Nine. That is how many sacks the Sooners would end the day with against Texas in the 2019 edition of the Red River Rivalry. This would tie a school record and put Texas QB Sam Ehlinger in the negative for rushing (23 for -9). In college, the sack yards come from the rushing, whereas in the NFL, the sacks come from the QB’s passing stats. Ehlinger’s -9 yards on the ground would be his lowest output since his October 21st outing against Oklahoma St. back in 2017. According to ESPN, Ehlinger would end with a measly 46.4 QBR, which is his lowest output since his freshman year (Baylor would rack up an even lower one at 45.7).
Needless to say, the Sooners executed their gameplan to near perfection when it came to rushing the passer and limiting the Texas passing game. Until the matchup with the Sooners, the Longhorn QB had been averaging 3+ TDs through the air a game. Though Ehlinger didn’t throw an interception or have a terrible game through the air numbers-wise (26/38 210), the sacks did the job of disrupting the Longhorns offense, putting them in long-yardage situations all day.
On paper, the game looked to be a shootout with Texas’ and Oklahoma’s offenses in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and both defenses around the middle of the road (OU would finish 3rd and 70th in O & D Eff. while Texas ended up 17th and 60th). There was no indication that the Sooners would dominate the Texas offensive line the way they did. Though, you could’ve seen cracks in the armor versus LSU (5 sack game). Prior to the matchup in Dallas, the Longhorns had given up nine sacks total in five games. Though some of the sacks were scheme related (we will talk about three), most were due to Ehlinger holding on to the ball too long on perimeter screens (x2) or the Longhorn O-line getting out-manned at the point of attack (below).
The Sooners’ Defensive Coordinator, Alex Grinch, arrived in Norman with much fanfare. Though the results so far are not to the elite standard set by the offense, the defense has risen to “respectability.” In 2018, the Sooners were scraping the bottom of the FBS barrel in defense (#104 in DEff according to BCfToys). In little time at all, Grinch has found a way to at least calm the waters in Norman relatively quickly.
Only once prior to the contest with Texas have the Sooners given up more than 30 points in a game (vs Houston – 31 points). In 2018 the Sooners had similar results, with the defense falling apart towards the end of the season, giving up 40+ points a game in the month of November. Only time will tell if Grinch can get the Sooners back to being elite on defense, but one thing is for sure, nine sacks is a lot and definitely something to build on.
Breaking Down the Pressures
The Sooners are on par with most of the elite modern defenses in the fact they utilize multiple fronts within their base package. Gone are the days where most defenses will align in the same front structure for a whole game. Notable four down prominent defenses like Mark Dantonio at Michigan St., Don Brown at Michigan, Gary Patterson at TCU, and Brent Venables at Clemson all are using some kind of flex front whether on passing downs (3rd & Long) or even mixed in during base downs (1st & 2nd Downs).
Below, three pressures from the 2019 edition of the Red River Rivalry will be broken down. In most, a variation of the Bear Front is being used. In a modern Bear Front, the 3 techniques have moved a little further outside into 4is. The “wide-9s,” or in this case 5s, put two players on one offensive tackle. That can be problematic for basic protection schemes. The five defenders on the line equal the amount of offensive lineman. Add the value of Sim Pressures (give the illusion of sending max pressure only to have some drop-out and only rush four), and the offense can be put on its heels.
I highlighted the evolution of the modern defense in an article on Texas’ defense versus Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl and in my second book Hybrids. The Longhorns used multiple personnel packages and variations of the Bear Front to give Georgia fits all game. The Sooners, with the addition of Grinch, have moved into defensive modernity. They run a hybrid scheme that features three and four-down looks. Three of the best examples of Grinch’s work versus the Longhorns are shown below.
On 3rd and Long, Grinch would turn to the Bear Front and Cover 1 to attack the Longhorns passing game. The stunt below features an inside loop by the three defensive linemen and a blitz from depth by the Boundary Safety (BS). Most of the time, blitzing from depth can be problematic for the defense because it rarely hits home, but in long-yardage situations, the blitz can have time to develop due to the location of the sticks. The Sooners’ Safety comes from 10 yards off the ball and gets a head start on the O-line because they have to deal with the internal three-man loop.
To a QB, the Safety can even appear as a sinking pass defender on the RB. With what appears to be two edge rushers and a sinking Safety, the QB can expect a five-man rush. The issue becomes evident when the Boundary Edge (“B”) peels with the RB. The crashing Nose and boundary DE pin the three interior O-linemen. The “B” Edge works up-field reading the RB. The right tackle understands that the RB is releasing, so he kicks deep to set an edge versus the Sooners Edge. Once the Edge peels, the RT turns inside to double the looper. The Nose is picked up by the left guard, the boundary DE occupies the center, and the RG and RT clamp on the looper. The only issue? No one sees the Safety.
The diagram below illustrates the schematics of the pressure. Had the RB stayed in, the “B” would have held his edge and the sack still would have occurred. This particular pressure illustrates the use of an interior loop to hold the eyes of the three interior linemen. The beauty in these types of schemes is that there is always one man looking in from the outside. Meaning, there is an O-lineman that is either blocking air or doubling on a guy that doesn’t need the double. In the case of the Longhorns, the RT doubled the looper and no one was left for the inserting Safety.
Coverage wise, the Sooners are running a simple Cover 1 concept. The BS drops near the box to give the illusion of a “robber” on any crossing route. This Cover 1 Robber look is a great way to deal with Air Raid teams that attack the middle of the field. Placing a Safety in the intermediate would not have tipped off Ehlinger that a blitz was coming. Another way to do this from a Cover 1 look is to drop the Safety several times to take the RB, only to switch responsibilities with the DE. Let the DE peel & the safety insert off the back of the OT who is kicking to the DE. Clever and easy.
In the second pressure discussed, the Sooners again utilize the Bear Front. The schematics behind the pressure are simple. The Nose will go away from the RB and the looper will come at the RB. The Edge to the RB will sluff off and take the RB. If the RB doesn’t appear, he’ll sit in the middle as a spy (some DCs will even add him back in – Green-Dog).
Many times, pressures are designed to attack the weakest blocker. In six-man protections, a four-man rush should not be able to hit home. The key is creating a mismatch or a disadvantage for one or more blockers. Looping, like Jet or Pop motions from an offense, plays with the vision of the players. In the case of this pressure, the RB is attacked by a larger body and the center is put at a disadvantage. Grinch designs this simple looping blitz to take advantage of the blocking scheme.
The clip illustrates how a four-man rush can beat six-man protections. To start, the boundary DE attacks the “B” gap to ensure the guard and tackle clamp onto him. He then works outside for contain. The “B” Edge keys the RB and will mirror him, working back into the box. To the field, the “F” Edge will work vertically, pulling the tackle and containing the QB. The Nose long-sticks (crosses multiple gaps) into the field “B” gap. This pulls the center slightly and occupies the guard.
The post-snap movement has created a wide gap and a potential one-on-one scenario for the RB. The “F” Edge loops into the opposite “A” with authority, staying tight to the D-line. The center has to quickly rock back to attempt to close wall the looper and the RB is not ready for the tempo at which the Edge breaks through. The result is a split double team and a sack. Below is an illustration of this simple four-man pressure.
Oklahoma actually uses the Cover 1 Robber discussed in the prior pressure. Each DB is squarely taking a WR and the “B” Edge is responsible for the RB. That leaves the BS to lurk in the intermediate looking for crossers in case the Sim Pressure doesn’t hit home (remember, there are only four defenders actually rushing).
The final pressure being covered is a run down pressure. When designing pressures, it is always important to make sure that it is sound versus the run. Even in long-yardage situations, the offense still has the ability to run the ball. This way of thinking also helps versus scrambling QBs because every gap is accounted for. In the clip below, the Sooners “Pirate” stunt and an edge rush from the ILB. Pirate refers to the line movement from the 5 and 3 tech. Each will step down one gap post-snap. The Will will insert tight off their movement and set up for contain.
The Longhorns lock their right tackle on the field DE while the rest of the O-line takes on the other D-linemen (Big-on-Big of BoB protection). The RB is responsible for the near ILB after he fakes a hand-off. The play-action gives the look of a Zone Load play where the TE steps down and loads the weakside. This creates a combo style of pass protection. It isn’t a full slide, but it isn’t big-on-big either.
The key to this pressure is the loop from the Nose. Once the Nose engages and sees that Texas is passing the ball, he will loop way and to the edge. The Pirate stunt has already created a movement towards the Nose and the three blockers work as a massive wall, allowing the Nose to loop untouched. This type of movement puts two players on the RB and has pinned any Texas blocker form being able to counteract the Nose’s loop. In the image below you can see how the “T” and “B” DE pin the four blockers. The RB takes the Will rushing for contain and the Nose comes clean. Coverage wise, the secondary is running 4-Lock or MEG coverage.
With a little creativity and an understanding of how an offense is blocking, a defense can do damage with fewer numbers. In this instance, two players were put on the RB, which is what many DCs attempt to do versus protection schemes that feature the RB. Utilizing movement that attacks the interior with natural loops by the other members of the front can create a two-versus-one scenario. These plus numbers equated to major losses for the Longhorns offense.
The goal of any pressure package is to take advantage of the blocking scheme that is present. Finding the weakest link and creating one-on-one matchups or plus-numbers to make a blocker wrong is the ultimate goal. Many of the pressures used by Grinch versus Texas created matchups were the Oklahoma D-line was able to win their block. Line movement is great when trying to wast blockers and it helps create natural gaps for looping or inserting rushers. When designing pressures, it is key to understand the pass-protection and then attack the weakest link in the chain.
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