8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

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8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens is building a case for Justin Jackson as the Player of the Year in Illinois.
"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Wilkens said.
Ty Isaac? Matt Alviti? Chris Streveler? Aaron Bailey? Laquon Treadwell? Tom Fuessel? Brandon Mayes? Joey Borsellino? Kendrick Foster?
"He never comes off the field. He has rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 36 touchdowns. He plays every down on defense as a cornerback. He makes plays on offense and defense. We lost our punter so he punts, too. In the fourth quarter, he wants the ball in his hands so he can make plays."
"That's not all. He is one of our best leaders. He has a 5.0 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale in honors classes. He also competes in basketball and track. He is a well-rounded young man. Above all, in the third and fourth quarter, he still is breaking long runs. He has great stamina for all the pounding he takes. He amazes me."
Jackson, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, has been even more amazing in the state playoff.
In a 31-24 victory over Fremd, he rushed 32 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 23-14 victory over Stevenson, he powered 48 times for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 27-23 victory over Maine South, he carried 36 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
In a 27-24 victory over Loyola, he rushed 46 times for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Where would Glenbard North be without him? The Panthers (12-1) have won their last seven games by margins of 6, 2, 7, 7, 9, 6 and 3 points. They'll put the ball in his hands on Saturday night in the Class 8A championship game against Mount Carmel (12-1) at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
"I like to have the ball in my hands all the time," Jackson said. "If they called my number on every play, I'd prefer it that way. I feel like that's what we do best--run the ball."
Mount Carmel defensive coordinator David Lenti is bracing for the challenge. "It is a challenge to take away an opponent's No. 1 asset. Jackson is the best running back we have seen all year. He has great breakaway speed. Someone said he reminds him of Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson," Lenti said.
"The key to his success is he doesn't take a lot of big hits. He has such good moves. He is so elusive. We've watched a lot of film and we haven't seen anyone lay a hammer on him."
"Jackson is in select company. He makes a lot of good things happen," Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said.
Jackson credits his offensive line. And he doesn't hesitate to name every one of them. And please spell the names correctly. Left tackle Chris Edwards (6-foot-1, 285 pounds, junior). Left guard D'Angelo Hodges (6-foot-3, 285 pounds, senior). Center Marcus Perez (5-foot-10, 225 pounds, senior). Right guard Mitch Siver (5-foot-10, 280 pounds, senior). Right tackle Eric Graham (6-foot-2, 255 pounds, junior). Tight end Bryan Leckner(6-foot-5, 200 pounds, senior).
Don't forget fullback Shawn Lenahan (5-foot-11, 220 pounds, senior). "He's my man. He's done a great job all year. He kicks out the big guys. He brings a punch," Jackson said. One more thing: Perez, a defensive tackle, is in only his second week as the starting center. He replaced Ethan Hernandez, who was injured.
"Any talk about Player of the Year starts with team success...the wins, the DuPage Valley Conference championship, going to state. All the credit goes to the offensive line. They are blocking for me. What is really important is for us to win the state title. We've been second three times (1991, 2000, 2007). It's time to take the next step as a program," Jackson said.
"I feel like we have gotten better over the past few weeks. Our running game has improved so much. Ball control and time of possession is important. The best way to beat a spread team is to control the ball.
"Last year, we were intimidated by Loyola's size (in a 28-13 semifinal loss). But we we prepared well this year. We were more confident. We executed this year. We won the line of scrimmage. I was proud of our team effort. We won as a team."
Unlike the Mr. Basketball award which annually recognizes the state's top basketball player, there is no Mr. Football award in Illinois. So there are more than a few Player of the Year selections. Perhaps the most respected is the Chicago Daily NewsChicago Sun-Times award, which dates to 1951.
Jackson could be only the third junior to be honored. The others were Vocational's Dick Butkus in 1959 and Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac last year. Butkus was injured most of his senior year and didn't repeat. Isaac's senior year also has been riddled with injuries.
"Wow. Butkus. That's a nice class to be in," Jackson admitted.
He has made his reputation largely on two plays that are the steak and potatoes of Glenbard North's offense.
"They are called power and joker," he said. "It's the same play. On power, the fullback kicks out the defensive end and the guard pulls through to hit the linebacker. On joker, it is switched with the guard kicking out and the fullback pulling through. They are our trademark plays."
To beat Mount Carmel, Glenbard North must control the ball and the clock with Jackson, then slug it out with the Caravan's defense.
"If it was just the split-back veer, it would be so much of a problem," Wilkens said. "But they do so much more with the veer. It is hard to simulate the footwork of the quarterback. It isn't easy to prepare for them in five days."
Providence coach Mark Coglianese, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 17-0 in Week 9, agrees with Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti's assessment that he has the best kicker (Ivan Strmic) and punter (Joe Pavlik) in the Catholic League.
"The kicking game is a big strength for them. Field position can be important in a big game," Coglianese said. "They run the option as good as anyone, with the precision of a surgeon. And they will exploit any mistake that you make. They aren't overly big on defense but they are fast and physical and get to the ball and make plays. On paper, they don't look like one of the best Mount Carmel teams but they find ways to get it done."
Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti thinks one of the major strengths of this team is its selfless attitude. All egos are checked at the locker room door. "It's the 'we' thing, not the 'me' thing. Last year, our team was 'me, me, me.' These kids realize that doesn't work. They do what the coaches tell them. They realize we have have had a lot of success by listening to the coaches," he said.
"To get kids to learn to defend the split-back veer in a short time is difficult," said Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in the quarterfinals. "Give them different looks. Don't sit in a base defense or they will figure you out. You have to score early. They aren't built to score quickly or score from behind.
"A team that can throw the ball well can give them trouble. They do a good job of letting you get deep. The area in the middle of the field, from 8 to 12 yards, must be attacked. They are so adept at making adjustments on offense. Whatever look you show them, they have seen it before. You have to try to stay a step ahead of them."
And hope Justin Jackson is moving the chains.

