Utah defensive back Javelin Guidry is asked to cover receivers of all shapes and sizes and make open-field tackles when opponents run the football. For a 5-foot-9 player, that's a demanding job description.
“It's a lot,” he said, “but it's fun.”
And he's fulfilling it very well. Pro Football Focus made Guidry the highest-graded slot cornerback among all Power Five teams through eight weeks of the season, labeling him “a sticky cover man.”
Guidry will be more vital than ever Saturday, when the No. 16 Utes visit Arizona State. ASU receiver N'Keal Harry, who stands 6-4, is a projected NFL first-round draft pick. Utah's scheme won't likely ask Guidry to single-cover him all the time, but the Sun Devils have been lining up Harry inside lately, and that's just the kind of offensive strategy in college football that made Ute coach Kyle Whittingham change his defensive approach in recent years.
Matching up with offenses often requires one fewer linebacker and one more defensive back. The fifth defensive back once was a third-down specialist, but not anymore. Guidry is a full-time player as a sophomore, in a hybrid role. He functions almost as a linebacker on running plays and and as a cornerback on passing plays. That explains how he’s third on the team with 33 tackles (three for loss) in eight games and leads the Utes with eight passes defended.
Whittingham caught himself during a recent news conference, recognizing he should use “front six” to frame his discussion of linemen and linebackers. Those guys always were the front seven when Whittingham played linebacker in college and for nearly 30 years of his coaching career. Two linebackers? That’s an odd number.
After a few seasons of this 4-2-5 scheme, though, “I'm used to it; we're used to it,” Whittingham said. “I'd say if you went across the country, that's pretty much standard.”
That’s partly true. Even so, the Utes' approach is distinct, using a cornerback as the fifth member of the secondary, rather than a safety who’s more like a linebacker. Utah’s use of Guidry in the slot stems from its heavy man-to-man coverage and the ability to move safety Marquise Blair into run support, keeping Corrion Ballard as a deep safety.
Guidry has done his part against the run, and he's outstanding in coverage. In some ways, the slot-corner's job is more difficult than on the outside, where the sideline comes into play. Guidry plays in the open field. He enjoys that challenge, he said, “and I like to run.”
NO. 16 UTAH AT ARIZONA STATE
When • Saturday, 2 p.m. MDT
TV • Pac-12 Networks
He’s fast, that’s for sure. Because his mother, Kaishauna, attended medical school in Texas during most of his high school years before the family moved back to California, he achieved a rare, double distinction: state champion in the 100 meters in two states. His track talent translates well to football. “I’m able to show it [only] in glimpses,” he said, “but it’s still there.”
“No. 1 is his blazing speed,” Whittingham said of Guidry’s attributes. “He has the ability, if a receiver gets separation, to close that separation in an instant. He can make up ground. He’s always in great position on the route — almost always, not every single time, but he’s usually got great position on the receiver.”
Guidry slipped and was beaten while covering a deep route last Friday. But a UCLA receiver dropped a potential touchdown pass in the first half of Utah’s eventual 41-10 win over a Bruins team that includes his brother, Elisha, who’s redshirting as a freshman receiver. That’s one of few noticeable mistakes Guidry has made. The previous week, his deflection resulted in linebacker Chase Hansen’s interception against USC.
Now come the Sun Devils, with a big-time receiver. Guidry will be ready for Harry. “Competition is always fun,” he said.
The highest-graded slot cornerbacks in Power Five football through eight weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
1 – Javelin Guidry, Utah, 82.7.
2 – Traveon Beck, California, 80.2
3 – Mike Edwards, Kentucky, 79.1
4 – Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon, 76.3.
5 –Innis Gaines, TCU, 76.0.
6 – Taj-Amir Torres, Boston College, 75.8.
7 – Justus Parker, Texas Tech, 75.7.
8 – Myles Bryant, Washington, 74.8.
9 – Ajene Harris, USC, 74.1
10 – Dravon Askew-Henry, West Virginia, 73.1.