Dave Aranda, the newly appointed Baylor Head Coach made an interesting comment during his appearance at 2020’s Lone Start Clinic in College Station, TX. When speaking about his new job, Aranda pointed out that he was interested to watch 2019 Baylor because they lived in a 505 front. If you are new to Aranda, he is considered one of the Tite Front gurus.
The Tite Front (4i/0/4i) and it’s Saban counterpart Mint, have become all the rage in college football when stopping the Spread from a 3-4. In terms of Odd Stack defenses, Iowa State is the obvious starting point. Baylor is different from the Cyclones in the fact they lived in the 505 look regardless of the offensive personnel on the field. Iowa State usually aligns depending on the backfield or personnel on the field:
- 10p = Back Front – Set the 4i to the RB and the 5 technique away
- 11p/20p = 505
- Empty = Tite Front
As Aranda pointed out, Baylor had tremendous success from the 505, or what I refer to as the Buck Front. Like Iowa State, Baylor would “heavy” the 5 techniques and allow them to crash down on the offensive line. Aranda and the Cyclones call this a “fist” technique (I call it “heavy). This allows the LBs to be patient and read their Guards through to the ball carrier. The two 5 techniques also allow the Bears to create natural walls on the edge of the box. Below is a typical look the Bears showed versus a Y-off formation.
One issue with the Tite Front and the use of 4i’s is the lack of a natural edge setter. The 505 solves this issue but opens up a gap in the interior. In the clip below, Baylor is ripping both of their 5 techniques into the “B” gaps. The addition of the Twirl motion pulls the Sam LB away from the box. The Mike LB steps inside, even though the Nose is “lagging” or falling off into his “A” gap. This allows the TE to seal the edge and the MOF Safety is the stop-gap six yards down the field.
Though this is from the 505 perspective, the Tite Front would fit the same. The Mike has to understand that he is a free player and all his help is to his left. By working into the box, he inhibits his ability to rock out. Had he of been patient and sat on the “B” gap, he would have been able to cross-face with the TE and hold his contain.
When utilizing heavy 5 techniques those interior gaps get squeezed shut. Add a Safety in the middle of the field (MOF) and the LBs are allowed to roam free. This combination made Baylor’s defense one of the best in the country in terms of efficiency (8th). Rushing wise, Baylor was middle of the road, 49th in Total Rushing (143 per game) and 27th in average rush per attempt (3.66 – 1st in the Big 12). Though not elite on the ground, many around the country took a pause and are interested in how Phil Snow fit the run. In the second part of MQ’s series on Baylor’s Odd Stack defense, we take a look at the fits and fronts Baylor used to create a historic 2019 season.
The clip below illustrates the effectiveness of the Odd Stack. With only five men in the box, the Bears were able to snuff out a Stretch play using the leverage of the field defender and the depth of the Safeties to keep blockers off of them. The Sooners’ slot and C-area player have to work in tandem to ensure the Sam doesn’t force the Stretch back into the box.
Inside the box, the play-side DE and ILB exchange gaps. In the Iowa State vernacular, this technique is called a “Fist,” or what I refer to as a heavy technique. The play itself is a Bash (Back-Away) concept where the O-line is blocking Zone for the QB and the RB is running a stretch path. The read is the play-side DE, who crashed down on the QB (mesh charge). The heavy DE forces the give to the RB who is forced to run East and West because of the knifing Sam. The secondary reads the departure of the slot and trigger towards the ball carrier once the slot makes contact with the Sam (run read).
Though the slot forces the Middle Safety (MS) to slow down, there is no one for the Field Safety (FS) or Mike LB. 2nd and 7 turns into a manageable 3rd and medium for the Bears. The clip really illustrates the scheme of the Bears defense by spilling runs to the outside so that the uninhibited Safeties can make the play. Even as offensive coaches catch on to the scheme, it is difficult in this particular system to predict who is in the box and who isn’t because of post-snap movement.
Against a Jet Stretch, the Bears 3 Invert allows the LBs to flow with the ball. By placing five defenders near the box, the Baylor defense can quickly cut-off any outside flowing run. The Secondary fits outside in. To the play-side, the triggers, keeping outside contain and eventually making the tackle on the line of scrimmage (LOS). The LBs are afforded the quick trigger because there are plenty of defenders behind them to tackle a cut-back.
