This isn't going to be fun, but as part of this week's film study, let's take a look at the two kickoff returns Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims took to the house against Carolina in Nashville this past weekend.
First of all, kickoff coverage isn't rocket science. Generally, the idea is for each player to cover a lane, with one or two guys usually responsible for hanging back conservatively in case the return man breaks free. Damiere Byrd plays this safety role in our coverage units, as his speed makes him a good candidate to chase down a returner in the open field.
On the first return, I see a few things. First of all, it's not a good kick by Landon Ard. Ard has looked good on kickoffs so far this season, and artificial turf sometimes affects kickers' footing on kickoffs, so hopefully this was just a rare bad day for Ard. Second of all, Sidney Rhodes and Jordan Diggs are both in decent position to make the tackle, but they get blocked out of the play. Credit goes to Vandy for executing well on their blocking, although Diggs looks very passive getting off his block. With a little more effort, he may have been able to at least slow Sims down enough for someone else to make the tackle. Skai Moore is also in good position to make this play but inexplicably falls down while trying to shed his block. Kicker Ard also briefly looks in position to effect the play, but he gets blocked, which is unsurprising. The other big thing that happens on the play is that Byrd comes too far up field and is then unable to catch Sims in pursuit. Byrd briefly looks like he might be able to catch Sims, but Sims eventually breaks away for good. I'm not sure what Sims's 40 time is, but he's clearly pretty fast to be able to keep step with Byrd like that.
On the second return, Rhodes and Diggs again have a chance to make the play deep in Vandy territory, but Rhodes overpursues out of the play, and Diggs again looks passive in shedding his block. What happens next is plain ugly for Carolina. Several players are in excellent position to tackle Sims, but they all take bad angles and Sims slices through them like Swiss cheese. Byrd stays back this time and looks like he has a great chance to make the tackle, but he then looks very passive in attacking Sims. I would say this reflects the fact that Byrd isn't doing much tackling in practice, but he's made plays for us in this role before, so that explanation isn't satisfying.
As ugly as both of these plays are for the Gamecocks, my hope is that they're both examples of uninspired play from a team that wasn't expecting such expert execution on kickoffs and that wasn't expecting a close game. Carolina wasn't bad on kickoff coverage until this game, and the passivity and lack of discipline shown on both returns is at odds with what we saw in earlier games. If that's the case, we should see a return to form this weekend against Missouri.