Secondary Issues and State of the Program

Duke's Erich Schneider beats Chuck Clark for a 25-yard TD in the fourth overtime.
Duke’s Erich Schneider beats Chuck Clark for a 25-yard TD in the fourth overtime.

Duke took advantage of an aggressive yet inexperienced defensive secondary. Watching the past several games, you can tell the defensive backs are still building cohesion as a unit. After several plays, there were hands raised, increased frustration, and confused faces in the secondary trying to grasp what just transpired. That’s something that Hokie fans, quite honestly, just aren’t used to seeing in a Bud Foster secondary. That’s obviously a result of losing starters early in the season and playing not only new starters, but an usually high number of freshmen as well.

When I watched the game, I questioned why Bud Foster continued to run Cover 1. There are some serious disadvantages when running that coverage since it requires lots of trust in your freshmen defensive backs.

When playing Cover 1, the cornerbacks play man coverage with one free safety in zone coverage. Since teams nowadays play with three or more wide receivers, that requires at least one safety to come up and play man. In Bud’s defense, that means Chuck Clark comes down and plays man coverage against the inside receiver while freshman Adonis Alexander plays free safety. The goal is to funnel the receivers inside to the free safety by playing outside shade, with the cornerbacks maintaining outside leverage throughout the receiver’s route. That’s something Duke took advantage of.

It was evident on the very first play. Duke dialed up the perfect play to attack Bud’s Cover 1 defense. They spread the defense out with four wide receivers, and run a rub route on the wide side of the field. The two receivers cross one another, causing both freshmen Mook Reynolds and Terrell Edmunds to bump each other, leaving the Duke receiver Max McCaffrey wide open 20-25 yards down the field. Since the free safety is playing zone mid-field, Alexander has almost no chance to get over to the numbers to make a play on the ball. Luckily the pass was overthrown. Nonetheless, if there was ever a glimpse of what was to come, Duke showed Bud Foster on that opening play.