Doing Defense by Design How's This for a Switch?

By Hayes, Matt | The Florida Times Union, August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

Doing Defense by Design How's This for a Switch?


Hayes, Matt, The Florida Times Union


Someone had to tackle him. Fall on him, stumble into him, trip

him.

Somewhere along and in between those 15 seconds of defensive

disbelief is the foundation of a champion. Some teams have it,

others search for it. Some can't seem to grab it.

Or in this case, tackle it.

Tommie Frazier, Nebraska's do-it-all quarterback, pulled the

highlight of the college football season in last year's Fiesta

Bowl. His electrifying and almost unbelievable 75-yard run was

more than just another touchdown in a blowout of Florida for the

national title. It was an old message within a renewed, powerful

statement.

If you can't play defense, you can't win championships.

"It was one of the strangest things I'd ever seen in any football

game," said Nebraska All-America defensive end Jared Tomich. "I

guess they all hoped the other guy was going to get him, or

hoped he would fumble, or hoped he would fall down. In a game

like that, with a national title on the line, you can't hope on

defense."

One missed tackle, three missed, then five. He's breaking free.

Seven missed tackles, then nine. He's running for the end zone.

Nine players had a shot at Frazier. All wound up reading the

name on the back of his jersey as he mockingly strolled the last

10 yards to the end zone.

rage in college football in the 1990s has been offense. Pass

more, score more, and look pretty doing it.

But the secret to college football in the '90s -- the key

ingredient to championship teams -- has been defense. Alabama,

Miami, Washington, Nebraska, Florida State. All had their share

of offense. But the defense, the dominating, tone-setting

defense, led the way.

John Copeland and Eric Curry. Cortez Kennedy and Russell

Maryland. Derrick Alexander and Derrick Brooks.

Then there's Nebraska. Last season, the focus was Frazier and

an annually potent run-oriented offense. The difference, though,

was the defense, turning a talented team into one of the best in

college football history.

Southeastern Conference, managed 268 yards against the Huskers.

On the other side of the field was the Florida defense, beaten

and beleagured, giving up 629 yards -- 75 of which were part of

one of the more famous (and infamous) plays in recent college

history.

"That game, I think, kind of woke up a lot of people," said

Southern Cal coach John Robinson. "Whatever level you play

football at, you better be able to play defense. If you don't

have that championship caliber defense, that defense that can

make a stop consistently when you have to have it, you'll always

be just that short."

Last season, the signs were everywhere.

three seasons, gave up 587 yards in a 35-24 loss to the Gators.

Ohio State, a victory away from playing for a shot at the

national title, gave up more than 300 yards rushing to Tim

Biakabutuka in a loss to Michigan and settled for a meaningless

date in the Citrus Bowl.

Tennessee had its best season in years, but gave up 62 points

to Florida in its only loss of the season.

Defense, now more than ever, is where it begins and ends. In

fact, in the last 10 years, only once has a national champion

not finished fourth or better in scoring defense. …

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