards, and a 10-yard sack of McCown.


"It's a great example of a kid not ever quitting, not getting down or
disgruntled," Herring said. "I couldn't be happier for anybody else on this
team. I was happy to see him go out the way he did."


As was Williams himself.


"It's easy to quit, but I have a motto: Handle anything put on your
shoulders," Williams said. "I pretty much knew if I stayed humble God was
going to work it out and give me another opportunity to prove myself."

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