A month and a half ago, the UCF Knights were heading into the 2018 season with a new defensive coordinator, and with that, a new scheme on defense. Expectations were neither high, nor were they low, but there were simply questions to be answered.
Who would fill Shaquem Griffin’s role as a backfield threat? Could the 3-4 defensive ends kick out wide? Would any of the linbackers start getting their hands in the dirt? What was coordinator Randy Shannon going to do with a defense that lost six starters from the season prior, including two defensive ends and, of course, Griffin?
This is where true senior Titus Davis stepped in. One of the several players to make position changes in the new 4-3 defensive front, Davis moved into the defensive end position that began to put him on the outside shade of offensive tackles and wider (in X’s and O’s terms, the 5-technique through the 7-technique, who lines up just outside of an “in-line” tight end). There, Davis would start to get his hand in the dirt on top of working as a standing rusher, as well as occasionally drop into coverage in the underneath game.
And Davis has been killing it.
Entering the season, Davis had 1.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss in 21 games. Through six in the 2018 season at defensive end, he has 2 sacks and 8 tackles for loss, to go with a forced fumble and a defended pass. He’s regularly seen getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and is a tough block when he utilizes his power.
Let’s dive into some of his 2018 film and see what he’s doing well at defensive end.
Lining up over the outside shoulder of the right tackle, Davis gets a standing start against a double team block that turns into a one-on-one with a DB blitz coming from behind. Davis keeps his feet moving and attempts a small swim move that gets the blocker out of his base, and Davis continues to strike until he breaks free and forces the QB to bail and scramble outside for a minimal 3rd down gain.
On this play against UCONN, Davis bounces off of his block and bends his way into a pressure, forcing the QB to roll all the way to the sideline before throwing the ball away. Not a sack, but without a doubt, Davis is finding ways to affect the opposing pass game.
On this play against Memphis, Davis redirects the play by blowing up the B gap after making contact in the C gap, forcing the running back to begin to look elsewhere. But at that point, Davis disengages from his block and makes the easy tackle for loss. He pretty much ended this play when he got off of the line of scrimmage.
While Davis is making his mark as a pass rusher more than he has in the past, he’s blowing up run plays in the backfield consistently.
This run stop puts Davis’ mental ability on display. He anticipated the read option and stepped inside of the snap, allowing himself to get bodied by the offensive lineman and force the QB to pull the ball and try to go outside.
But Davis knew that was exactly what would happen, and he pulled a spin move to get out of an attempted bear-hug by the tackle and clogged the QBs running lane to share a tackle for loss. Once again, Davis blows up a run play before he even crosses the line of scrimmage with great technique and football IQ.
Based on the offensive tackle’s point of attack at the snap, this run is designed to go out and around the tackle, but once again Davis redirects. He beats the tackle outside and the RB views that as a hole, but Davis kept his feet set and shuffled right back to make the run stop just past the line of scrimmage as the tackle could never recover and get good hand placement on the defensive end.
An example of Davis in underneath coverage, something that Shannon’s DE’s have done tracing back to his time at Florida. Davis plays the flats zone to defend short routes and picks up on the backfield dump-off to the running back. The ball is released when Davis is at the 27, and he makes contact as the RB catches the ball at the 22 yard line: A 6-3, 250 lb defensive lineman covering 5 yards that quickly is pretty impressive, and it results in a big tackle for loss. His old linebacker skills were all over this play.
And who could forget SPECIAL TEAMS? Disclaimer: College game film is much, much harder to find compared to NFL game film (what I’m used to), but naturally, the only game that was unavailable on YouTube was Davis’ one sack/three tackles for loss game against SMU. However, thanks to UCF’s football website, this gem of a GIF is available.
Davis reads the fake punt from the outside and shuffles out to force the punter back inside. The punter, however, bee-lines in Davis’ direction because the inside is closing. Davis shows off his impressive strength with a pull-move on his blocker, sending him face-first into the turf, and rocks the punter’s world to cause a turnover on downs. Beautiful.
All in all, a position change and the chance to prove himself after the UCF defense was gutted this summer has turned Titus Davis into a star for this UCF defense. His numbers are the best they’ve ever been, and his influence on defense goes far beyond the box score. With five games left before the AAC Championship and a bowl game, everyone’s eyes should focus on #10 for UCF...
... and not just quarterback McKenzie Milton, but defensive end Titus Davis.