Wagner ball carriers will know that it’s happened when, suddenly, an FAU defensive back fires like a missile at their legs, knocking them off their feet.
“They call it ‘whack tackling,’ Tooley said. “Coach is telling us to whack the big backs especially, because going up high, we have such smaller bodies playing DB, that’s what coach would like us to do. Whack.”
Whack tackles can produce spectacular endings, potentially sending the carrier flipping through the air. But because the hit leads with a shoulder and doesn’t prioritize wrapping a defender’s arms around the carrier, poorly executed whacks can allow the carrier to bounce off the hit and continue down the field.
“It’s not really new, it’s just something they are putting a higher emphasis this year,” Tooley said. “Just whacking the back, whacking the back. Going low. There’s a certain way that you have to do it. You can’t really just dive at his ankles. You’ve got to bring your whole body. That’s the part that they are learning, bringing their whole body instead of just leaving their feet. You will miss it most times if you just leave your feet and not bring your whole body.”
Tackling, be it whack or traditional, is an area where coach Lane Kiffin wants to see improvement on Saturday.
Like many coaches, Kiffin reduced the number of live tackling practices during fall camp, balancing the game skill against the risk of injuries to both offensive and defensive players. After the Owls struggled with tackling during the first three games of the season, and particularly in the open field in Saturday’s victory over Ball St., Kiffin ran his defenders through additional tackling drills this week during practice.
“Results are results,” Kiffin said. “I’m not going to say we did it right because we haven’t tackled very well. But there’s always a balance. Those first two games, we came out of those first two games with a lot of injuries.”
Cornerback Meiko Dotson, whose playing time increased with Korel Smith’s injury that kept him from traveling last week and makes him unlikely to play this week, is among those Kiffin mentioned as needing to improve his open field tackling.
“A lot of times it comes down to wanting to make plays so bad, sometimes, and not just specifically doing what we are taught and trusting in the way we prepare,” Dotson said. “I feel like that’s what we have to do, slow down, make the tackle and get ready for the next down.”