The Cyclone Pressure Package

MQ takes its annual look at the Cyclones’ defense.

By now everyone is familiar with the structure of Iowa State’s 3-3-3 or Broken Stack defense. In fact, most of the Big 12 has begun to use this defensive structure as it’s base look. Clemson’s own Brent Venables and staff even traveled to the Ames, IA to discuss how to run the defense with Cyclone Defensive Coordinator, Jon Heacock. Venables wanted to see how a defense that is built to stop the constant onslaught of high-powered offenses could hold the top spot in run defense in the Big 12. Clemson used the defense early in 2019 when they took on Texas A&M and would turn to it to help secure a victory in this year’s College Football Playoff victory over Ohio State.

Related: MQ Pressure Tape – Clemson D vs Ohio State O

What started as a shot in the dark for a struggling defense has begun an epoch change in college football’s defense of the Spread. The Odd Dime, or 3-3-3 (my friend Ian Boyd would prefer “Fly-Over D“), has taken over many of the Spread heavy conferences in college football. Turn on the TV any Saturday and you will see some kind of Odd Dime package being ran. Auburn and Georgia experimented with their own versions of a three-down “Dime” package to take on the vaunted LSU Tigers’ offense.

Related: Auburn’s 3-1-7 vs LSU’s historic O

Over the past several seasons, the Cyclones have evolved the scheme to fit their unique personnel and needs within the Big 12. The 2019 season could be seen as a down year, especially after 2018 which saw them finish the season winning seven-of-eight and barely losing to a 12th ranked Washington State team. ’19 would see the Cyclones finish 7-6 and 1-4 versus offenses in the top 60 in Offensive Efficiency. In DEff, the Cyclones finished #43 and were in the top 25 in DOA, defensive performance against their schedule strength, and 7th in DFD, which refelts the number of offensive possessions that earn a TD or at least a first down. Overall, the Cyclones defense was on par with how it has been doing the past several years and continues to be one of the better units in the league.

One topic of discussion that seems to be of interest to many coaches is the Cyclones’ unique pressure package that can be used to suffocate the run game and confuse QBs. Though the Cyclones are not getting many turnovers (#115/13 total) or Sacks (#64th/28 total), they are racking up Tackles For Loss in the upper third of college football (#36/85 total). This is due to how the Cyclones fit the run and pressure the offense. With so many DBs on the field, Iowa State can give multiple presentations post-snap to help negate soft spots behind their pressures.


Burn (3u/3d)

In the Cyclone language, Burn Coverage is their Fire Zone or three-under/three-deep coverage behind five-man pressure. From a three-high structure, the two seam and one hole player (rat) can come from almost anywhere. In may cases, the hole player is the Star or middle safety (MS). If an apex or overhang player is gone from one side, that safety will play the “Hot 2” technique or Seam. In the case the apex player is staying in coverage as the Hot 2 away from the pressure, the hash Safety will work to the middle third.

The CBs in Burn coverage are playing Press Bail playing what is referred to as a “Hot Third.” With eyes keying the WR to the QB, the CBs are playing zone trying to stay on top of any vertical but breaking off if the QB brings them down. If the CB has two WRs and both go vertical, the CB will play a mid-point technique playing deep-as-the-deepest. This is typical Fire Zone CB coverage.

Where Iowa State is unique is in pre-snap alignment. The ability to shift the secondary players and bring any defender outside the field CB, the Cyclones can give “exotic” post-snap presentations without playing exotic or unsafe coverages. With two Safeties on the hash, it is easy to defend seams because they are already aligned on their marker. It is also easy for them to gain access to the middle third. The Middle Safety is already aligned on top of #3 and can quickly close off the hole. Layering the coverage is critical to the Cyclones’ success and can play with the QB’s eyes post-snap. Below is a look at a Cyclone Burn pressure.

In this particular pressure, the Cyclones are sending two off the edge to the RB. This is the reverse of “America’s Fire Zone” with the first blitzer taking the heel-line and the second scaping for contain. The Sam LB will take the contain rush and try to get into the QB’s window or take the outside shoulder of the RB. By placing a 5 technique to the rush side, there is a D-lineman crossing the face of the tackle. The Mike, or first ILB, will read the OT and fit accordingly off his backside.

The Cyclones are playing Burn Coverage behind this pressure. The hash Safety drops down on #2 (Hot 2) with eyes to the QB. Baylor runs a “Swap” screen (WR screen to #2) and the Safety quickly triggers to take the screen. The MS (Star) sits on top of #3 while the other hash Safety (not seen in the clip) works to the middle third. With the Safety reading the eyes of the QB, he is too quick for the #1 WR and easily makes the tackle for no gain.

