The number 24 play in our countdown to determine the best plays of Tennessee’s 2015 season is Corey Vereen’s first sack against Alabama.
Corey Vereen has always been regarded as one of the hardest workers on the Tennessee roster. Since Vereen’s freshman year in 2013, head coach Butch Jones and defensive line coach Steve Stripling have raved about Vereen’s work ethic. However, Vereen has flown under the radar of many Vol fans.
Vereen has been one of the most consistent run defenders on the Vols’ roster. He has been a mainstay along the Tennessee front, starting 18 games over the past two years. Vereen is a key part of the run defense, and makes many plays that go unnoticed by Vol fans. Here is a great example from a Football Concepts article about the Vols’ 1-Gap Defense.
“On this play, Corey Vereen (#50) would appear to have a clear path to the ball carrier. But instead of recklessly abandoning his gap, Vereen filled the C gap. [Curt] Maggitt comes in behind him into the D gap, takes on the block, and makes the tackle. If Vereen had abandoned his gap and gone outside, he would’ve been kicked out by the pulling guard and the C gap would’ve been wide open. This is a really great, unselfish play that shows the importance of staying in your gap. By filling the C gap, Vereen forced the ball carrier outside and into Maggitt.”
This is a great example of the type of plays Vereen makes on a regular basis. By consistently doing his job, Vereen fits perfectly into the team concept, even if he’s not the one to always make the tackle. Coach Stripling has lauded Vereen’s consistency numerous times and praised his effort.
Unfortunately, Vereen’s work ethic has not always translated into great stats. Far too often, we simply look at sacks and TFLs when grading defensive ends. Coming into his junior season, Vereen had only recorded 2.5 career sacks. It seemed like he had often come up just a step away from taking the quarterback to the ground.
However, Vereen had a career year in his third season in Knoxville. With the injury to Curt Maggitt, Vereen saw an increase in playing time and, specifically, was on the field more often on passing downs. Vereen finished the season with a career-best 39 tackles (sixth on the team), 9.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and a team high 8 quarterback hurries.
Vereen had all of his sacks and 8 of his TFLs over the final seven games of the season, and his coming out party was in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Vereen had the game of his life, recording two sacks and five tackles, while dominating his matchup with Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson. Vereen gave Robinson, a first team All-SEC player and a projected top 10 NFL draft pick when he declares, fits all day.
His best sack of the day came early in the second quarter. Alabama had driven the ball to the Vols’ 43 and after converting a first down, had all the momentum. This is exactly when Lane Kiffin loves to take a shot downfield. His team had the momentum and the ball was in the perfect spot on the field.
Kiffin dialed up one of his favorite shot plays with the hope of putting six points on the board. Quarterback Jake Coker lined up under center and after taking the snap, faked a handoff to running back Derrick Henry. Both Henry and the tight end stayed in to block as part of a seven man protection scheme. Both receivers ran deep routes downfield while the fullback released into the flat as a check down.
The protection scheme was designed to make sure Coker had time to throw the ball deep downfield. What Kiffin wasn’t counting on was Vereen getting the best of Robinson. Knowing he had an all-conference left tackle, Kiffin left Robinson to block Vereen one-on-one and sent the back and tight end to help on the right side.
Vereen beat Robinson from the start, getting off the ball with a great first step. Vereen executed a great swim move to disengage from Robinson’s block, and then used his speed to run around the edge. Robinson never stood a chance versus Vereen’s speed rush, and neither did Coker, who was hit from behind before he had a chance to throw downfield.
This outstanding speed rush knocked the Crimson Tide into a second-and-seventeen they could not recover from, effectively ending Alabama’s scoring opportunity. It was a fantastic individual play by Vereen, in what was the best game of his career.
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