New 3-3-5 scheme adding up for Carmel defense
Carmel quarterback Nick Grandolfo (with ball) charges through a line of defenders to get a first down during a game on Friday. | Mark Ukena~For Sun-Times Media
MUNDELEIN — When a football team allows its opponents to score 38 points off of turnovers in a two-game span, as Carmel did to start the 2012 season, any positives tend to get overshadowed.
And that’s why Corsairs head coach Andy Bitto was happy to talk about strong performances on defense.
“Our defense has been outstanding, and they were again (against Marian Catholic),” Bitto said. “We’re using a new scheme this year (3-3-5 formation), and we basically have eight or nine guys who are linebackers on the field every down. It allows us to be a lot quicker, and also allows us to fill gaps a lot faster. This is probably the best defense we’ve had here in a while, but people might not have noticed because we gave so many points away in our first two games.”
On the surface, it may not seem that a team allowing a combined 62 points in its first two contests would be considered strong defensively. But a look inside the numbers paints a different picture.
In their opener against a powerhouse Lincoln-Way East Club, the Corsairs allowed 17 points off of turnovers, in addition to making some significant special teams gaffes that repeatedly put the defense in a vulnerable position. The following week, in a 31-16 loss to 2011 Class 8A semifinalist Glenbard North, Carmel turned the ball over three times in its own territory — miscues which cost the Corsairs 21 points, again putting the defense on its heels far too often.
Carmel rebounded in Week 3 by allowing Marian Catholic just 93 yards of total offense (45 rushing, 48 passing) in a 34-10 win. The Corsairs forced three fumbles, recovered two of them, and had an interception. They added insult to injury by racking up six sacks, and forced eight other plays that resulted in negative yardage.
The Corsairs allowed just one run of more than seven yards in the first three-and-a-half quarters. And had it not been for the 53 yards Marian racked up rushing on its final drive of the game, against Carmel’s second-team defense, the Corsairs would have held Marian to negative yardage on the ground.
“I think there’s a great team here, I really do,” Carmel senior defensive lineman Mike Falger said. “We’ve put a huge emphasis on tackling drills every day in practice, and focusing on the fundamental things that will, hopefully, keep us playing at a very high and consistent level the rest of the year.”
In addition to focusing on fundamentals, the Corsairs spend an ample amount of time promoting their C.P.R. program. It’s an acronym for Club, Punch, Rip, which is what they’re repeatedly taught to do in order to try and force turnovers.
“The CPR philosophy has become second nature to us,” senior defensive lineman Grant Stredler said. “Every opportunity we possibly have, we’re taught to try and strip the football.”
Another player instrumental to the defense’s success is junior defensive back Ronald Cox. In Bitto’s 3-3-5 system, Cox covers the middle of the field, essentially acting as a third safety, with the dual responsibility of defending both the run and the pass well beyond the line of scrimmage, depending upon the situation.
“When you consider his first varsity game was last year in Week 8, and watch what he’s doing now, it’s remarkable,” Falger said. “It seems like he’s in on almost every play out there. It’s almost like he’s a robber or a middle safety — kind of like a linebacker who plays deeper. He’s been outstanding.”
The Corsairs (1-2 overall, 1-0 ESCC) travel to Arlington Heights on Friday, where they’ll face conference foe St. Viator (2-1, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve just got to keep protecting the football and playing great defense,” Bitto said. “If we can do those two things, I think we’re gonna be just fine.”