Too many touchdowns. Too many yards. Too many long nights and long faces.
So, after a season full of frustration, Roland Houston decided to make a change.
Contrary to anything he has done in his long football career, the Golden Eagles became a defensive team based out of the 3-4 look.
“It’s going to put us into blitzing more than we have in the past,” Houston said. “I never have been a blitz guy, because I feel like you play your base and most of the time, that’s what’s going to win it for you.”
But sticking to its base didn’t work for Jacksonville last season. The Golden Eagles went 2-8 and gave up an average of 41.2 points per game. On three occasions, they gave up more than 50 points including a season-high 61 against Anniston in Week 9.
Their only victories came against winless Locust Fork early and a 25-22 win against Class 2A Pleasant Valley in the season finale.
Knowing that a change was necessary, “because we’ve been so bad defensively the year before,” he said, Houston talked with his coaches and evaluated the situation. What they saw were big things — three to be exact, and the idea of what to switch to popped out to them like the players’ bellies.
With the nose guard position such a crucial role in the 3-4, much like skinny jeans, not everybody can pull it off. Jacksonville, however, just happened to currently be blessed with big bodies. The Golden Eagles will rotate in Tyler Prater (6-foot-2, 300), Trey Morris and Alijah Curry in hopes of earning some defensive respectability again on the field.
“We had these big guys that are really huge,” Houston said, “and they’re getting to be pretty good players. We’re better in that than in any other defense.”
The job of a 3-4 nose guard is almost like a one-man show. They have to keep the defense honest by occupying lineman in the wide-open gaps a three-man front creates. The defense is also reliant on linebackers, which Houston said he had more of than defensive back-type players.
Houston admits while he was skeptical, he was more desperate. After watching it work during his time as an assistant at Jacksonville State, he decided to try it, but only in committing to the spring. If it didn’t work — or even show hints of working — it’d be back to the drawing board in hopes of sketching out another plan for the fall.
But it did. At least well enough to score a two-touchdown win in the spring jamboree over Cherokee County, a team just two years removed from a state championship.
And that was basically all it took.
“I thought it was a perfect defense,” Prater said. “ … it’s better containment on the quarterback. I don’t think they can’t our nose guard position.”
Even though Prater admits he was surprise by how well it worked in the spring, even before the spring victory, convincing the players wasn’t hard.
Curry is a newcomer to varsity football, so, he didn’t experience the old way. Nevertheless, he’s loving the look.
“I knew it was an important position, but I didn’t know it was that important,” Curry said. “I like I feel like I’m playing on a college team or a video game.”
Much like the spread offense, the 3-4 is a chic way to play D. Alabama rode it to a Bowl Championship Series title two seasons ago. And it’s currently so much the rage in the NFL, some squads have put the franchise tag on their biggest bellies.
At this time of year, the typical response of a coach on nearly any level is that the defense is ahead of the offense. Because of the complexities of defense, Houston puts the two groups are “at least even.”
“I think we’re better than last year,” Houston said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the scheme or more because of the personnel. I think scheme is helping us a little bit.”
Houston said more attention has been paid to the teaching aspects and going into a lot more detail pointing out so many more situations a 3-4 can present and adjustments will have to be made for.
But for all the adjustments a defense may have to make, he can now pose the same type problems for the offense. And do it first --- an offensive defense of sorts.
“In the old defense, everybody knows what they’ve got,” he said. “The thing about the 3-4 is you can line your secondary four across and get the defense you want by rolling them up.
“So, people don’t know until the snap what they’re getting, so, it helps you a little bit.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.