UConn Football announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Billy Crocker on Saturday morning. The Connecticut native had previously spent five years in the same role at Villanova.
Chris Lane, an editor at Villanova’s SB Nation site VU Hoops, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the longtime Wildcat assistant. Don’t let the name of the site fool you, VU Hoops does thorough coverage of what has been a very successful FCS program.
Below Lane answers questions about Crocker’s style, recruiting prowess, and biggest success stories.
Welcome to Billy Crocker, new Defensive Coordinator pic.twitter.com/p6nCCFGuuG— UConn Football (@UConnFootball) January 14, 2017
1) How would you structurally describe the Billy Crocker defense and its style? Has it had the same identity for his four years as DC or has it changed in any ways?
Crocker utilized a 3-3-5 setup at Villanova that was predicated on a 'MAYHEM' concept (we wrote about it here). This is also known as the ATTACK concept (Football Study Hall brilliantly goes into detail here).
Put simply, it's very aggressive. You are almost always blitzing at least one linebacker, and the defensive backfield gets in on the act a lot too. You need very athletic linebackers who are comfortable playing in a variety of roles. Crocker utilized this throughout his tenure as DC at Villanova, and his teams got better and better every season.
It's a complex defense that is prone to some big plays if everyone doesn't know what they're doing, but it's a system that is designed to discombobulate the other team's offensive line and blow plays up before they have a chance to mature.
2) Crocker took over a defense which was ranked 90th in scoring defense and eventually became the best in FCS. How did he make that happen? How much has the defense contributed to what has been a really good five-year run for Villanova?
You may remember the name John Robertson. He won the Walter Payton Award (FCS version of the Heisman) and he was the reason Villanova was able to win games with a defense that wasn't getting the job done. For the last two seasons, however, it's been the defense doing the heavy lifting with a young quarterback who has fluctuated between very good and very bad.
Two things changed for Villanova -- recruiting and development/experience. Crocker was a big part of a staff that identified under-the-radar talent in the Northeast and played it early and often. That led to some growing pains, but the past two seasons have featured multiple All-Americans (at all levels of the defense) as that talent has grown into stardom.
3) What is Crocker's reputation as a recruiter? Are there any position groups or regional areas where he has been particularly successful?
One of the best on the staff, without a doubt. He has coached both the defensive line and linebackers while at Villanova, and was responsible for Central and Southern New Jersey (Villanova recruits pretty locally/regionally, it must be said) and has obvious ties to Connecticut.
The aforementioned 4 All-Americans that Villanova produced in the last two seasons? All products of Crocker in one way or another. LB Don Cherry (currently with the Philadelphia Eagles) is from Trumbull, CT. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon is looking like a mid-round NFL Draft pick. LB Austin Calitro is from Danbury, CT and FS Rob Rolle is from Southern New Jersey. These are all guys that should have been recruited at the FBS level and were not. That's a testiment to his eye for talent and his development program.
4) Which players have been Villanova's most successful defenders under Crocker's watch?
We joke a little bit about Villanova being 'Linebacker U' at the FCS level, but it's really not that far off in fantasy land. Cherry and Calitro were 4-year stars, and Villanova has been blessed with a stable of 5-6 LBs in any given season that are starter quality. It's been a big reason why the defense has been so good.
That's not to discredit the DL either - Villanova's system requires them to eat a lot of would-be blockers. They just aren't the sexiest of stat-whores out there (Kpassagnon aside, he's an absolute freak).
The secondary gets a lot of pressure put on it sometimes, and they tend to play a lot of zone with all the blitzing. That was a sore area early in Crocker's tenure. In hindsight, it was mostly down to him playing young CBs. Once those players matured, the defense was lights out (as it was this year).
5) It seems like his defense has had some solid performances in games against FBS competition, has anything stood out from those games?
Villanova's at the top-end of the FCS success-wise, so the talent difference isn't all that different from the middle-to-low FBS programs (they actually frequently recruit against the MAC and SunBelt's of the world). The biggest difference is depth as the FCS operates with far less scholarships. So Villanova tended to get gassed late in games against the FBS opposition.
But in games against Boston College, Syracuse and UConn in recent years, the team has more than held their own. Much of that is definitely getting up for the game (the nobody believes in us syndrome), but it's pretty clear that Crocker's D has been up to the test schematically as well against a variety of offenses in recent seasons.