Substitute coordinator: Gibbs steps in for Walters and dials up pressure

Two and a half of the Tigers’ three sacks came from defensive backs.
Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton tackles South Carolina quarterback Collin Hill during the Tigers' 17-10 win on Nov. 21, 2020. SEC Media Portal

With Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters out due to contact tracing, defensive backs coach David Gibbs stepped into the role on Saturday night in South Carolina with a tall task: Dial up pressure with a heavily depleted defensive line whose losses included Trajan Jeffcoat, its leading sack artist.

“I’m surprised none of y’all knew,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz joked after the game.

And dial up pressure, he did.

Gibbs schemed safety Martez Manuel into the backfield twice and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. once, giving the Tigers their first 2.5 sacks by defensive backs on the season.

“I thought we would incorporate some different ways to get pressure,” Drinkwitz said. “And we did.”

Gibbs previously served as defensive coordinator under current Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, from 2015 to 2019, before coming to Missouri to coach defensive backs for Barry Odom in 2019.

Like with most defensive assistants, including Walters, Drinkwitz kept Gibbs when he took over after the 2019 season. He didn’t expect him to call plays at any point, until about 13 days ago when the team learned Walters would have to quarantine for the ensuing two weeks.

“He did a great job of just staying calm and calling the defense, being able to handle run adjustments, pass adjustments, subbing in personnel, matching personnel,” Drinkwitz said. “I thought he dialed up some great pressures, mixed up zone and man. Crud, he held them to 10 points. He did everything good.”

Midway through the first quarter, Gibbs brought secondary pressure for the first time. Manuel lined up on the line of scrimmage, next to the left defensive end and made a beeline for the quarterback.

South Carolina slid its protection to the right and the running back failed to pick up the sophomore safety. That gave Manuel a clear path to quarterback Collin Hill and his first career sack, as well as one of many third-down stops for the Tigers.

On the next drive, Manuel crept up toward the B gap on the right side and blitzed again, this time being picked up by the fullback. He drove his blocker right into Hill, grabbing the passer and — along with linebacker Devin Nicholson, who came in on a delayed blitz and was credited with half a sack — taking him down.

“[Gibbs] was aggressive early, we got after the quarterback,” said linebacker Nick Bolton, who helped Gibbs out by continuing to make his case for Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year with 14 tackles and two for loss.

“He had a couple nuances in the things he called, so that kind of helped us out throughout the game as well,” Bolton said. “Coach Gibbs is a hell of a coach. He’s harping on bringing pressure and forcing negative plays, and we were able to do that today.”

South Carolina brought true freshman quarterback Luke Doty midway through the game, who made a difference with his legs. Doty rushed for 57 yards, one short of the team lead.

“[Defensive line] coach [Brick] Haley made a great adjustment to cage the quarterback and not let him get out of the pocket,” Drinkwitz said.

What are some of the ways to “cage” a mobile quarterback, which was one of the hallmarks of Missouri’s struggles down the stretch last year? Stopping him before he gets started with a corner blitz is one, and that’s what Gibbs called in the fourth quarter when Rakestraw came off the edge for the first sack of his career.

“We kind of got him out of the run early and forced him to pass the ball a bit more in the second half,” Bolton said. “Credit to our D-Line for that, and then our safeties and corners for manning up when it was their time to play.”

Edited by Anna Cowden | acowden@themaneater.com

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