Over the last several weeks Coach Pruitt has spoken about the need for his defense to create turnovers. Tennessee lost the turnover battle in four of their first five games this season, each resulting in a loss on the scoreboard. In the lone win — against UT-Chattanooga, as we all know — the Vols created five turnovers, and committed zero themselves. It is clear that when the Volunteers create turnovers — and by extension more chances for an offense that has struggled to produce points — they are a much more competitive squad.
On Saturday against Mississippi State the Volunteers managed to get back into the win column, thanks in part to winning the turnover battle for the second time this season. Late in the third quarter, with the turnover battle knotted up at two apiece and the Vols clinging to a 10-point lead, Nigel Warrior picked-off Garrett Shrader and tilted the game in favor of the Volunteers. Here is how that play went down.
Mississippi State had been struggling offensively for the entire day. After a three-and-out on their opening possession of the second half the Bulldogs were looking to push the ball down field for a spark. Below is a look at the alignment pre-snap.
Tennessee is playing Bracket coverage to the passing strength’s side. The rules for Bracket coverage are as follows:
- Corner: Align one-yard inside and eight-yards off of the #1 wide receiver. Play this receiver in man-to-man coverage from this soft alignment.
- Star: Align with outside leverage on the #2 wide receiver. Play this receiver in man-to-man coverage.
- Strong Safety: Align with inside leverage on the #2 wide receiver. Bracket, or double-team, the #2 wide receiver if he runs vertically. If the #2 wide receiver immediately runs underneath — on a short crossing route — then bracket the #1 wide receiver vertically down the field.
Below is a visual example of Bracket coverage prior to the snap.
Mississippi State’s route distribution on this play was a Smash-like concept — the reason I say ‘like’ is because, in my opinion, the out-route by the Bulldogs is further down the field than the typical Smash concept. This route concept is an out-route or a hitch-route from the #1 wide receiver, and usually a corner-route by the #2 wide-receiver. Against two-deep zone-coverage the play is successful because it stresses the cornerback. If the cornerback plays the shorter route — i.e. hitch or out — there is plenty of room behind him to throw the deeper corner-route. If the cornerback sinks to play the deeper route the quarterback has an easy completion to the shorter route underneath. It can also be successful against man-coverage, because the #2 wide receiver breaks to the outside away from the safety making it difficult to defend.
On this play I believe Shrader reads man-coverage, and thinks he can take a shot at the corner-route. However, Tennessee has the #2 wide receiver bracketed as this receiver pushes vertically up the field. The Star, Shawn Shamburger, is playing the route underneath while Nigel Warrior plays the top of the route from his Strong Safety position. Shrader pulls the trigger, but the window is simply too tight. Warrior makes a great play and steals a possession for our offense.
General Neyland’s first game maxim reads as follows: the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. Warrior’s interception gave the Vols a 3-2 advantage in turnovers. That — along with fewer penalties — helped the Volunteers earn their second win of the season on Saturday.