The Sooners Jet Power Read is easily snuffed out because of numbers on the point of attack. Though the Bears’ DE climbs to cut-off the stretch (and misses), the QB sees too many numbers in the box with #26 and #38 basically untouched. The result is a “give” on the Jet Stretch and numbers for the Bears at the point of attack.
The secondary in 3 Invert (Safeties), or even Tampa (CBs), are contain players, forcing everything back inside. The MOF Saftey is either the Post-player or reading and fitting off of #3 which could be the QB or RB depending on how the Bears want to fit (or who they want to stop). In many cases, the MS is in charge of the RB and essentially plays as an ILB from depth. Again, that depth keeps hands off of him because many O-lines won’t climb 8-10 yards down the field. The pinching action of the DEs (Fist tech.) spills everything outside and allows the LBs to flow freely with little friction. Below is are the rushing stats from both Baylor vs OU games.
Baylor, like Iowa State, runs multiple fronts depending on the formation or gameplan. In most cases, the Bears can be found in the Buck Front (in Cyclone terms that is Okie – 505). The fronts really don’t change the way the box is being fit because most if the time, the 5 tech. is playing heavy. So whether the front is Tite, Back, or Buck, the front ends many times with the DEs in the “B” gaps unless it is pass. Like most “heavy” techniques, if the tackle kick-steps to pass set, the DE stays for contain or rushes the passer.
Against Spread sets, the Bears could opt to look a lot like the Cyclones and run their “Back” front. In Back, the 5 tech. is set away from the RB and the 4i is set to the RB. The Nose still “lags” to the RB. As illustrated in Part 1 of this series, Phil Snow’s base coverage is 3 Invert (shown below). The Back Front closes off the cutback lanes for the RB and funnels the RB into the “A” gap where the Mike is waiting or it spills to the front door where the Will is waiting. Either way, the RB has to change trajectory and run east and west. This particular front is used by the Cyclones versus 10 pers. formations. The Bears tend to use this against pure Spread teams that rely heavily on Zone runs.
Below is a clip of Baylor running their Back Front against a Zone Read by Texas Tech. Instead of lagging the Nose, the Bears send him to the field “A” gap. To the play side, the 5 tech. rubs into the “B” gap (Heavy). The Sam LB becomes the force player on the front door. Inside, the Nose darts into the play side “A” while the Mike tracks the RB. To the “read” side, the 4i penetrates the “B” gap giving the QB a “pull” read. Had the QB given the ball to the RB, he would have needed to cut back drastically to a free hitting Will or would have been tackled by the 4i. The end result is a one-on-one with the QB and the Will, which the Will wins. In the secondary, the MOF Safety drops down to “cap” the fit on the QB.
Tite Front is also another way the Bears set their front to eliminate Zone runs. Against Oklahoma, Baylor lived in their Buck Front (505), but versus Texas Tech and other teams, they were much more multiple. Below Tech is in a Y-off formation. If this were the Cyclones, they would automatically align in Buck (camp rules). Below, the Bears use the Tite Front to stifle a Split Zone. The Tite is derivative of the Bear. With the addition of the Bears base 3 Invert, the box can be suffocated quickly with numbers.
To the away side, the lag Nose and 4i cut off the RB’s back door escape root forcing him front side. The Will acts as the de facto 9 tech. and sets contain. The 4i gets so much penetration as you darts into the “B” gap that the TE tries to seal him off. Front side, the guard completely misses the Sam LB and works to the Safety instead. This kills the play. Even if the guard would have blocked the Sam, the Safety and the Mike would have worked in tandem to contain the RB. The lag Nose did his job too by occupying the center long enough to keep the Mike clean.
Against Oklahoma, the Bears reverted back to their base 505. In the Big 12 Championship game, the Bears struggled at times with Oklahoma’s Zone schemes. The clip below illustrates two of those plays. The first clip is a view of a typical split-back Split Zone. The main issue is illustrated by coverage and fit. The Bears opt to go with a Tampa look and sink all three of the Safeties into coverage. The Nose rocks to the away side “B” gap while the ILB scrapes for QB. This exposes the play side “A” gap and the RB quickly works upfield for a large gain.
