If one link in the chain breaks, it doesn’t matter how strong the rest of the chain is, especially when that chain’s design isn’t as solid as originally thought.
The Cajuns have learned that lesson the hard way in the past couple weeks, as their pass defense has been shredded in blowout losses to Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech thanks not only to a soft defensive scheme, but poor execution of it.
“Most of the time we were out of position,” senior inside linebacker Trae Johnson said. “Not doing what we are supposed to do. If one person messes up, the person behind them or to the side of him thinks he has to compensate for what’s going wrong.”
It’s not as if the Cajuns get a respite this weekend either, as they will face a Boise State squad that features a high-volume passing attack that is averaging 285 yards through the air.
The Cajuns know they have to remedy the problem in a hurry, and that’s why coach Mark Hudspeth is altering his defensive scheme for the first time this season.
Hudspeth already made one switch to his lineup, moving senior Trevence Patt from strong safety to a starting cornerback spot in place of Dominick Jones. But Hudspeth also hinted that there will be some schematic changes coming soon.
“The No. 1 thing we’ve got to improve on is coverage in the back end,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to tighten that up. We changed some things we’re doing, not just with personnel, but we changed a few of our techniques … to tighten that up and be in better position to battle for balls.
“I just thought we were way too soft and (gave) way too much cushion this last week.”
The main reason for the soft cushion was that the Cajuns did not want to get beat over the top. The idea was to provide deep coverage with the secondary, while covering the underneath with the linebacker unit, forcing opposing quarterbacks to drop a ball beneath two layers of coverage.
But, as Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace proved with nearly 300 first-half passing yards last week, that plan wasn’t working. Hudspeth said by cutting down on the cushion, players will have more opportunity to be aggressive and make plays on the ball in the secondary.
That won’t matter if the linebacker unit continues to make errors in coverage, however.
“A lot of the space created was not just the secondary, it was the linebackers,” Hudspeth said. “Underneath coverage was really poor. I felt like our linebacker drops were the poorest they’d been this year. We’re not on our landmarks, which opens up underneath passing.”
The theme this week?
“Do your job.”
It goes beyond the literal meaning of a player being where he’s supposed to be. It also serves as a reminder of the sole responsibility of a specific player to do his job and not to try to pick up someone else’s slack.
Junior linebacker Dominique Tovell said it’s natural for players to try to fill the gaps where others fail, but doing so creates larger problems.
“That takes you out of focus on what you’ve got to do, then when you’re trying to do their job, you’re messing up on your job at the same time,” Tovell said. “So you’re just making a bigger gap instead of doing what you’re told. It gets worse from there.”