Local Sports

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prep Football: McComb 'D' stepping up in postseason

staff writer

MCCOMB -- In the modern era of football, it's not easy playing defense.

Not easy to play, not easy to coach.

Between the variety of offensive formations, including spread offenses that put an emphasis on getting players the ball in space; rules that allow linemen to block downfield while the ball is in the air; and fans' delight in seeing up-tempo, high scoring games, today's football is an offensive coordinator's dream.

That might make what McComb has done this season even more special. The Panthers have recorded back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs and have six shutouts this season overall.

That defense will get another test Friday as McComb (12-0) plays Delphos St. John's (8-4) in a Division VI, Region 22 final at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Eric Brickman and assistant coach Chris Myers are the brains behind the Panthers' defense. And make no mistake, it's a cerebral approach they take to football.

We'll let McComb senior defensive end Michael Jones explain how breaking down game film and setting up a defensive game plan translates to success on the field. Last week in the Region 22 semis, McComb faced Tiffin Calvert and its 1,000-yard-plus beast of a running back, Daniel Kwiat.

Kwiat is a 6-foot fullback who goes about 235 pounds in full pads. He averaged 6 yards per carry this season. Against McComb, he managed all of 8 yards on 11 carries.

"The coaches set up a great game plan," Jones said after the Calvert game. "They noticed that Calvert never blocks the weakside defensive end, so they switched me from side to side to make sure I was able to run to the ball."

Jones was the Blanchard Valley Conference lineman of the year this season, so that's a pretty good weapon for Brickman and Myers to use. The other defensive lineman gummed up the holes for Kwiat to run through, leaving the Senecas' senior with two options: cut back to the weak side, or bounce outside.

Calvert's problem was Jones running free. On the cutback, he was there to greet Kwiat. Bounce it outside, and Jones used to his speed to cut down the Calvert back.

The result was a 42-0 McComb victory.

"We try to find what we call the invisible spot, a player that is not accounted for that we can hide," Brickman said. "Against Calvert, we found that spot for Mike Jones. Against Leipsic (a 20-19 win that sealed the outright BVC title and a 10-0 regular season), we found another spot."

Finding that spot takes time and a sharp set of eyes. Several sets, actually, as the McComb staff pours over film starting as soon as Saturday morning after a game. For this Friday's matchup with the Blue Jays, Brickman, Myers and the McComb staff broke down six games of film on St. John's. It's all on computer now, thanks to the Hudl software used by many football programs, but even in the post-film/tape days it still takes time to watch each play.

"We'll break down a couple of films before the boys get here on Saturday," Brickner said. "While they're lifting, we're breaking down film. Then, we'll watch the last game's film with the boys."

The goal is to have a plan in place for the Monday practice of a game week.

"Sometimes we might break down a game plan for five, six hours on Saturdays and maybe even come in for a couple of hours on Sunday," Myers said. "Throughout the week, we'll spend a couple of more hours making adjustments and try to tweak things. Sometimes, we won't like what we see in practice and we'll make some adjustments in the evenings for the next day's practice."

That happened last week. McComb had a practice at Donnell so the players could get the feel of playing on artificial turf, and Brickman and Myers felt a change was needed. Another coach called up the Hudl program on his cell phone, and Myers and Brickman sat in a car in the parking lot to make an adjustment to the defensive plan.

What the coaches want to do is give each player a specific task for each formation the opposing offense will use.

"We present it to them on Monday, what we want to call out of every formation," Myers said. "We try to go through every person and what their job is on every formation. Then, maybe, we'll talk about specific plays and adjustments off what their normal rules could be.

"We just try to make sure everyone knows their job in every formation. We are key on doing your job. You do your job, and your job only. You play within yourself. If we all do our jobs, all 11 of us, we will function. If one guy screws up their job, that one guy is the one who's accountable. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do on every play.

"It's 11 jobs that combine to make one big job, I guess you could say, of stopping an offense."

At Tuesday's practice, the defense will go full speed to put the plan in place. On Wednesdays, the coaches switch things up.

For instance, let's say Delphos St. John's ran 12 off-tackle plays in its last game and eight were to the right. On Wednesday, the McComb scout offense will run that play 12 times, but eight to the left so the defense won't be caught napping should the Blue Jays go the other way. On Thursday, the emphasis will be on stopping that play where St. John's likes to run it the most, to the right.

"The nice thing about having veteran players is, they recognize formations," Brickman said. "Against Calvert, we knew they had three plays they really like to run, and our guys were calling them out. 'Watch this one, this one and this one.'"

Talent, both coaches said, makes things easier as well.

"The nice thing is, we have some versatility with our guys this year," Brickman said. "We can ask Andrew Gibson to play middle linebacker, but if we need to jump him down to get a five-man front we can do that. We can move Jerry Brown around between safety and outside linebacker. (Safety) Dalton Buck can walk up and play outside linebacker when we need him to, too."

Remember, though, the other team has talent as well. Delphos St. John's junior running back Tyler Jettinghoff has 1,768 rushing yards this season for a reason.

"As a coach, if you think you have the best plan possible and the other team scores, sometimes you have to recognize that's going to happen," Myers said. "You always try, during games, to tweak and fix things. We always have a backup plan, a 'Plan B' or a 'Plan C' in place, because you don't want to be down on the sideline trying to draw things up on the fly. That's too late.

"In football, playmakers make plays. That's what they do. We try to limit big plays, but if those big plays happen, it's over. The game will go on. Maybe that big play doesn't get in the end zone, then we have another series and the balls not in the end zone yet."

Radick: 419-427-8405,


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