Defense has to step forward for Chieftains
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Defense wins football games… and a lack of defense oftentimes loses them.
Taking that thought a step further, not being able to make just a couple stops is the difference between the Logan Chieftains having lost their first two games rather than winning them.
“We make two tackles — one in each game — and we’re undefeated, as opposed to having this sense of trying to figure out what we can do to win a game,” Logan coach Billy Burke said earlier this week. “As many tackles as we’ve missed, we’re still just two tackles away from being undefeated.”
Game time at Meigs High School is 7:30 p.m. — the only 7:30 kickoff on Logan’s regular-season schedule this fall.
Logan’s season-opening 43-42, double-overtime loss to Lancaster marked the first time in school history the Chiefs had lost a game in which they scored at least 35 points — let alone 40 — and last Friday’s disappointing 44-40 setback at Teays Valley marked the second.
And Burke is well aware that, if the Chiefs can’t tighten up defensively, 40 points may not be enough not only this week at Meigs but next week at Loudonville — which also scored 79 points in shutting out Ashland Crestview last week — as well.
While the Chiefs are off to a prolific start on offense — they’re averaging 41 points and 367.5 yards per game — they’re winless because those numbers on defense are 43.5 and 514, respectively.
“We’re no dummies: we evaluate each and every week what areas we need to improve upon and what strengths we can accentuate,” Burke said. “Obviously, defense is a big-time priority this week. (We’ve got to) keep working on tackling. That’s something we did last week (prior to the Teays Valley game), but we didn’t do a good enough job of it on Friday.
“Defensively we have to read our keys, and I think that’s what got us into trouble,” he continued. “We got away from reading our keys, and once we did we were a little bit lost out there and (the Vikings) were able to make some plays because we were still standing five yards deep and haven’t gone anywhere.”
That’s because “we haven’t read a key and they’re up on us — so now things that would be two-yard gains if we’re downhill and playing aggressively are turning into five-yard gains and then turning into eight- and nine-yard gains later on.”
And yet if the Chiefs make just one key defensive stop in each game, they’re 2-0.
With the Chiefs clinging to a 40-37 lead in the final minutes last Friday, Teays Valley was faced with a do-or-die fourth-and-16 from the Logan 42-yard line with 2:12 remaining. TV quarterback Drew Pennington swept around right end, shrugged off a couple tackles, and gained 21 yards and a crucial first down.
Teays Valley scored the winning touchdown three plays later.
“I can’t believe they ran the ball on fourth down,” Burke said, “but all we had to do was make a play and we win the game. That’s been the story two weeks in a row.
“We all have to take ownership in this,” he added. “Sometimes it’s not about anything else but the wanting-ness to go out and make a play. We can be in the right spots all we want, but we still have to go out and make a play.
“That’s what it’s come down to a couple times: (Logan defenders are) technically in the right spot — but there’s that added ‘it’ factor of actually making the play.”
If the Chiefs make that play — and possibly one additional defensive stop against Lancaster in the season opener — the conversation going into week three is totally different.
“If we’re undefeated right now,” Burke said, “we’re talking about how many points we’ve scored and overlooking our defensive performance. The bottom line is that if you want to play football for league championships, (and) if you want to play football well into November, you have to be able to play defense.
“As much as people love to see people scoring points these days, that’s not what really what it’s about,” the second-year head coach continued. “It’s always been about being able to run the football, control the clock and being able to stop the other team when you’re playing defense.
“It’s fun and exciting for people sitting in the stands and it’s even more exciting for people who are just casual fans — who say ‘look at all those points!’ — but die-hard football guys, coaches and players understand the necessity of tough, physical football where it’s you vs. another guy and you have to defeat a block and get a guy on the ground, make them punt, get the ball back and go back on offense.”
Last Friday, Meigs ran for an unbelievable 607 yards (on 64 attempts) against Fairland and wound up with 733 yards of total offense.
Fairland, on the other hand, got 601 of its 724 offensive yards through the air as the two teams combined for 1,457 yards in a game that took almost 3½ hours to complete.
That Fairland team, which was shut out 46-0 the previous week by Johnson Central, Kentucky, hosts Logan’s Southeastern Ohio Athletic League rival Gallia Academy this week.
“I talked about your average fan sitting in the stands loving all those points,” Burke said. “If you’re average fan, you will love to watch Meigs because they do everything. They have every formation you can imagine (and) every different way you can run the ball out of those formations. They’re as exciting as anybody on offense to watch.
“We have to execute defensively,” he added. “Things are different (defensively) from week to week. Against Lancaster, we had pre-snap keys; against Teays Valley you couldn’t do that, so it had to be post-snap — read a guard, read a back or something of that nature — and as diverse as Meigs is, there are a variety of keys you have to read. (The Chiefs have already faced) a variety of offenses the first couple weeks.”
Seeing as how the Chiefs have been prolific in throwing the ball and Meigs has struggled to stop the pass — and, conversely, as how Meigs has been quite successful running the ball while the Purple & White have had problems stopping ground games — Friday night has the potential of being an offensive shootout of historic proportions.
“That’s exactly what we’re having trouble with right now — stopping the running game — so we’ve made an emphasis to do some things differently on defense,” Burke pointed out. “A lot of it is based upon an evaluation of what we can and cannot do with the guys we have playing defense.
“If we don’t get something corrected (on defense), we might have to win the game 100 to 90… and I certainly don’t want to see that because we’ll be there until 1 in the morning,” he added. “But I feel good about where we’re headed defensively. I think we’ll make the plays that we haven’t been able to make the first two weeks and we’ll be a different defensive team on Friday.”
Going into the season, the Logan coaching staff knew that a lot of players would be playing on both offense and defense and that keeping those players as fresh as possibly physically would be vital.
However, on a hot and muggy night at Teays Valley, Burke felt the fatigue was more mental than it was physical as Logan let a 40-30 lead with nine minutes remaining get away.
“We didn’t play in a vacuum. Teays Valley (dealt with) the same exact heat, and we actually probably handled it a bit better (because) I didn’t notice our cramping being as bad as theirs was,” Burke revealed. “That excuse can be thrown out the window. They had players that were injured too, so that excuse can be thrown out the window.
“The bottom line,” he added, “is that when you’re called to duty, and you’re the next man in, you have to come in and contribute and be a part of the offense, the defense, or the special-teams unit — and you have to make a play.”
As Burke pointed out moments after last week’s loss, most of the same players who are scoring 40-plus points a game on offense are also allowing 40-plus points per game on defense.
That in itself can leave players somewhat conflicted about their performances.
“That’s probably a little bit of a double-edged sword,” Burke noted, “because you feel good about one and feel bad about the other and maybe it cancels itself out… but the bottom line is that it’s the program that has to win football games, not (just) offense, defense or special teams. All the coaches coach on both sides of the football and players do the same thing, so it’s all about us trying to find a way to be better on offense, better on defense and better in the kicking game.
“I suppose the bigger frustration for me right now,” he admitted, “is that I think we’re a better team than we were a year ago. The expectations are much different for what we should be able to do and I don’t feel that we always play to our capability. That’s the part that’s been frustrating.”