October 10, 2013
Jason Hatcher broke two bones in his hand against South Carolina, but kept playing.
And, for the most part, playing well. He recorded three tackles and his first career sack, while splitting time between defensive end (filling in for also-injured Bud Dupree) and outside linebacker. But he was also the point of attack at times for South Carolina and made some mistakes that hurt Kentucky.
"Yeah, Jason did some good things at some times," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "But he’s a young player, so he still makes some mistakes that young players make. But he’s getting better every week."
Let's take a look at some of both.
This came immediately after Dupree left the game. Hatcher slid down to take his defensive end position, and got quick pressure on the quarterback by beating his man off the edge.
Even better, I thought, was Hatcher's pursuit. Here, Hatcher not only chases him but keeps up with him from hash mark to sideline, forcing a throw-away:
That energy was evident throughout the night from Hatcher. There were some plays where he was going less than 100 percent (which could be attributed to a sudden, and unexpected, increase in the amount played), but for the most part Hatcher had a high motor. That included multiple instances of following a play either far downfield, or, in this case, across the line of scrimmage.
As the linebacker on the opposite side of where South Carolina ran the play, Hatcher (bottom of the screen) is far from the ball initially. But he shows good speed and good instincts -- especially considering he's a defensive end still learning how to play the OLB position -- in chasing down the running back and tripping him up before Avery Williamson swoops in to finish the tackle.
And, of course, there was the sack. Hatcher didn't exactly blow up this play by himself, but he (again) showed some good quickness and awareness to disengage from his blocker and prevent Shaw from escaping the pocket, dragging him down for a loss instead.
Now, about some of those freshman mistakes. There were far fewer "bad" plays than "good" plays from Hatcher, but he did show he's a freshman on occasion. And that matters in terms of results, especially with Dupree out and Hatcher likely assuming a larger role in determining the outcome.
Some of the "bad" plays were simply physical things. In two or three plays, South Carolina's tackles manhandled Hatcher. Like this run play -- watch how Hatcher (top of the screen) ends up six yards in the backfield as everyone else is around the ball.
That's just a simply physical issue. Hatcher's a freshman, and an undersized end to begin with. That will happen, and it just takes time to physically mature.
But there were some mental mistakes that cost Kentucky dearly at the end of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Cats trailing by six points and South Carolina backed up inside their own 20, the Gamecocks ran a read-option play with Hatcher as their key. Hatcher stayed in pretty good position -- cheating a bit toward the running back -- and was able to tackle the running back just past the line of scrimmage (although the running back ended up diving forward for seven yards).
Then, on the very next play, South Carolina ran the exact same thing. They again targeted Hatcher, leaving him unblocked on the edge and reading him. Hatcher bit hard toward the running back, and Shaw tucked the ball and sprinted for a huge gain downfield.
"Sometimes he doesn't close down space fast enough when he's at the end spot," Williamson told our TJ Walker. "He's just gotta learn, especially when we're playing an option-style team, to keep his shoulders square when he's going down the line. That hurt us on a play in the South Carolina game."
It's this one:
Again, Hatcher isn't the only one making mental mistakes. Not at all; he's been one of the bright spots, especially among young players, on defense.
But as a freshman who's been used pretty heavily -- and who will get an "amped-up role" against Alabama if Dupree is out -- his improvement must continue.
"He lacks some experience and with it the different things we're doing and the different positions we have him at," Stoops said. "It's just a matter of playing and getting some experience."
No doubt, Hatcher will get that experience.
The future looks bright for him.