Part 2: Defense
Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller: Five OTs to beat a first-rounder
At the time, in October of 2007, Adam Fuller had no idea that his next opponent’s quarterback would go on to a 12-year NFL career that included rookie-of-the-year and Super Bowl MVP honors.
All he knew is that Delaware’s Joe Flacco was really, really good, and that his Richmond Spiders would have their hands full.
And, to be sure, Flacco and the Blue Hens put up plenty of yards and points. But so did Richmond. And, in the end, after five overtimes, it was the Spiders’ defense – where Fuller coached linebackers – that made the decisive play in a 62-56 victory.
“It wasn’t quite the defensive game you want to have,” Fuller recalled with a laugh. “But when you play five overtimes sometimes that happens.”
As Fuller remembers it, the game should never even have gone to overtime. Flacco snapped the ball for what would be the game-tying touchdown with zeroes showing on the clock at the end of the fourth quarter.
From there, the outcome took a little longer than expected, with the teams trading touchdowns and two-point conversions throughout the extra frames, but Richmond sealed its victory by breaking up a fourth-down pass in the fifth overtime.
“It was at their place. I had family at the game,” said Fuller, a Massachusetts native. “It was a really, really great win.”
That Richmond team went on to finish 11-3 and played in the championship subdivision playoff semifinals, where it lost to the Appalachian State team that won at Michigan earlier in the season.
The Spiders’ head coach, Dave Clawson, is now the head coach at Wake Forest.
“It was a great staff,” Fuller said. “There were a bunch of great coaches on that staff. Great people. It was a special year.”
Associate head coach/Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins: Romps over rivals
Having spent more than half of his life as a Florida State Seminole, with a career that spans multiple national titles, it’s understandable that Odell Haggins might have a hard time picking his favorites.
But there are two that stand out. And, no surprise for someone who is Florida State through and through, they both involve beating Miami and Florida.
The first came in 1989, Haggins’ senior year.
Those Seminoles began the year with a No. 6 national ranking but tumbled out of the polls following an 0-2 start. They then engineered one of the most remarkable turnarounds in school history by reeling off 10 straight victories to close out the campaign.
There were plenty of memorable wins that year – including a triumph in Gainesville and a rout of Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl – but the crown jewel of the 1989 season has to be the No. 9 Seminoles’ 24-10 thumping of eventual national champion Miami at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“It was a hard-hitting, hard-fought game,” Haggins said. “It went down to the wire.”
The Seminoles intercepted Miami quarterback Gino Torretta four times, while the running back trio of Dexter Carter, Amp Lee and Edgar Bennet combined for three touchdowns.
Oh, and a freshman punter named Charlie Ward booted five times for an average of 44 yards and a long of 57.
Doak Campbell Stadium could hold around 61,000 people back then, but those who were there say it was never louder before or since.
Haggins remembers it that way, too.
“That game, it was so loud,” he said. “I had never heard a stadium that loud. We only had 61,000 people. It felt like the stands, they stood up the whole time doing the war chant. … (That game) is always going to stand out in my mind.”
So, too, does one from nine years later. This time with Haggins serving as a young coach on Bobby Bowden’s staff.
The Seminoles were ranked No. 5 in the country and had an outside shot at playing for a national title, but they faced an uphill climb against fourth-ranked Florida – especially after losing starting quarterback Chris Weinke to a season-ending injury two weeks before the game.
“People wrote our season off,” Haggins remembered.
The Seminoles, though, weren’t ready to call it quits. Offensive coordinator Mark Richt got creative, and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews led maybe one of the most inspired efforts of all time as FSU beat Florida, 23-12.
“We went in there and Coach Andrews told us, ‘Hey guys, play your best,’” Haggins said. “‘Do the best you (can).’”
Their best was more than good enough. Often operating out of a “dime” alignment with one defensive lineman and six defensive backs, the Seminoles held Florida to only 204 total yards – its lowest total in eight years.
The Gators finished 0-for-13 on third down.
“(Steve) Spurrier couldn’t figure it out,” Haggins said. “That game, they could even run against one defensive lineman.”
Linebackers coach Chris Marve: Volunteer state shocker
Vanderbilt and Tennessee are separated by only 180 miles, but, traditionally, there’s a gulf between the two schools’ football programs
In 113 all-time meetings, the Volunteers have claimed 76.
So perhaps it was only appropriate that the 2016 Vanderbilt Commodores, with coach Chris Marve in his first year as a full-time assistant at his alma mater, needed to beat their longtime rival to earn their sixth win of the season and reach bowl eligibility.
The Commodores had been through what Marve described as an “up and down year,” while Tennessee was ranked 24th nationally and had future pros Alvin Kamara, Derek Barnett and Josh Dobbs on the roster, among others.
But Marve and Vanderbilt wouldn’t be denied. Trailing by 10 points late in the third quarter, the Commodores stormed back to score three unanswered touchdowns and emerge with a stunning, 45-34 victory. They would go on to play in the Independence Bowl for their first postseason appearance in three years.
For a Memphis, Tenn., native who never beat Tennessee as a player, the win held massive significance.
“It was gratitude,” Marve said of the scene in the locker room. “A lot of work was put in to get to that point. Those kids at those institutions, a lot of them know each other. They grew up in that state or grew up on the recruiting circuit knowing each other, getting to compete against each other in different ways.”
Defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson: A fitting finale
A poorly-timed injury kept Marcus Woodson on the sideline for the last game of his collegiate career – the 2004 Cotton Bowl.
But that didn’t stop him from enjoying one of Mississippi’s biggest wins in more than 30 years.
In a game featuring two ranked teams, Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning – also in his collegiate finale – accounted for three touchdowns in a 31-28 victory over Oklahoma State.
It was the Rebels’ first bowl win since 1970, although they had to sweat a bit to get it.
Ole Miss led 31-14 in the fourth quarter but had to hold off a late rally to preserve their victory.
“We came into that game as an underdog because Oklahoma State was very explosive on offense,” Woodson said. “Obviously being on the sideline and in the locker room and enjoying the celebration with the players, that’s a game that for sure comes to mind as one of my most memorable victories.
“That was a great win and definitely one to conclude your career as a player.”
Defensive ends/Special teams coach John Papuchis: Progress comes Sooner rather than later
In 2008, John Papuchis’ first year with coach Bo Pelini at Nebraska, the Cornuskers’ visit to No. 4 Oklahoma served as a rude reminder of just how much work the coaches had to do to rebuild that proud program.
The Sooners, led by future Heisman winner Sam Bradford, won 62-28 in a game that marred Nebraska’s otherwise promising season.
“It really showed us, that night, how far away we were,” Papuchis said. “They beat us bad.”
But Papuchis and his cohorts treated the game as a learning experience, circled next year’s rematch with the Sooners and vowed to be better when they met again.
And were they ever.
Playing in front of a primetime, nationally-televised audience at Memorial Stadium, the Cornhuskers – anchored by star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – totally shut down Oklahoma’s high-powered offense for a 10-3 victory.
“In the second quarter, we picked off a pass and ran it back down to the 1, and then we were able to hold them to three points,” Papuchis said. “And that year we ended up being No. 1 in the country in defense.”
The Cornhuskers went on to play in the Big 12 Championship Game, win the Holiday Bowl and finish with 10 wins.
But none of those big moments from later in the season could quite compare with the defensive dominance displayed against Oklahoma.
“To beat them a year later, 10-3, really was a proud moment for our players and our staff and really showed that we were taking things back in the right direction,” Papuchis said. “And it ultimately catapulted us that year to the Big 12 Championship Game. That was certainly a night I’ll never forget.”