The number 32 play in our countdown to determine the best plays of Tennessee’s 2015 season is Malik Foreman’s interception in the Outback Bowl.
PLAY #32 – Malik Foreman’s Interception
Malik Foreman was not expected to get much playing time in 2015. The junior corner entered the season as a career reserve on defense and contributor on special teams. Foreman had great athletic ability; teammates and coaches had often remarked that he was likely the fastest player on the roster. But through two seasons, Foreman struggled to find playing time, and 2015 didn’t look to be any different. Cam Sutton had locked down one corner spot, while Emmanuel Moseley and Justin Martin were battling to start on the other side. The chances of Foreman getting on the field with the defense looked so bleak that Coach Butch Jones even mentioned moving him to offense to help with depth problems at wide receiver.
But all of a sudden, everything changed. In late August, rising sophomore Rashaun Gaulden, the sure starter at nickel back, fractured his foot and was ruled out for the season. Foreman was thrown into an unexpected starting role.
Early on, Foreman struggled a little. In the season opener against Bowling Green, the new starter was burned a few times by the Falcons explosive passing attack. But as the season progressed, Foreman showed great improvement. Foreman ended 2015 as one of the more reliable players on the defense for the Vols. I would say that he improved throughout the year as much as any other defender on the roster.
By the end of the season, Foreman was playing the best football of his career. He recorded 13 of his 24 total tackles, as well as all 4 of his TFLs, in the last four games of the regular season. One of Foreman’s best plays of the season came in the season finale against Northwestern.
About midway through the first quarter, Northwestern lined up in an empty formation. Before the snap, the Wildcats motioned into a “quads” formation with four receivers to the right and one tight end to the left. To counter this look, the Vols checked into a version of quarters coverage called Stubbie/Poach.
Stubbie and Poach are both variations of quarters that were designed to defend trips (three receivers to a single side) formations. When Northwestern motioned into a quads look, the defenders automatically audibled into a combination Stubbie/Poach coverage designed to defend the four man surface.
For more on how Stubbie and Poach work, you can go check out James Light’s outstanding piece here. I will not look at each of those coverages individually, but rather how Coach Jancek morphed them together in order to defend the quads formation.
Here is the basic rundown on Stubbie/Poach.
Quite simply, the two outside corners are playing MEG (Man Everywhere he Goes) coverage on the two outside receivers. While they are playing pure man, the five remaining defensive backs/linebackers are running a combo coverage on the remaining three receivers.
The nickel back, Foreman, is reading from the number two receiver to the number three receiver. He will carry the number two receiver on any vertical route, unless the number three receiver runs a quick out. In that case, Foreman will release the number two receiver to the safety and jump the out route. Foreman is also responsible for an out route by the number two receiver. His responsibility basically boils down to this: cover number two vertical, unless a receiver releases out – in that case, cover the out route.
The strong safety, Brian Randolph, is reading from the number three to the number two. He will carry the number three receiver on any vertical route. If the number three receiver releases out or underneath, Randolph must cover the number two receiver vertical.
So Randolph and Foreman will cover any vertical routes, while Foreman is responsible for the out route, but who will cover any routes to the inside?
The middle linebacker, Darrin Kirkland Jr., is responsible to wall off any underneath crossing routes from the number two or the number three. If either receiver releases inside, Kirkland Jr. must cover him.
This is basically three defenders responsible for two receivers. The Vols defenders will adjust to the route distribution to determine who covers who.
Finally, the Vols remaining two defenders will cover the number four receiver. The free safety, LaDarrell McNeil, will read from the strongside number four receiver to the backside number one receiver. McNeil must cover the number four receiver vertical first, but if that receiver stays in to block then McNeil will help the weakside corner.
If the number four receiver releases underneath, weakside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin must wall him off.
If all that sounds complex, hopefully this diagram helps.
So now, back to the Northwestern play. The Wildcats ran a play called Snag. This is a play that is excellent against man coverage. The outside receiver runs a spot route, the number two receiver runs a corner route, and the number three receiver runs to the flat. The best option versus man coverage is the flat route. There is often a natural pick formed by two outside receivers. A linebacker responsible for covering the third receiver is going to struggle to get around the two outside defenders, as well as their defenders, to cover the flat. Snag often leaves the flat receiver open with room to run.
However, the Vols combo coverage was perfectly suited to cover Snag. Sutton carried the spot route in MEG coverage. Randolph picked up the corner route once he saw the number three receiver release to the flat.
The key to the play was Foreman at the nickel back spot. The quarterback never saw him and threw the ball to the flat. Foreman read the number three receiver all the way and jumped the route.
Foreman’s diving grab was almost as impressive as his read on the ball. In the NFL, where a ball carrier must be ruled down by contact, this might have been a pick six. As it was, Foreman’s first and only interception of the season was a very impressive one, and it comes in at number 32 on our countdown.
Be sure to check back next week to see what play will be number 31 in our countdown. If you haven’t already, you can like Football Concepts on Facebook by clicking here.
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