KNOXVILLE – Welcome to the Nooga.com film room. This feature will take a closer look at one of the bigger plays from UT’s big games and explain not only what happened, but why it happened. This week Tennessee forced seven turnovers – five of them via interception – against Western Kentucky. This particular play was one of two interceptions for safety Brian Randolph (screenshots via UTSports.com highlights).
This looks like straight man-to-man coverage with a four-man rush, but there’s a slight twist. The Vols end up blitzing linebacker A.J. Johnson, while dropping defensive end Corey Miller. This is known as a zone blitz. The three cornerbacks appear to be in man with the receivers and Randolph appears to have man responsibility for the WKU running back.
WKU’s running back stays in to help block for what he likely thinks will be a bigger blitz than it actually is (UT lined six defenders up near the line of scrimmage, likely tricking WKU into thinking more were coming). That leaves Randolph free in the secondary without a man to cover. He keeps an eye on the running back to make sure he doesn’t slip out, but he’s also an extra body to help defend the end zone. Meanwhile, Johnson, despite getting blocked by the running back and a lineman, starts to push through to WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty. That pressure makes Doughty release a pass intended for one of his receivers running a crossing route in the back of the end zone.
Even without Randolph floating in the middle, both WKU receivers were well covered, but Randolph is waiting right there for the forced Doughty pass and makes the easy interception. It’s easy to credit Randolph for the interception, and he deserves it, but Johnson – the man who applied the pressure – also deserves his share of credit. The coaches also designed a good play. It looked like the Vols were bringing a big blitz, forcing the back to stay in and giving Randolph freedom to make this play.
Perhaps Randolph should’ve taken a knee since he only makes it to the 18-yard line ultimately, but you have to admire the hustle of the other defenders who scramble to get blocks and try to spring him free for a huge return. They help him get back to the 18 and the play preserved a 31-10 UT lead at that point in the game.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga