MQ Film Study: Baylor vs Boise St. (2016)

Adapting to multiple formations from a hybrid 3-4 defense.

To say 2016 was a rough season for the Baylor Bears football team is an understatement. Despite national scrutiny facing the program prior to the season and a roller coaster offseason, the Bears were able to end the season with a big win. Despite the turmoil off the field, Baylor Football surprised many and finished with a winning record, going 7-6 with a huge bowl victory over a 10-win Boise St. team. 2016 started fast for the Bears, racing out to 6-0 before a close loss to Texas (34-35) would lead to a 0-6 slide. Many around the country and outside the program called for the Bears to stay at home during bowl season. Needless to say, Baylor chose to play.

The 2016 Motel 6 Cactus Bowl was a highlight win for a program in turmoil. Boise St. was a seven-point favorite going into the game and Baylor had not won since beating Kansas in mid-October. Baylor’s switch to the Okie Front in 2016 came with mixed results (the Bears would finish 49th in BCfToys Defensive Efficiency in 2016 – a four-year low mark), but the Bears held the Broncos to 83 yards rushing (they averaged 174 for the year). The Bears were also able to hold Boise’s eventual 5th round draft pick Jeremy McNichols to only 49 yards on 19 carries (He would finish the year with 1,709 yards). Boise would play behind the eightball for much of the game behind then-sophomore QB Brett Rypien‘s two interceptions (would throw a season-high 51 passes as well).

The Bears performance in the Cactus Bowl was a high water mark in an otherwise forgettable season. In regards to football schematics, the Catus Bowl was a demonstration of how a hybrid 3-4 defense could match up versus a multiple TE formation offense and find success. Boise used multiple personnel groupings, shifts, and even tempo to try and get the Bears off balance, but to no avail. This type of Pro-Style offense is becoming the weapon of choice for many programs at all level.

Baylor’s Hybrid Defense

Boise’s offense under Bryan Harsin (former Texas OC and Arkansas St. Head Coach) and his predecessor Chris Peterson (now at Washington) uses a Pro-Style offense with multiple TEs. This can be a hard offense to defend when utilizing a hybrid scheme. Baylor’s base defense in 2016 was a 3-4 Okie scheme that used a Nickel Sam and a Jack or Joker LB away. In 2015, Baylor’s best LB, Taylor Young, was utilized as the Jack LB (weakside “wide-9”). The total transition to the 3-4 was completed in 2016. Young moved back to his natural position as an ILB and Clay Johnston, a 6-1 226 lbs Junior, was inserted as the Jack. The diagram below shows Baylor’s base Okie Front versus Boise’s base offense – 11 Pers. 2×2.

[BUvBSU] 00 Base Def

Baylor had two packages in their 2016 3-4 scheme. The base used a hybrid LB/DE playing the Jack (#44 – Johnston), while the other was a “Dime” look with two safeties at either OLB position. The Nickel Sam was speedy #48 Travon Blanchard (6-2/205). When Baylor wanted to go “small,” #21 Pat Levels (5-11/195), another Nickelback, would come in as the Jack. In Baylor’s terms, Levels was the “Buck” ‘backer.

The flexibility of having a “heavy” and “light” package allowed Baylor to sub if the offense checked into their other packages. Baylor’s “Okie Light” is demonstrated below. The major difference is in the play of the Jack who is now a true Nickelback. Instead of lining up on the line, the Buck ‘backer will loosen up off the TE but still maintain the edge. This package is primarily used against 10 pers. or on heavy pass downs.

[BUvBSU] 01 Okie Light

Personnel Groupings

10 Pers.

Baylor was able to force a 3-and-out on Boise’s first series. On 3rd and 4, and backed up into their own end zone, the Broncos opted to spread the Baylor defense out. The Bears countered that with their Okie Light package. The clip below is a great demonstration of how the Odd Stack and a hybrid 3-4 can marry. Baylor comes out in an Okie Front and stacks the LBs much like they would in a traditional 3-3-5 utilizing Quartes. Levels (the Buck ‘backer) stacks on the weakside DE.