Versus the Arc Read from the same formation in the second clip, the Bears opt to run their 3 Invert and flood the box with numbers. The Will again rocks back for the QB exposing interior gaps. To the Arc block, there are numbers, but the Will snaps out of the fit. The seal-block by the “B” back contains the 5’s rush. The Mike and Sam fit into the same gap and the Sooners, again, are off to the races.
The Bears were so concerned with the feet of Hurts that the ILB continued to snap outside on Zone runs. Against a Zone Load (TE stays on the edge to seal), the Sooners were able to again gash the Bears in the middle of the formations. In this clip the ILB and DE both take the QB. This leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the fit and an easy touchdown for the Sooners.
Where the Bears usually win upfront is with penetration. In the play below, the play side tackle whiffs on the DE who is able to kill the play. From the backside, the TE arcs out to the DE leaving the 5 tech. unblocked. His pursuit down the line would have ended any cutback. The way the D-line plays allows the Will to come unblocked and help finish the play in the backfield.
This is a typical fit when the Bears are playing their Quarters package. The MS becomes a “free” player and has the ability to track the mesh. Though the DE defeats the block on the edge, you can see how the Bears are creating a funnel on the perimeter, trying to get every run to go horizontal. The backside DE whiffs on the tackle, but had the play been strung out he would have had a chance to run it down. That’s the M.O. of the Odd Stack, spill everything and rally. The ability to create TFLs allows the defense to get the offense off schedule. The ability to create negative plays to stop drives before they get into the Red Zone is key for any modern defense to survive.
Against the Zone, the Bears try to cut off the cut back and force the RB to go East and West. The main issues come on Zone Reads, especially if the DE and ILB are not on the same page. Later in the article, we will discuss QB runs, which tends to be the Odd Stacks kryptonite. It is easy to understand by the Bears were so focused on Hurts’ ability to run, he basically made the Sooners’ offense run in their first contest. That being said, you can’t sacrifice too many guys on one key even when loading the box.
Against the Sooners’ gap schemes, the Bears used their Buck Front to spill any pullers. Below is an example of a pin-loop away from the TE. This is a good scheme versus the Sooners Counter GT, but the center recognizes the “G” (2i) alignment by the Nose and climbs to collect the looping DE. This creates a lane for the RB. Riley tags the front side of the Counter with a Flat/Corner to pull the Bears DBs away from the box. This leaves a scraping LB to take the RB. He over pursues and the Sooners score.
Verus “pop” gap plays like the Power Read, the Bears use their 3 Invert to suffocate the LOS and contain the play with leverage from the secondary. From a previous clip, the Sooners run a Jet Power Read with the formation into the boundary (FIB). The Bears LBs quickly “pull-the-chain” to leverage the play. The Sam attacks the arc of the TE while the inverting Safety leverages the RB. There’s nowhere for the RB to go but to the sideline where he is collected by the Safety.
In the box, Baylor has numbers as the Mike and Will hold for the QB pull until they see the ball handed off. The DE to the field climbs for containing but loses the RB. The QB should have pulled it if it was a true read, but the numbers in the box would have stuffed it. With the RB and TE arcing to lead the Jet Stretch, the five OL would have had to handle six Bears. The coverage and front together inhibited the Sooners’ speed and power (diagramed below).
Where the Odd Stack gets into trouble is versus QB runs. Primarily for Baylor, the use of 3 Invert of Cover 1 exacerbates the issue. Even in a Tampa 2 coverage, the base structural alignment ends up in a Cover 3, or single-high structure. As shown, OU gashed Baylor with Zone in the Big 12 Championship when it wanted to run the RB, but if the Sooners needed a big play or a crucial conversion, they turned to Hurts on the ground.
In the regular-season matchup, Hurts ran for over 100 yards while RB Kennedy Brooks rushed for just under 100 in route to a Sooner victory. In the Big 12 Championship game, Hurts struggled on the ground only accounting for 38 yards on 23 carries. The main difference as illustrated in the Zone runs was Baylors over-reliance on stopping Hurts. They almost over committed to the point where they had fewer numbers to account for the box. Though OU didn’t run all over Baylor in the Championship game (50 carries for 146 yards compared to 52 carries for 228 yards in the regular season), the concerted effort to stop Hurts exposed the Bears to big plays on the ground.