The front presentation is Iowa State’s Invert Front. This puts the Cyclones in their four-down package with two 5s, two 3s, and a mugged Mike (really the Sam) on the Center. The Will is aligned right behind the Mike. The pressure works the exact same way, except the personnel and presentation are a little different. The RB is in a static blocking position with the Will hammering down from depth. Simple inertia will push the RB back. Though the blitz is initially picked up, the RB can’t handle the LB’s rush and the Bears’ QB is sacked. The base pressure (Alamo) is detailed below.

01 Alamo Burn

Outside of coverage structure, the Cyclones give different front presentations to aid in the manipulation of pass pro. Below, the Cyclones run there Double “A” Mug Front and run the same pressure as above. Though the pressure doesn’t hit home, the QB feels the pressure in his face and releases the ball quickly. With EYES coverage, the hash Safety cuts the #1 WR’s slant and almost picks the ball.

The Cyclones have three versions of this pressure, two sims and the Burn pressure shown above. In the two sims, the Cyclones can either drop out the edge rushers or the mugged ‘backers. In the sim pressure where the edge players drop out, they run what they call Duece, which is a reduction Trap 2 concept. In Duece, the field CB is playing MEG (Man Everywhere he Goes) on #1, and the hash Safety will trap the slot WR with the MS playing deep 1/2. Again, the luxury of having five DBs. In the sim where the two ‘backers drop out, the Cyclones run a Trap 2 coverage with the CBs playing hard on the #1 WRs while the MS inserts into the field seam. The hash Safeties play Deep 1/2 and Will playing the weak seam and Mike playing the middle hole.

Related: 2019 Baylor’s Pressure Package (3-3-3)


Blaze (4u/2d – Trap 2)

Blaze Coverage is the Trap 2 concept ran behind some of the Cyclones pressures. Both CBs will play anything out by the #2 WR and if there is a single-WR, the CB will cut towards the box (below). This type of coverage is usually ran when a DB is in the blitz path. For instance, if the Cyclones were to bring a CB, the secondary would roll to that side creating a Trap 2 pressure. In the clip below, the MS is in the pressure making both hash Safeties the Deep 1/2 players.

The pressure below shows the boundary hash Safety inserting from depth with the Will LB. The CB to the boundary plays hard on #1 while the MS works to the Deep 1/2 taking the vertical by #2. The Mike will open to #3 and work vertically for any crossed. The pressure moves the QB off his mark and he throws a bad pass into double coverage. The field Safety almost gets the pick.

Playing a Trap 2 coverage, especially on base downs can pay off against a team that throws RPOs or perimeter screens. The same pressure as above is shown (Flash). The CB is playing hard on #1 and sees the QB throw the ball. The result is a TFL and a 3rd and extremely long.

With three-Safeties, the Cyclones can use them in pressures without messing with the coverage. In many cases, the coverage looks similar to the zone schemes they run on base downs. The addition of non-traditional rushers from depth is something that many teams facing the Spread are starting to move to. The O-line now has to account for players lined up at depth. This can bring havoc to O-lines that aren’t used to seeing players form depth or aren’t that great at pass pro.


Hot (2u/3d)

Hot or EYES pressures are great ways to send more numbers than the offense can handle. Instead of dropping a defender away from the pressure, Hot blitzes keep him in the fit to add a number. The two seam or “hot” players relate to the nearest man and read the “eyes” of the QB (also why it is referred to as EYES). This type of scheme places defenders in the “hot” or check-down window of the QB. Once the pressure hits, the QB is going to look for is “rush” throw or check-down. If done right, the seam player can get hands on the ball creating a turnover or force the QB to hang on to the ball, letting the rush hit home. One thing that can give these pressures difficulty is cruise or crossing routes (below).

With Iowa using a Slide-Insert pass pro where the O-line slides to one side, the tackle away from the slide locks on the DE, and the TE inserts in the gap, the Cyclones attack the blocker in the backfield (below). This type of pressure puts players on either side of a blocking back making him wrong no matter what his choice is. In the blitz below, the Cyclones load the “B” gap away from the slide. The TE can’t handle that many players and the LB comes free. The LB from the other side attacks the guard and wastes him by attacking the “A” gap.