The Broncos run a Draw, trying to get the Bears to sink for the pass, creating space underneath for the RB to find daylight. The 3 tech. overpowers the Guard and makes the play in the backfield. Although the 3 tech. made the play, Levels demonstrates how speed can kill even at LB or near the “box.” The Center and left Tackle climb to Levels who uses his athletism to make both miss, sliding in between the two. Had the RB escaped the 3 tech’s grasp, he would have been cleaned up by Levels.

 

During the 3rd series of the game, Boise uses A-Behind motion to get into an Empty set. The Mike pushes out of the box to counter the motion. The Sam to the field also pushes outside the slot anticipating the push from the motioning RB. The Broncos run a “Double Snag” concept to the field and a shallow by the slot to the boundary. The Sam easily collects the flaring RB and the Mike has naturally worked to the inside snag. The field routes are eliminated.

One rule of thumb for defending Empty from a four-down is the ILBs cannot allow the under routes to go free because there is no middle hole player. In this situation, Baylor opts to stay in their base Okie personal, adding in the Jack as a fourth rusher. Being that it was 2nd and 6, Baylor wanted to keep a run defense on the field. The Will to the boundary works to the slot and drives on his “In” route (shallow). Though the pass is completed, the clip illustrates how a defense adjusts to “push” motions and no middle hole player due to an Empty set.

 

During the 4th drive of the game, Boise again comes out in a 10 pers. formation on 2nd down. The Bears look like they are blitzing until the Broncos motion to 3×1. The Jack, who is typically loose, walks down to “mug” the Tackle and gives the CB a “cut” sign. Mugging is when a LB walks up to a gap or on top of an O-lineman (“bluff”). The point of the “mug” is to force the lineman to work to the LB on the snap, only for the LB to drop into coverage. If the LB stays in the fit, the occupied O-lineman cant help one of his teammates if someone blitzes. This technique can create natural gaps in the protection for other defenders to exploit.

Hybrid 3-4 teams can add a man into the secondary from the weakside Jack position. The cutting OLB can free up the backside safety to do a multitude of different things. Cutting the Jack also allows the CB to the single WR side to stay high and protect himself from deep shots. This scheme also creates a “free” player in the backside safety who can either “kick” to the field or sink into the box.

Below, the Jack quickly cuts underneath #1. The leverage created by this cut makes it hard for the Broncos’ Tackle to get to him on the Slip-Screen. As in the first clip, a more athletic player was able to beat an offensive lineman downfield. The play results in a couple yards for the Bronco, but a long 3rd down.

 

On the subsequent drive, Boise is knocking on the door when they turn to a 10 pers. set. Baylor, who usually bases out of Stress versus Trips, decides to cut to the field using a three-under/two-over concept (this is the Quarters version of Saban’s 3 Buzz Mable). With the Okie Light package on the bears again shift to a stack and utilize a Buck Front (505) that many three-down teams use on passing downs or in their Dime package.

The Buck ‘backer to the boundary is responsible for the RB and the Will, who is now in the MOF is the middle hole player (see him open up to the Trips). The Nose beats the double team and forces the QB into the boundary, dropping it off to the RB who is quickly collected by the Buck ‘backer. 4th down and Boise is forced to kick a field goal.

 

Late in the game, the Bears opt to go with their Okie Light package and drop eight. Again, on 2nd down, the Broncos turn to a 10 pers. look. The Y-Over concept is quickly picked up by the sinking Will LB (Young). Baylor uses a field cut (as shown previously) that is common in 3-4 defenses. The scheme allows the Sam to cut to the n#1 WR while the Mike works under #2. This motion by the defense cancels the out route by the slot (the QB’s first read). The penetration by the Nose is created when the Center goes away to the 3 tech. leaving the left Guard in a one-on-one situation. The Will’s coverage on the Over route forces the QB to hold the ball long enough for the Nose to get there for a sack.

 

Baylor demonstrated how a hybrid 3-4 can even be flexible while defending a traditional Spread personnel grouping. By using their Base and a Light package, the Bears were able to keep the Broncos off balance. The Jack played a critical roll in either rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage. The added value of the extra dropper was illustrated in several of the clips.

11 Pers.

During the 4th drive of the game, Boise opts to take a shot down the field on a 1st down. Many times offenses will take a shot on the first or second play after crossing the 50-yard mark. For many OCs this is a four-down territory and “wasting” a down by taking a shot is not seen as a loss. Plus, if it hits the offense just got a big, momentum-shifting play.

