Stopping the Cougars' 6-4 quarterback John Schirmer, disrupting passing attack are key in winning home opener
As any football coach will echo, stopping the run is the first step to beating any team in the world. Tribe head man Sean McNabb had the same words, but with a warning for the upcoming home opener against Cascade on Sept. 5:
They've got some big kids up front, and they want to try to run downhill and get you loaded up so they can throw the football, he said. Bottom line is, we've got build around the ball and stop the run.
That's the bottom line. First things first. The word of caution, though, has to do with returning quarterback John Schirmer. As quarterbacks go, he's a string bean, but a wicked tall one. At 155 pounds, he's taller than any of the players on his own offensive line. He's taller than any of his receivers. He's taller than all 11 Indian players listed as being over 6 feet, including junior tackle Andrew Kercher and senior linebacker Jonathan Tardif at 6-foot-2, and sophomore tackle Zarykk Davis at 6-foot-3.
But towering over the rest of the field at 6-foot-4 has its definite advantages. While Schirmer isn't much of a runner (he's outweighed by seven Tribesmen, few of which will start), he's able to easily spy receivers downfield.
Last season, Schirmer was full of air-bound highlights. Vision and accuracy being a strongpoint, Schirmer shone when given enough time to throw the ball, often nailing his target for massive gains, hitting wide open receivers with enough space to score, all without hardly ever taking a dash up the middle.
He's a far different quarterback than the Indians' starter, Joey Krupsky, who is as likely to run as he is to pass, in spite of the talent and experience in the backfield and the receiving corps. And while Scappoose is focused on getting athletes the ball in space and opening up holes to run through, Cascade has a different idea: Bait and switch.
The Cougars will often line up in the I-formation with both running backs directly behind Schirmer, either under center or in the shotgun. At this point, the possibilities are endless. Early on while attempting to establish the running game, either the halfback or fullback will be handed the ball, hoping to force Scappoose to move the linebackers forward.
As time goes on, Cascade begins to switch things up. Instead of a handoff, the running backs split and step into pass protection, forming a pocket in which Schirmer can safely scan the field for an open wide receiver or tight end. They'll also run play action from the I-formation, looking for a short pass over the middle or a screen, and beware plays when both tailbacks run to the right or left: Schirmer quickly follows in their wake, searching for a receiver on that side of the field.
Thankfully for Scappoose, McNabb has a deep trust in his defense, especially after a jamboree outing that saw the Tribe defense cause fits for both RA Long and St. Helens. The Indians got excellent pressure on both quarterbacks and seemingly every tackle was of the gang variety.
The one thing that really stands out to me was our enthusiasm on both sides, but especially the defensive side of the ball. I thought we were relentless. I thought we had 11 guys around the ball, we swarmed to the football [and] we're trying to create turnovers, McNabb said. St. Helens had that one opportunity to score, I think it was on one of their last plays, and we did a great job of rallying to the ball and keeping them out of the end zone. That, right there, I thought was a real positive just our enthusiasm and our attitude and the way we played the game.
As the crux lies in pushing Cascade to use the air attack, both the Indian defensive line and the linebacker corps will come into play in a big way. On more than a handful of possessions against RA Long and St. Helens, Scappoose had a defender either in the face of the opposing quarterback, or a lineman with their arms wrapped around him. The intensity in attacking the offense is a major selling point for McNabb.
To win games, you've got to be relentless defensively, and to win games you've got to be able to stop the run, and that's something that we've talked a lot about putting a lot of pressure on the other team, McNabb said. Offensively, we're going to put pressure on a team by running that no-huddle, up-tempo offense, but defensively, being able to send a lot of guys [and] put a lot of heat on them, stop the run [and] force them to do things they're not comfortable doing.
McNabb hopes to do exactly as they did in the Aug. 29 preview. Get the opposing quarterback Schirmer, in this case to make decisions a little more quickly than he'd like to. It's all about making the biggest piece of the Cascade offense uncomfortable, whether it results in a fumble, a sack, an interception or simply an incomplete or poorly thrown pass.
What the Indians have to do
The Indians have a host of seniors in the defensive secondary, namely the Krupsky twins Joey and David, senior strong safety Ben Gadbois and senior cornerback Jake Ford. With Joey Krupsky and Gadbois in the middle and Ford and David Krupsky patrolling the sidelines, the Cougars could have a hard time finding enough separation for their receivers downfield, forcing Schirmer to either force a difficult pass into tight coverage or look for short passes over the middle of the defense.
Turnovers were the focus at the end of practice on Wednesday, and the first-team defense was given 12 possessions to come up with three takeaways. McNabb's intent on ruffling Schirmer early on in the game and not allowing him to get into a rhythm is with turnovers in mind, something the Indians seem fairly well built to do. The linebackers Johnathan Tardif, Robbie Backus, Colton Bird and Owen Fortney, to name a few standouts can cause havoc if they get around the offensive line.
Senior guard Devin Ray, listed at 6 foot, 240 pounds, can cause havoc period. He'll be a major piece in the disruption of Schirmer's flow, and the success of Cascade's passing attack may just hinge on the Cougars' ability to keep Ray out of the backfield.
What's more, even when Schirmer is given time to throw, he doesn't have the kind of arm that will zip a pass 30 yards before a hapless defensive back bats an eyelash. For all his height and vision, Schirmer tends to let deep passes float in midair, and that's dangerous when playing against cornerbacks with the pass-catching abilities of Ford and David Krupsky.
Scappoose won't need a pick to win, they'll just need to keep from being bitten by the long ball. It's the only way Cascade can keep the defense honest and keep the safeties from edging up toward the linebackers and helping to block the run. Long passes lead to big gains, momentum-swinging plays and heart-wrenching touchdowns. Keep those off the scoreboard, and the Indians will have a solid shot.