Even with a loaded box, the Sooners were able to get 1st Downs off QB runs. Below is an example of a Q-Counter Load. Hurts pumps the ball to hold the LBs, then follows his blockers weak. The weakside overhang is met by the TE and the RB leads Hurts up the hole (though he doesn’t block anyone). The play results in a 1st Down and highlights the weakness of not having a weak side “cap” fitter coming from the secondary. With the Bears playing man-free (Cover 1), there isn’t an extra body backside.
It wasn’t all feast for the Sooners when they met the Bears in the regular season. The clip below illustrates how the double 5s can destroy a GT Counter. The away side DE chases down the QB for a tackle for loss (TFL). In the clip, the Bears run their 3 Invert and the Will takes the RB in the Bash concept. Front side, Lynch (DE) crases and takes up both pullers. The LBs fit and Hurts seems to be free except no one is there to take the backside DE.
Counter has been a staple of the Sooners’ offense since Riley became the OC. The Bears use their “stand-up” front on 1st Down. By standing up, the Bears create a pseudo-ameba front, meaning the offense can’t predict where the defense is going to insert. Standing the D-line up and playing Cover 1 gives the illusion the Bears are going to blitz. This is bluffing without bluffing (if that is even a thing!). The deep-set by the Sooners’ pullers allow the Baylor’s boundary DE to crash and blow up the two-man wedge.
Lynch (DE) knifes through the pullers and forces the “wrapper” to log even deeper. The Will meets hi deep in the backfield and contains the run. This forces the QB back inside to what appears to be daylight. To the Stretch side, the Sam and Field DE fit off of their responsibility. The DE has the QB or the inside shoulder of the RB. The Sam snaps outside to leverage the RB. The DE “surfs” down the line keeping his shoulders square then darts in to make the tackle on the QB once he pulls the ball resulting in a TFL. Crucial on a 1st Down.
Lincoln Riley used traditional plays to gain “load” blocks for Hurts. Instead of relying on Bash plays as shown above, Riley turned to “follow” plays to gain an extra hat in the box versus the Bears single-high structure. In the Big 12 Championship, the Sooners ran a Split Zone Follow concept. Hurts just needed to find the open hole. It would be about four yards before any Bear touched him.
The Bears are running an aggressive Quarters look from their Odd Stack. The Middle Safety and boundary Safety fit the box on a run read. To the two WR side, the Bears are essentially playing Saban’s 7 Mix, which has the overhang insert on a run read while the DBs play a MEG technique (Man Everywhere he Goes). The result is a big gain in overtime versus the Bears. Putting the Sooners closer to the goal line and a short 2nd Down.
Read concepts were also used to get Hurts on the perimeter. One of the easiest ways to attack a 4i is to arc the OT. The Sooners show an Iso play and arc the OT backside. The DE climbs for the RB and Hurts pulls the ball, following the OT as a lead blocker. The Bears have stacked the box and are running a Cover 1 concept. What beats that? QB runs. Hurts scampers for a nice eight-yard gain.
Versus Baylor’s Drop-Eight on 3rd Down, the Sooners ran Q Draws, some off of play-action like the one below. As stated in the coverage piece, many times the Odd Stack turns into single-high. An efficient single-high beater is Q Runs. Below, the Sooners run a play-action Q Draw. The Drop-eight clears space underneath for a talented runner like Hurts to be dangerous. Hurts gains a 1st Down in a crucial part of the field.
Baylor’s run defense wasn’t feast or famine, but more like a bend and don’t break, relying on key TFLs to stall drives. The aggressiveness of the box ‘backers allowed some teams to take advantage by either throwing “pop” passes or QB runs. The main issue, as with any single-high concept is the QB run game. Though the Bears faired much better in the Big 12 Championship, they gave up just enough on the ground to eventually lose the game.
One thing the Bears did that Iowa State hasn’t done is get big TFL numbers. The Bears constantly were able to camp in the backfield. Though they couldn’t beat OU, Baylor was competitive in both games and forced the Sooners to earn everything. As the Odd Dime becomes more familiar across the country, the Bears defense is something to go back and watch because they got production in the air and on the ground.
Want more on Odd Stack & Hybrid 3-Safety Defenses:
- Running a 3-Down/3-Safety Dime as Your Base (2017)
- Running a 3-Down/3-Safety Dime as Your Base – The Front (2018)
- The Katy HS (TX) Hybrid 3-4
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