Sept. 28, 2001
By Trent Packer
As a tight end at Penn State, UVa rookie defensive coordinator Al Golden spent his playing career trying to get his team into the end zone. In his new position as the Cavaliers’ defensive guru, however, Golden’s challenge has changed. Instead of putting points on the board, Golden is now focused on keeping opposing defenses off the scoreboard.
A one-time graduate assistant with the Cavaliers, Golden returned to in January to take over as Virginia’s defensive coordinator. Golden brought with him an energetic approach that should help catapult the Cavaliers up the ACC’s defensive charts.
“We have very high expectations that we believe will result from working hard and staying healthy,” Golden says. “We are also looking for strong leadership.”
Virginia ranked just sixth in total defense in the ACC during the 2000 season, surrendering 421.9 yards per game. While UVa’s defense was the fourth-best in the conference at keeping opposing teams out of the end zone, Golden has concentrated on a number of areas that he feels will improve the Cavaliers’ defense in 2001.
One of the areas which has drawn Golden’s immediate attention is tackling. From the beginning of spring practice through the summer and into fall training camp, tackling has remained one of Golden’s primary points of emphasis.
“We have incorporated tackling drills that we hope will improve (the players’) technique,” Golden says. “We had the guys continue to work on their tackling through the summer. Then, when we came back as a group, we began to practice tackling every day.In practice we don’t always bring everybody to the ground, but we try to get good position on the ball carrier. We want everybody swarming to the ball and finishing with nobody stopping early.”
While tackling sometimes appears to involve equal parts courage and technique, it is Golden’s belief that improving technique can give his players the necessary confidence to become consistent tacklers.
“Anybody can be a good tackler,” Golden says. “With confidence comes courage.” In addition to emphasizing tackling, Golden has also helped retool Virginia’s defensive scheme with an eye towards getting the most out of the Cavaliers’ abilities.Upon his arrival in Charlottesville, head coach Al Groh instituted a brand new defensive scheme. Instead of the four defensive lineman and three linebackers that Virginia fans have grown accustomed to over the years, Virginia is using a 3-4 system. Golden and the rest of the Cavaliers’ coaching staff feels that the 3-4 defensive alignment better suits the talents of UVa’s players. As defensive coordinator, it is Golden’s job to translate the game plan from paper onto the field.According to Golden, the new defensive scheme and the staff’s development of a game plan are both dependent on giving their players assignments which are consistent with their strengths.
“We always think of our players before plays,” Golden says. “Every time we sit down to get a game plan together, we analyze our strengths and weaknesses to develop a game plan that will work for us.”
While making sure that the scheme and game plan maximize the talents of his players, Golden also knows that an experienced offense can do a lot to help the defense. The more consistent the offense, the more the defense knows what to expect. Golden can then make decisions accordingly.
“I view (having an experienced offense) as an asset,” Golden says. “It helps to know what the offense is looking for.”
With a brand new scheme, an emphasis on getting the most out of his players’ abilities, and a focus on tackling technique, Golden appears to have the Cavaliers well on their way up the defensive charts. As far as his expectations are concerned, however, the first-year defensive coordinator says he is more concerned with victories than statistics.
“I’m not a big numbers guy,” Golden says. “I’m all about wins. As long as we keep winning, I’m happy.”
Today, Golden and his troops will turn their attention to keeping Duke’s offense off the field and out of the end zone. With the amount of experience Golden has accrued over the years as a Penn State player and coach, and there is little doubt that this week, like always, his players will be well prepared. Couple that preparation with a new defensive scheme and an emphasis on technical superiority and it is clear that under Golden’s guidance, the Virginia defense stands on the verge of excellence.