Boise leaves the H-back and RB in for extra protection. Baylor is able to cleanly collect the routes using a plus-one distribution. On the bottom, the Sam is able to gain a full cover down because he is out of the fit. This allows for a high-low bracket on the slot (high percentage target). The “X,” or single WR, is covered by two defenders to the boundary. The CB quickly identifies the departure speed of the WR and man turns. The safety, reacting to the QB and high-hat read, turns and sprints to support. The ball is overthrown and almost picked by the safety.

What can be missed in the clip is the Mike adding in during the pass. This is regarded as a “green-dog.” In Baylor’s scheme, the Mike is responsible for the vertical of the H-back (match/push with #3). With the slotted TE staying in to protect, the Mike has no work. His partner in the Will is responsible for the RB or the “H” if either works to the boundary. Since neither leaves, the Will can take the middle hole allowing the Mike to be free. With this freedom, the Mike inserts in an open lane late in the play. Had the QB held onto the ball, this was surely a sack.

 

When teams are able to use their three down lineman to gain pressure (and sacks) against a five-man protection, it allows the defense to drop eight into coverage. By dropping eight in obvious passing situations, the defense is able to snuff out open zones and force the QB to throw into tight windows. Late in the game, knowing the Broncos had to throw, Baylor opted to keep the Okie Light package on. The RB to the boundary was easily matched by the Buck. To the field (TE), the Sam was able to latch on and work with the Mike to slow down the TE’s vertical route.

In this particular play, The Broncos run the same Double Snag concept seen in an earlier clip. The Will and Sam exchange the RB, and the vertical routes to the field are negated by coverage. The Bears quickly sack the QB putting the Broncos in another 3rd and long situation. The QB had no choice versus the drop-eight coverage but to eat the ball and take the sack.

 

Late in the game, the Bears choose to leave their Light package in the game, even versus an 11 pers. grouping. For many modern offenses, the difference between 10 pers. and 11 pers. is minimal since many teams now carry a hybrid TE that can align as a WR or near the box as a TE/H-back. As shown earlier, Baylor doesn’t necessarily attach the boundary Nickel in their Light package. In Baylor’s base rules, the Okie Front is set to the two-speed side. The loose Buck ‘backer forces the TE to climb to him which in turn opens up a lane for the Will LB to make the play.

Below, the Broncos run a same-side Power on P & 10 (Possession and 10). The vacating TE gives space for the Will to box the puller and collect the RB as he bounces. The 3 tech. defeats the double team and forces the RB to bounce outside. The Jack quickly rips through the TE’s block and would have been there if the Will missed the tackle.

The three-down lineman, and their penetration force the O-line to stay on their double teams. The play-side Guard attempts to climb to the Mike, but cannot reach him. Had the RB cut back off the pulling Guard he would have been tackled by the free Mike. This is a great illustration of how teams are utilizing a three-down line to create free-hitters in the second and third levels, and why many Big 12 teams are turning to the Tite Front and even a Dime package to stop the high powered Spread attacks in the conference.

 

What Baylor illustrates versus the Pro Spread formations shown above, is that a team can have success even if they are “light in the shorts.” Putting athletes on the field that can maneuver around blockers allows the defense to create space allowing the athleticism of the defense to shine. As the lines are blurred between traditional 11 pers. and 10 pers., having a package that can stay on the field is a plus for the modern defense.

20 Pers.

Below is a great example of how a defense adjusts to push motions by the offense. In the clip, the Broncos use an A-behind motion to attempt to push a box player out. In this case the Mike. As the motion exits the box, the Mike is pushed out of his gap. The Will LB adjust by taking the now open “B” gap.

To the boundary, the CB is blitzing. Baylor actually busts on this play. The line movement was supposed to go to the field, away from the blitzing CB. Regardless, the movement by the D-line negates the blocks of the O-line by wasting all five. The result is a free hitter in the Will along with a DE that beats the field Tackle’s block. The movement from the interior D-lineman forced the field Guard to chase the crashing Nose. This created a natural window for the Will to run through. The result is a 2-yard run and another Bronco 3rd Down.

