If I’m not mistaken, those are called “interceptions”. And from what I hear, when you catch them out of the air, your team gets to keep the ball. Right there. On the spot.
Projecting that forward, say our team were to do that in our opponent’s territory. The opposing QB tosses the ball in the air, and we catch it (not the wide receivers or tight ends on the other team – one of our players catches it). The way I’ve been told, we would get the ball right there in their territory. Think of the possibilities here! Instead of needing to drive 79 yards for a score, we might only have to drive 29 yards. And – AND – after you catch it, you can run with it. As far as you want until someone tackles you! Amazing!!
This… this could be life changing. If this gets out, it could quite literally change our won-loss record next year – for the better. You know, this really should have been Point #1.
Point #11: Interceptions
Four hundred nine minutes and nineteen seconds. I know that stat off the top of my head. In the middle of the 2008 season, we went 409:19 spanning 7 games without an interception. A bend-but-don’t-break defense that supposedly feeds off creating turnovers… and 6 interceptions that entire season. Good for 113th place out of 119 teams. So surely we’d get that turned around in 2009, right? Change the scheme a bit, hope for a little luck, grab some INT’s, get back on track? Nope. 5 interceptions. Dropped to 117th (tied for dead last).
Imagine the 2nd quarter of the Indiana game last year. We’re clinging to a 7-3 lead, and we have Indiana in 3rd and 3 from their own 40. Except instead of the 12 yard completion for a first down, imagine Tavon Wilson jumps the route and returns it 10 yards to their 35 or so. LeShoure left, LeShoure right, 14-3 Illini. But you know what really happened. 12 yard completion for a first down, Chappell to Doss, Chappell to Doss, 10-7 Indiana.
Or think of the Purdue game the next week. We’re down 21-14, and we pin Purdue at their 12. Say on first down, instead of a 28 yard completion to Bolden, Joey Elliot’s pass is tipped by Josh Brent and caught by Ian Thomas, who rambles in for the touchdown. Tied up, 21-21, and momentum has completely shifted to our sideline. But you know that didn’t happen. Purdue drove down the field, kicked a field goal, and hello 1-6.
The Minnesota game proved what interceptions can do. Black Cat’s pick-6 completely changed that game. Heck, look back to 2007 and the back to back wins over Penn State and Wisconsin. The Penn State game, where we shot out to a lead and held on for dear life? 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery in the last 16 minutes of the game to preserve the win. Wisconsin driving for the tying score? Vontae Davis, INT. Since then? Very, very little in the way of game-changing interceptions.
Enter Vic Koenning. I covered this in my Koenning evaluation, but it’s worth posting again:
All four of his Clemson defenses were top-25 in interceptions, and his K-State defense improved from 75th to 34th in INT’s. His last defense at Troy? #1 in the country with 25 interceptions in 2004. Illinois last year? Tied for dead last with 5. Illinois the year before? Tied for 113th with 6.
More than anything, THIS is why Vic Koenning was hired. Not only will he be defensive coordinator, he’ll be the secondary coach as well. And his one forte throughout his career as an assistant coach has been teaching his players to make their own luck when it comes to interceptions. When I get to Camp Rantoul this summer (only 163 days away!), the first thing I want to do is watch Koenning take the defensive backs through drills. No more Curt Mallory backpedal drills, please. I’d like to see our defensive backs moving forward. Preferably with the ball in their hands.
If you want to point your finger at the one glaring fault of our defense the past two seasons, it’s interceptions. Add a second half interception in the Fresno State game, we win. Jump two routes on October 17 when Indiana was sitting back and running the same pass play over and over, we win. Interceptions can turn a 24-14 loss into a 21-17 win with one simple deflection.
And when the ball is deflected, the Illinois player can grab it out of the air before it hits the ground and start running in the opposite direction from where the offense was moving. If he is able to carry the ball across the goal line, his team is awarded 6 points for his efforts.