Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alex Wacha Redux

Last week, Alex Wacha was named to Phil Steele’s interim 1st-team all C-USA at strong safety.

This caught me a little flat-footed. Frankly, as a huge Shakiel Smith fan, I wasn’t even sure Wacha was the best safety on the team- let alone the best safety in C-USA. Not that Wacha was "bad", but I am always a little suspect of what passes for DB play around here. I always thought Wacha could run a little bit. In fact, I always think of him more as a corner. I am almost positive he was Tulane’s top depth and nickel corner at one point. That was sort of the extent of my scouting report. So I went out of my way to watch him this past week at UTEP.

I came away pretty impressed- Wacha is a pretty good tackler. He gets to and around the ball a lot, good pursuer, good angles, got some rabbit. He looks real experienced- both of Tulane’s safeties are high football IQ guys. So I was not surprised to see that he and Smith were second and third in tackles (50 and 48 respectively) on the football team.

A lot of people fuss when presented with good tackle totals from the safeties. You can look “smart” pointing out that so many stops are happening in the second and third defensive level. I’m not one of those people. Good safety play in C-USA is about tackling.

So much of the League’s offensive philosophy is getting the ball out past the first level. The spread is predicated on de-emphasizing line play, shifting emphasis to the perimeter and defensive secondary versus off-tackle and gap rushing plays. C-USA isn’t about whipping the seven guys in the box; it is about getting match-ups on the edges and seams.

Faced with the C-USA quarterback who can successfully throw the ball 65% of the time to said seams and edges, over the heads of the DL, there are plays that need making in the secondary. All game long safeties are challenged by backs, tight ends and z-receivers catching short routes and turning up-field. Somebody has got to track those guys down. 25 short completions means a fifteen tackles that need making by safeties- tackles that cannot be missed.

Wacha and Smith did that Saturday. The raw season numbers, 100 tackles, suggest these guys are getting the perimeter attackers down. Safety might be the best position grouping on the team.

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