Bill Hass on the ACC: Instincts, Poise, Film Study Propel Goddard to Big Season
Nov. 6, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Trimane Goddard is becoming at expert at saving his best for last.
This is his senior season, and North Carolina's strong safety is playing the best football of his career, helping the Tar Heels to a 6-2 record and a No. 19 national ranking. Of his 10 career interceptions, five have come this year.
In addition, Goddard has developed a knack for making big plays at just the right time, some of them at the last instant. For example:
The North Carolina defense has been opportunistic, to say the least. It leads the country with 17 interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns. Goddard said there is plenty of credit to spread around.
"Everyone has gotten better in the offseason and that's helped all of us," Goddard said. "We study more, prepare more, and we've learned more about what it takes to win.
"Obviously, it takes all 11 guys to do their part on defense for me to be in a position to have five interceptions. A couple have fallen my way. We have eight or nine guys that have also gotten an interception, so that's a tribute to everyone doing their part on defense to make it happen."
Coach Butch Davis said a year's experience in his defense has made everyone better.
"A year into the system they're not as befuddled at times about adjustments and coverage checks as they were a year ago because it was all brand new to them," Davis said. "The longer our kids play in this system and the longer they play together and gain more experience, certainly it allows their God-given athletic ability to show up and gives them a chance to make plays."
On Saturday, the Tar Heels' defense will face a unique test against Georgia Tech's option offense. The Yellow Jackets have used it to forge a 7-2 record and, most important, a 4-2 mark to lead the ACC's Coastal Division. At 2-2, North Carolina needs to win this game to stay in the race for a berth in the ACC Championship Game.
The Jackets don't throw often, averaging 11.5 passes per game, so it will be unlike anything the Tar Heels have seen.
"It's a lot more difficult for a safety because you have more reads and it all depends on what defense we are playing," Goddard said. "You have to be very disciplined and if you get in a position to make a tackle, you have to do it because there won't be anyone else behind you to do it."
Getting into position for tackles is exactly where Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson would like Goddard to be.
"I think both of their safeties (Deunta Williams is the other) are very good players," Johnson said. "They've been able to play a lot of two-deep coverage where those guys line up 15, 16 yards off the ball and really break on it. We've got to get them involved in the run game. If they can line up 16 yards against the pass then we're going to struggle. If they're that deep, we probably won't ever throw it."
Although he was a Florida State fan growing up in Robersonville, N.C., Goddard chose to wear North Carolina's colors. He played tailback and quarterback at Roanoke High School but received more notice as a defensive back. He was also a fine baseball player, a pitcher and outfielder, and intended to play both sports for the Tar Heels.
But that changed after his freshman season in football, when he was a backup corner and played on special teams. An assistant coach on John Bunting's staff approached him about moving to strong safety.
"He saw no need for me to be sitting on the bench," Goddard said. "He wanted the four best athletes (in the secondary) on the field at the same time. I was all for getting on the field, so I said `sure.'"
The position shift required Goddard to participate in spring football practice, so that ended his college baseball career before it started. There was much to learn, even though Goddard had played some safety in high school. He earned a starting berth halfway through his sophomore season.
"It's just that the point of view is different from corner, where there are more responsibilities," he said. "One of my biggest problems was being patient when I first got back there. I thought maybe I was supposed to come flying in there and make a tackle at the line of scrimmage.
"I got beat on a couple of plays, and (the coaches) told me to be patient, that a 3-yard gain was not bad, and I didn't have to make the tackles in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. So I started developing more patience. I feel very comfortable there."
So comfortable that he can read plays quickly. Against Boston College, he recognized what the tight end and running back were doing on a certain route and who had responsibility for them.
"Once I read the quarterback coming back to my side of the field," Goddard said, "I knew it was a curl route and I broke under the wide receiver and made the interception. From there, I just took it to the end zone."
It was his first touchdown since high school.
Against Miami, he again read the play at the end of the game. First, he helped a linebacker cover one of the Hurricanes' fast receivers, but he knew he had time to cover his man if the throw went there. Another linebacker pressured the quarterback and forced a slightly high throw.
"That made the catch even more difficult for the receiver," Goddard said. "I was going to poke it out if he caught it, but once I was there in position, I was able to grab it and make the interception."
The ball deflected off the receiver's hands and Goddard snatched it, knowing right away that he had it securely.
It's no accident that Goddard has enjoyed that kind of success this season. While Davis praised his instincts and poise, he also said there's another reason Goddard has made so many big plays.
"He's one of the best film study guys that we have; he's constantly in there," Davis said. "You'll catch him in the morning, catch him at lunchtime or at nighttime, 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there. He really takes a lot of pride in being prepared every single Saturday to play well."
Goddard agreed that watching film is crucial.
"That's been a big reason for my success and the success of the team this year," he said. "The more film you watch, the more things you recognize on the field because you know their tendencies, who they like to go to in certain situations and those types of things."
After enduring records of 3-9 and 5-7 the past two years, the atmosphere has changed around the team, which has already become bowl eligible. Four remaining conference games will determine the Tar Heels' postseason fate.
"We're having a blast," Goddard said. "We're 6-2, having success and the chemistry we have on this team is outstanding. I see us being able to win the last four games, but we have to take it one game at a time. We can't look past any one team and think about if this team loses or that team loses. We have to take care of ourselves and hopefully we can represent the Coastal Division if things work out."
If North Carolina can achieve that, expect Goddard to be a big reason why.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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