 

12 Pers.

On the second play of the game, Boise opts to go “big” and bring in two TEs aligning in a basic Ace formation (12p 2×2). Many teams use this formation to run simple inside and outside zone plays. The Broncos are no different, choosing to attack the Bears with a simple Inside Zone. The Bears align in modified Solid Under look. The Nickel to the field aligns off the TE as a “wide-9” and the 5 tech. is set to the defenses right (strength call in the Okie package is identified by the 5 tech.). The Jack to the weakside attaches to create a wide 5 tech.

Boise uses short motion to load on the safety. The 3 tech.’s penetration kills the play and allows the Will to “belly-key” to the open gap. The RB is forced to bounce the play away from the original attack point. Belly-keys are a great adjustment versus Zone teams. It allows the defense to double-gap without actually reading the O-line. With the Guard working away from him, the 3 tech. slides behind him allowing the Tackle to wash him down. The key is the that he still gets penetration.

As the Guard works up to the Will he is expecting him to fit his gap and come to him. This is where the “belly-key” creates a free hitter. Since the 3 tech. essentially cut off the Will’s gap he is able to now rock back and away from the climbing Guard. The concept is illustrated below. The Will rocks back, unblocked to collect the RB.

 

The modern Pro Spread offenses pushes the envelope against defenses. Below, the Broncos have an Ace Trey formation to begin with and motion the RB out to create an Empty formation. This stresses a defense because there are now two gaps created by the TEs, yet no backs in the backfield. Teams use this type of motion to get matchups in coverage. If the QB is a running threat, the defense is put into conflict from the get-go. On the second drive of the game and knocking on the Red Zone, Boise turns to their 12 pers. grouping to challenge the Bears defense.

The original call was for the CB to come off the edge. As the RB moves out of the box the ILBs clearly “Omahas” the pressure. With two receivers to the boundary, the backside safety must honor his TE and can’t work to the three-receiver side. This forces the Sam and the Mike to work in tandem to defend the field TE.

Boise used this motion to isolate the Mike on the field TE. The Mike drops underneath as the Sam latches on to the vertical. The QB, expecting the TE to defeat the Mike, throws the ball over the MOF. The lazy routes by the two WRs up top allow the field safety to work back to the TE. Again, the speed of the Baylor defense beats the size of the Boise offense as the speedy Nickel Sam intercepts the ball.

 

Boise on the subsequent drive decides to go “big” and motion to Empty. The motion pushes the Sam outside the #2 WR. This movement by the defense forces the two WRs to double the first threat – the Sam. The CB is able to sit back, read the play, and drive on the ball. The CB makes a great open field tackle but had he not mad the play, an unblocked safety and Mike LB were there to collect.

 

Two plays later and inside the 10-yard line, the Broncos turn to their Inside Zone from an Ace formation. In the Bears scheme, the boundary safety is responsible for the “C” gap as the Jack LB sets the edge as a 9 tech. The WR to the boundary is reduced to try and crack the safety but to no avail. The safety quickly identifies run and plugs the hole. This tempo forces the RB to bounce. The CB who identifies a crack replaces the safety and is a free hitter. The Solid Under front created by the Bears stops the Zone for a loss of yards.

 

On the next drive of the game, Boise St. goes to the same look, on the same down as the prior video. The Broncos even use a short motion to sell the run for the Bears. The Broncos use a crack-shoot route by the motioning WR to sell the typical crack block used on the play. The down block by the TE allows the wrapping 3 tech. to come free off the edge and force the QB to sail the ball. The safety, seeing the high-hat by the O-line, begins to drop back into coverage. The QB throws the ball low and it is intercepted in the end zone.

 

Offenses try to utilize 12 pers. formations versus hybrid 3-4s to gain extra gaps and put the “smaller” players on islands against bigger TEs or even O-lineman. This is a trend seen on Sundays as well. Teams like the Patriots utilize multiple TE sets to gain a size and strength advantage on the defense. The Bears illustrated that speed can be a greater factor than size if the scheme is right. The natural exchanges created by the front seven create free hitters against the run and the speed of the defense negated the size and strength of the Broncos passing game.

21 Pers.

Speed kills on defense, especially when teams try and go big. Below, the Broncos utilize their 12 pers. grouping to get into a 21 pers. set. The Bears speedy Sam is too quick for the slot WR, beating him to the ball. The lead blocker who is looking for the Mike misses the Sam crashing in.

