October 13, 2013
Not much Kentucky did against Alabama was good.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said nobody on his side of the ball played "winning football."
And that's true. The numbers Alabama rang up are borderline absurd.
But one bright spot -- perhaps the player closest to playing "winning football," especially in the first half -- was safety Eric Dixon.
Yes, he of the missed tackle that essentially sealed UK's loss at South Carolina.
But in the early action against Alabama, Dixon was flying all over the field, mainly in run support (where he's primarily employed, especially when UK's primary focal point on defense was stopping the run). He recorded four tackles on Crimson Tide runs in the first quarter and added another in the second. Let's take a look at each:
Play One: The Draw
Alabama runs a draw play on 2nd-and-10 from midfield. That's a tough play to defend; Alabama is so good at going play-action off of runs, and the inverse is a bit more surprising.
On this one, Dixon jets down from off the left side of your screen. He's helped by defensive tackle Mike Douglas (No. 50), who sheds his block to get a body on running back TJ Yeldon.
Still, Yeldon bounced off him and tried to bounce outside, but Dixon had moved to the edge of the field to cut off the outside lane and bring him down.
Play Two: Open-Field Tackle
This play was unsuccessful from the entire defensive standpoint. Running back Kenyan Drake cranked out a 15-yard run on a 2nd-and-2 situation.
But it was up to Dixon to keep it to 15, and it came on a challenging tackle. Drake had burst through the front seven (including driving right through Jason Hatcher) and was heading left, toward the sideline. Dixon was coming at him from the middle of the field, an angle that might have been susceptible to a quick cut-back move.
A miss would have meant at least 10 more yards, and possibly a touchdown. Instead, he maintained his line and brought Drake down.
Play Three/Four: Getting to the Sideline
One thing Dixon did very well, especially in the early going, was getting to the sideline before or at the same time as the running back. He's got good pursuit skills and a pretty good sense of taking the proper angle. Check out these two plays -- both of which involve two pulling guards and a run to the edge -- in which Dixon navigates heavy traffic (both Alabama blockers and his own teammates getting blocked) to torpedo into the running back:
Play Five: The Forced Fumble
The biggest play Dixon made was the most obvious: In the first quarter, with Alabama driving deep into UK territory, the Crimson Tide ran a zone-read run for Drake. He took the ball, headed right and then burst upfield. Dixon, however, converged on Drake just as he got past the line of scrimmage. Drake gave a quick inside shake before continuing outside (see that in the alternate angle), and Dixon -- while not making a totally proper tackle -- got enough on Drake to not only bring him down, but make him fumble.
Dixon didn't continue the high-intensity play, making just one tackle -- in garbage time -- the rest of the way. He admitted he, like most of the team, became worn down in the second half going against Alabama's physical offensive line and running backs play after play.
Still, Dixon showed again -- that one missed tackle aside -- that he can be a good run-stopping safety.
"Eric has been playing – he has been playing good football," Stoops said last week before the Alabama game. "He really has. He’s a guy that’s very conscientious. He cares a great deal about what we’re doing. He really tries to prepare every week and he’s been playing good football."
Obviously, praise was much more rare after the Alabama beatdown. Asked if any individual players stood out -- a question that had a response about Dixon in mind -- Stoops said, "It's hard for me to say right now. I was disappointed in our overall effort."