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Saluki Sports

Part of the Daily Egyptian


Toledo, Furman

Salukis defense keeps opponents on their toes


SIU's unusual 4-2-5 defensive scheme wreaking havoc on Gateway

Jens Deju
jdeju@dailyegyptian.com

In 1987, SIU head coach Jerry Kill had just finished his third season as defensive
coordinator at Pittsburg (Kan.) State. He was leaving the school and head coach
Dennis Franchione for a head-coaching job of his own at the high school level.

But just as Kill was leaving town, a young coach named Gary Patterson was
coming in. He spent one year at Pittsburg as linebackers' coach and followed
Franchione around for 14 years before taking over for his mentor as head coach at
Texas Christian University.

That same season, Kill took over the downtrodden SIU program. One thing he
brought with him to Carbondale was the rare 4-2-5 defensive scheme he learned
from Patterson. In this scheme, there are four down linemen, two linebackers and
five defensive backs.

Patterson is considered to be a defensive genius, and during the past four seasons,
his TCU defenses have ranked fifth, first, 24th and first in the nation in total
defense.

Kill had so much respect for his defensive know-how that he and his coaching staff
began copying it back when he coached at Emporia State from 1998 to 2000. When
Kill came to Carbondale, he brought Patterson's system with him.

"Everything we got we stole from Texas Christian University," SIU defensive


coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "Coach Patterson and his staff are good friends of
ours, and we spend quite a bit of time down there in the offseason. Anytime you
have a reference like that to use, to help you out also because he's been in defense
over 15 years, it's just been a tremendous help to us."

When the system was first brought to SIU, it was not exactly a smashing hit. The
personnel was not suited to the system, and the players were more used to regular
formations such as the 4-3.

Now, after being able to bring in a few recruiting classes of his own, Kill's version
on the 4-2-5 is dominating the Division I-AA level just as Patterson's is dominating
the I-A level.

"Perfect size, perfect people, attitude, everything," SIU junior safety Alexis
Moreland said. "We kind of molded into it. It took a couple of years, and now we're
reaping the benefits."

In the Gateway Conference, the Salukis rank first in scoring defense, rushing
defense, total defense, red-zone defense, fourth-down defense and turnover margin.
Nationally, they rank third in rush defense, fifth in scoring defense and 11th in total
defense.

Probably the biggest benefit to running the 4-2-5 is that in enables a team to put its
best athletes on the field at the same time.

The biggest problem with the system is stopping the run.

With only six players up in the box, it is essential that the defensive backs are able
to step up and stop the run.

"You can't play the defense if you don't have safeties who can do that; it's just that
simple," Claeys said. "You'd be rotating in and out all the time. They're basically
linebackers, and when it's pass they got to be agile enough to cover people."

Besides having good athletes, players who can handle their responsibilities are also
crucial to the system.

The defensive linemen are routinely left to their own, simply being responsible for
the usual - stopping the run, getting a pass rush, keeping the offensive linemen
away from the linebackers and keeping containment on the outer edges.

"It starts up front with the defensive line holding up the linemen, just really getting
up the field, causing havoc," SIU senior linebacker Eric Egan said. "Then the
linebackers are free to roam, and then the DB's just flow off of where we go."

Arguably the key to the scheme is the safeties.

The three safeties in the scheme are asked to help defend the pass, read their keys,
make tackles and make sure everyone is lined up correctly before the ball is
snapped.

Moreland plays the high safety so everyone knows where he will be on every play.
With the other two safeties, it is anyone's guess as to where they will line up.

"Our other two safeties interchange; you might not ever know where they're at,"
Moreland said. "They might think they're a down lineman or an outside linebacker,
and I know it confuses the quarterback."

It is not uncommon for the Salukis to send the safeties on blitzes, and it has been
successful. SIU's starting safety trio of Moreland, Frank Johnson and Jamarquis
Jordan has combined for 11 sacks in seven games, with Johnson and Jordan having
4.5 each.

Claeys said while the defense has been successful with the system, they are still
growing into it and have yet to master all it can do, such as some more trickery
with the safeties.

"Quarterbacks nowadays are so good, and they're basically coaches on the field,"
Claeys said. "You try to make it to where what they see before the snap and what
they see after the snap are two different things."

This page was last updated: Thursday, October 23, 2003 at 4:01:01 AM
Copyright 2008 Daily Egyptian
The coaches wanted more speed on the field, an additional athlete who could cover
receivers and more versatile players.

When it comes to versatility, senior Brandon Williams leads the pack.

"It has been weird because every year I have played football either in a different position
or in a different system," Williams said. "This falls into that same line, so I have to be
ready for every single challenge because I have played defensive end, nose guard and all
types of defenses, the 5-2, the 4-3 -- all sorts of defenses."

Williams is the Paladins' starting strong side linebacker in the 4-2-5 defense. If Furman's
first six games are any indication, the position is a perfect fit.

He leads the team in tackles (50) and tackles for loss (6.5). He also has two sacks, has
broken up two passes, forced a fumble and returned a fumble 36 yards.

Williams has already earned one Southern Conference defensive player of the week
award, and he has caught the attention of opposing coaches.

"I like that Brandon Williams guy," said Chattanooga coach Rodney Allison. "He looks
like one of those guys who could be in the running for defensive player of the year in the
conference."

During the past 25 years, Furman has become known in the NCAA Football
Championship Subdivision for producing quality linebackers. Williams relishes
contributing to the reputation.

"When you are a linebacker here, it is really a brotherhood," Williams said. "You talk to
those guys (who played previously) long after you leave. It is a good support system.
Them knowing the game and the way they learned it, you can ask them almost any
question and they will have an answer for you."

The Paladins (4-2, 1-1) are coming off a disappointing loss to Elon, but Williams has a
simple approach to rebounding and continuing the pursuit for the SoCon title.

"We have a lot of leaders on this team, very smart people," he said. "We know what we
have to do is come back to work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to be ready
for Saturday. It just goes back to how hard we work and fit into this puzzle of our defense
-- trusting in each other and believing we can make plays allows us to perform well."