This is also another illustration of how line movement can waste the O-line. The Tackle to the open side seeing the DE crash freezes and turns to him. The Tackle then turns and attacks the Mike (the FB’s man). This puts two guys on one defender. The Will is able to rock back into the next gap and quickly fills the open window unabated. The Sam defeats the slot’s block and the TE doesn’t see the Will until it is too late.

 

Boise turns to a traditional Pro I formation on the next series. Staying with their base alignment rules, the Bears align in a modified Solid Under look. As before, the Bears utilize line movement. The movement creates a natural wall negating the Power play called by the Broncos. The RB is forced to bounce the play all the way back to the open side. There, the CB who replaced the safety off the crack by the WR is all alone ready to collect the RB.

 

Quarters and “gap exchange” allows defenses to flex and adapt to what the offense gives it. The clip below demonstrates how a Quarters look can flex to take care of a typical Power I pass concept – the Deep Cross. Boise utilizes short motions from the WRs to gain an extra blocker in the box by cracking the safety (especially versus two-high teams). The Broncos will use these motions to set up their play-action schemes.

Here, the Broncos short motion the slot to the field and run him on a deep over route. The TE to the top runs a shallow cross trying to get the safety to bite. The TE is collected by the backside Will and both deep routes are coned by the secondary players. The “X,” or single WR is doubled by the boundary safety and CB while the field safety and CB double the deep cross by the slot. This gives the Baylor bears four-on-two and the result is a wasted deep shot.

 

Like a 4-3 Under that utilizes a hybrid DE, the Bears Okie package can use the weakside OLB to add in as an extra run support or drop into a passing lane. The Broncos go with a shotgun backfield on 2nd and long (typical passing down). The Bears mug the Jack on the TE. The Broncos run a Y-over concept. The Jack reacts to the climbing TE and reads the RBs flat route. As the RB vacates the box the Jack collects him. The CB at the bottom “tops” the curl and the TEs over route is “topped” by the safety. The mugged Sam to the field drops to cut off the over route and the “X” to the field is doubled by the secondary. The QB has nowhere to go and eats the ball, getting sacked by Baylor’s three-down line.

 

The Broncos go to the same action as the prior Deep Cross except this time run a draw. The Bears align in their typical modified Solid Front, except this time are in an Over Front. The Bears call for a CB blitz and use full line movement to waste the O-line. With the FB going to the field and the boundary Tackle climbing for the Will, there is no one to take the crashing CB. Phil Bennett, the Bears DC at the time, does a great job of using the secondary to leverage the boundary and keep the offense guessing whether the secondary player will blitz or not. Here, the Tackle guesses wrong and the CB destroys the slow developing play. The Broncos now find themselves in a 3rd and long situation.

 

As illustrated against 12 pers., the Bears were able to negate the Broncos size with speed and scheme. Using line movement can help an undersized defense against a larger opponent. The Bears were able to keep their speedy players untouched all night. As stated earlier, the Broncos here held to under 100 yards. Quarters helped the Bears too. When the Broncos tried to pass or crack the safety, the secondary was able to adjust and create plus-ones in coverage and in run fits. Overall, the Broncos size was no match for the speed of the Baylor defense.

Conclusion

Though this game was more about Boise’s ineptitude in the Red Zone than Baylor’s defensive dominance, it does highlight how a hybrid 3-4 defense can adapt to a multiple Pro Style attack. Boise’s QB threw two interceptions in the Red Zone making it hard for the Broncos to keep pace with the vaunted Baylor offense. The Bears used timely pressures and line movement to create free hitters as well. The Bears D-line dominated the Broncos line all night, allowing the Bears to drop-eight into coverage and sack the QB multiple times. Regardless of the personnel groupings used, the Bears hybrid 3-4 had an answer and was able to adapt. The design of any hybrid defense is to get speed on the field. As seen on the field during the 2017 season in the Big 12, the Texas Longhorns and Iowa St. Cyclones demonstrated the use of extra secondary players can actually have a positive effect even if teams try to outmuscle then with bigger personnel groupings.

 

Find more of MQ’s 3-4 Resources below:

  1. The Okie Front
  2. Defending Modern Spread from Okie
  3. Defending 11p from a 3-4
  4. The Tite Front (303/404)

 

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