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

Looking back at Texas in 2013 and setting Notre Dame’s defensive expectations

After allowing 40 points in an embarrassing road loss at Brigham Young three years ago, Texas coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz, whose defense only had one sack at the time of his firing, was replaced by a defensive analyst with coordinator experience. Sound familiar?

In-season, high-profile coordinator firings aren’t completely unheard of at the college level, but they are rare. So with Notre Dame replacing Brian VanGorder with Greg Hudson on Sunday, we can look back at Texas’ 2013 season as a rough blueprint for setting expectations for the Irish defense going forward. 

And the expectation is this: A mid-season firing of a coordinator probably won’t fix a broken defense. It didn’t necessarily do that at Texas. 

Like VanGorder’s 2015 defense, Diaz’s group in 2012 was inconsistent and prone to debilitating showings: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all scored 40 or more points against the Longhorns, with Texas losing three of those four games in a 9-4 season. 

So with championship expectations still on Brown at Texas, and a defense clearly in regression, Brown fired Diaz — who earned $700,000, about $400,000 lower than the salary ESPN reported VanGorder earned in 2014 — just two games into the 2013 season. Here’s how Texas fared after jettisoning Diaz and promoting former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to that post in Austin:

Lost, 44-23, vs. Ole Miss (allowed 6.24 yards per play)
Won, 31-21, vs. Kansas State (allowed 5.74 yards per play)
Won, 31-30, at Iowa State (allowed 6.01 yards per play)
Won, 36-20, vs. Oklahoma (allowed 4.46 yards per play)
Won, 30-7, at TCU (allowed 3.90 yards per play)
Won, 35-13, vs. Kansas (allowed 5.19 yards per play)
Won, 47-40, at West Virginia (allowed 4.81 yards per play)
Lost, 38-13, vs. Oklahoma State (allowed 6.13 yards per play)
Won, 41-16. vs Texas Tech (allowed 4.95 yards per play)
Lost, 30-10, at Baylor (allowed 5.52 yards per play)
Lost, 30-7, vs. Oregon (allowed 6.90 yards per play)

Texas still struggled to stop the Big 12’s most powerful offenses in Oklahoma State and Baylor, as well as Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. That win over Oklahoma certainly was impressive — the Sooners went on to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl — and this group did do better in terms of putting pressure on opposing offenses, but for the most part, Texas’ defense was still an up-and-down group. 

Its defense did well against Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech but struggled to stop Ole Miss, Iowa State and West Virginia. Robinson didn’t magically turn Texas into a reliably-competitive defense: The Longhorns finished 44th in defensive S&P+, 57th in scoring defense (25.8 PPG) and 62nd in yards per play (5.48). It wasn’t good enough to allow Texas to compete for a Big 12 championship (of course, it's worth noting Texas' offense wasn't, either). 

Notre Dame’s circumstances are different, with the Irish possessing a much better offense this year than Texas had three years ago (Case McCoy and a banged-up David Ash were largely ineffective) but less talent on defense (both Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed totaled double-digit sacks; Notre Dame only has one sack as a team through four games). 

But the lesson here is that a mid-season coordinator change shouldn’t be expected to completely fix a defense. For Notre Dame’s sake, it has to hope Hudson can, at least, inject something into this defense to marginally improve it enough to get the Irish to six wins and bowl eligibility. 

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

It may not be very pretty, but it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of Todd Frazier’s stolen base technique.

Despite employing a walking-lead style that his manager loves to harp on, Frazier swiped two more bags in Sunday’s victory over the Cleveland Indians. Frazier’s 14 stolen bases this season not only leads the team, it’s also the most by a White Sox third baseman since Luis Salazar also stole 14 bases in 1985.

“He’s got that sneaky little stolen base thing where he sneaks off there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He looks like a fan ran on the field. It works. I don’t know how to explain it, but it works.”

Frazier has learned how to make it work.

Successful only 58.5 percent of the time in his first three minor league seasons, Frazier adapted his style after he and Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan discussed his leads. Frazier, who was successful in only 24 of 41 tries between Cincinnati’s Rookie League team and Double-A, said the talk resulted in an alteration and drastically improved results. Frazier’s success rate increased to 81.8 percent at Triple-A as he was successful in 36 of 44 tries.

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Frazier has converted 57 of 85 tries in the majors (67 percent), including 14 of 19 this season.

“Basically every time I stole a base my first move would be coming up in the standstill,” Frazier said. “(Morgan) taught me the walking lead, basically because the more you get your momentum going toward the base I have one or two steps ahead of somebody. We went over that a little bit, I started working on it in Triple-A and I’d get about 15 stolen bags a year. I’m not the fastest guy, but if I can a step ahead and get two or three or four when the guy throws it they’re not going to be be able to throw it. Sometimes I’ll get picked off and you’ll be like, ‘What is he doing?’ But I’ll take five or six of those a year to get to second base and get two big runs there for us.”

Frazier’s steals on Sunday led to two of three runs scored by the White Sox. Even more important (for the purposes of bragging rights), the stolen bases gave Frazier the team lead over Adam Eaton, who has 12 steals.

“I told Eaton I was going to get him, no problem,” Frazier said. “I told him ‘I’m coming for you,’ and I got two today so I took the lead, which is pretty cool.”

Ventura still isn’t quite sure how Frazier does it. But he’s impressed nonetheless.

“He’s not a normal looking base stealer, but he’s able to create some havoc when he’s out there” Ventura said.