The defense of Presbyterian College coordinator Tommy Spangler is a complex one. It requires that the “Sam” linebacker assesses an offensive formation quickly, and reacts even faster.
Saturday’s game against Charlotte will show just how critical that role is and how having your best player in that role is key. For PC, Donelle Williams, a redshirt senior, is critical in their 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Spangler is in his third year back with the Blue Hose after reshaping Louisiana Tech’s defense from dead last overall in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to one of the Western Athletic Conference’s (WAC) top units. Louisiana Tech has since moved to Conference USA.
“It’s a smart defense. You have a lot of blitzes you can run out of it. There are a lot of things within a 4-2-5 you can do with your outside linebackers,” Williams said.
A defensive scheme with a “two” at the linebacker level relies heavily on outside linebacker-defensive back hybrids who can both stop the run and drop back into coverage.
That’s Williams’ role, and he cited Spangler’s defensive scheme as one of the keys to the success of the Blue Hose last year. In 2014, PC’s defense set school records at the Division I level in every important defensive category, including fewest offensive yards, points, touchdowns and yards per game en route to a 6-5 mark.
The unit’s leading tackler was Williams, who posted 81 stops along with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles-for-loss (TFL).
In week one of this season, Williams stepped right back into a leading role and had nine tackles and forced a fumble in Presbyterian’s season-opening loss to Miami of Ohio.
Charlotte, coming off a historic first week of the year, played their first FBS opponent, in their first game as a member of FBS, and notched their first FBS win. The game was played at the Georgia Dome, and was also the team’s initial game as a member of Conference USA.
In their 23-20 victory over Georgia State, junior running back Kalif Phillips rushed for 90 yards out of the backfield as the 49ers compiled 213 yards rushing. Phillips has more than 2,200 career yards and has accounted for 33 touchdowns.
Quarterback Matt Johnson aired it out 32 times, to go along with 17 carries. The Newton, NC native has thrown for more than 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns in his two seasons as a starter. The two form a potent combination and will keep constant pressure on Presbyterian’s defensive unit this week.
If there was a concern in the 49ers first week performance, it was the five times that Johnson was sacked by the Georgia State defense. That statistic will make Williams’ role all the bigger. If Presbyterian pressures from the linebacker level, Williams will have critical run/pass reads to make on every play.
“The Sam is more of a linebacker than a defensive back, but he also drops into coverage and will man-cover a back or will man-cover a slot receiver at times,” said Williams. He will need to do both this week.
The last time Presbyterian faced Charlotte, Williams was injured, and the 49ers won, 45-21.
“That brings more intensity to the game. I was upset that I wasn’t able to contribute that year. So I’m ready to come back this year and do good things against Charlotte,” said Williams.
Williams has an additional incentive. The ASN broadcast will send the game to his hometown of Starke, Fla., just outside of Gainesville.
“The football atmosphere is big there. With so many Florida fans coming through town on a game weekend, it’s all Florida orange and blue. It’s a great spirit,” said Williams.
Two of those fans, Donelle’s parents Clarence and Charlotte Williams, will instead be wearing Presbyterian blue on Saturday.
Above: Presbyterian College's Donelle Williams (32) will be the focal point for the Blue Hose defense against Charlotte. (Couresty Presbyterian College Athletics)