The problem, however, germinates from a spot a little lower than that.
“We were leaving our feet too much, not running through contact,” safety Jordan Helm said. “Not running through thighs, we were just diving at ankles too much.”
FAU coach Lane Kiffin agrees.
“A lot of our back seven guys missed some critical tackles,” Kiffin said.
As a result, Kiffin shook up the back seven during practice this week, and Helm was one of the primary beneficiaries.
Frequently this week Helm lined up with the first string at free safety in the spot normally occupied by Da’von Brown.
“Guy’s done a great job, whether it’s special teams, defense,” Kiffin said. “Don’t let the looks fool you.”
Wearing the same No. 35 his brother Grant wore for the Owls in 2013 and 2014, Jordan doesn’t strike an imposing figure in the defensive backfield. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 183 pounds, Helm is undersized and isn’t the fastest member of the secondary. But what he may lack in pure athleticism Helm makes up for with intelligence.
During fall camp teammates raved about the rapidity with which Helm learned new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s defensive system. It’s part of the reason why Kiffin awarded the a scholarship during fall camp to the redshirt junior finance major who wants to someday coach.
“To be honest, Jordan is like having (safties coach Wes) Neighbors on the field or having (cornerbacks coach Jason) Jones on the field,” cornerback Meiko Dotson said.
Helm only has seven tackles on the season and didn’t record one against Marshall.
But Brown missed several tackles against Marshall in part because of his tendency to go for the whack tackle, a technique usually employed by smaller defenders aimed at throwing a shoulder into the legs of larger ball carriers.
“There’s times where you can whack tackle and there’s some times where you can drive through contact,” Helm said. “You have to know when you can whack and when you have to have a normal tackle.”
FAU’s tackling issues against Marshall weren’t limited to the secondary.
Even reserve linebacker Caliph Brice, who came off the bench to lead the Owls in tackles against Marshall, admits to having his issues, too.
Like all the defensive Owls, Brice focused on driving through ball carriers during this week’s practices.
“We focused on running our feet,” said Brice who, like Helm, worked with the first team in certain situations this week. “That’s been the main thing. We were in position [against Marshall], we just didn’t run our feet. That was the big focal point of today’s practice and yesterday’s practice, to wrap through it and run our feet. I think it’s going to showcase a little better tackling as a group.”
Tackling ODU (1-6, 0-3) ball carriers on Saturday shouldn’t be as difficult as bringing Marshall running back Brenden Knox, who pounded the Owls for 220 yards. No Monarch rusher has more than 200 yards on the season.
The Monarch’s ground attack ranks last in Conference USA, though leading rusher Kesean Strong, who’s played in all seven games, averaged 4.3 yards on his 47 carries this season.
“We’ve just got to key on our assignments and we’ve got to tackle,” Helm said.