Related: MQ’s primer on HOT pressures


Unlike Baylor that played mostly Cover 1/3 with their hash Safeties, the Cyclones have a wide variety of coverages to go with their pressure package. The ability to drop, roll, and trap from any one of the five DBs lends to the variety for Iowa State. Coverage wise, things don’t change except for the way the coverages play post-snap. This is why the scheme is so successful when done right. There is no predictability and any one of the DBs (outside the field CB) can work into the box or drop deep. Whether it is a traditional Fire Zone (Burn) or Trap 2 (Blaze) the Cyclones have a multitude of ways to attack a Spread offense. Finally, the timely use of Hot pressures can have a devastating effect on a Spread offense that is used to timing and freedom in the pocket.

 

For more 3-High resources go to MQ’s LINKS page & scroll down to the 3-High section.

 

© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.


Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

Breaking Down Your Offensive Opponent

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

MQ Pressure Tape: Clemson vs Ohio St. (2019)

Venables takes on Day for a chance at the National Title.

Since Clemson’s Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables’ arrival, the Tigers defense has been one of the top units in college football. Outside 2012 (Venables’ first year) the Tigers defense has found itself in the top 25 in Defensive Efficiency, finish #1 twice (2014, 2019). The Tigers have a unique brand of aggressive four-down defense in a time were the Tite Front is king.

One thing that makes Venables stand out among his peers is his willingness to try new things. During their game against Texas A&M, Clemson trotted out their own version of the Odd Dime to combat the Aggie Spread. It was documented last Spring that the Iowa State and Clemson defensive staffs had conversed. This should come as no shock because Venables is a Big 12 guy, having grown up in Kansas, played and coached under Bill Snyder at Kansas State, and cut his proverbial DC teeth at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops.

2019 would see the Tigers play for their fourth National Title in five years. That is on the same par with Alabama who has become somewhat of a recent rival. Though the 2019 Tigers would eventually fall short versus LSU in the National Championship, the defense was still #1 in DEff for 2019.

One highlight from 2019’s defense is the jack-of-all-trades, Isaiah Simmons (#8 overall in ’20). Venables used him as a true hybrid player by placing him all over the field to create matchup issues (even at “Post” Safety!). The Tigers matchup versus Ohio State in the Fiesta bowl would highlight the flexibility of Venables’ scheme versus one of the best examples of the modern Y-off Spread. Below are three of the best pressures from that game.


Film Study

The first clip is a simulated pressure that attacks the edge of the Ohio State line. The Buckeyes initially align in a Trey formation and shift to a 2×2 Pro Twin set. Clemson is in their 3rd Down Dime package with Simmons on the TE (Ni) and the Di on top of the Slot WR. As the Buckeyes motion, both the Ni and Di stay on the same side, the Safeties just rotate to the hashes.

On the line of scrimmage (LOS), the Tigers are in an “Overload” Front. This means that there are more defenders on one side of the line than the other. In this particular look, the Tigers have the DE, Nose, and Mike LB all to one side. The proximity of the Ni also stresses the defense because he is in position to blitz (along with the Ni). Away from the TE, the Tigers have the Will in the “A” gap and another DE as a wide-5.

04 Overload Front

I’ve explained before how an Overload (above) look can force the offense to do two things. First, the offense can slide to the two “bigs” and lock the backside tackle on the opposite DE or EDGE player. Second, the mugged LBs in the middle of the formation can force man blocking or five-on-five, which is illustrated in the clip below. Clemson runs a different look with the Mike and Will mugged in the “A” gaps. Venables is known for his four-down “Double-A” pressures, but this is a great example of giving different presentations to force the offense to work. Continue reading “MQ Pressure Tape: Clemson vs Ohio St. (2019)”

Evolution of the Odd Dime: Stopping the Tigers (LSU vs Auburn 2019)

The Odd Dime goes South(east).

The 2020 LSU offense will go down as one of the top offenses to ever suit up and play on Saturdays. We have all thought it (or dreaded it), what would happen if someone actually played offense in Baton Rouge? There has never been a lack of talent in the Bayou. Creativity on offense? Yes.

One of the main reasons Les Miles was fired was the lack of offensive production by the Tigers. Everywhere around the SEC, teams were turning to the Spread, but the Tigers were stuck in an antiquated system that lacked points. Orgeron was trying to get the right pieces in place and was running out of chances.

Enter Joe Brady, the nameless faceless offensive assistant for the Saints. In the Spring of ’18 Orgeron invited the staff of the Saints to come and visit. Understanding the offense needed to simplify after the Canada debacle, embrace the Spread wholly, and step further into modernity, the Tigers turned to one of the best offensive minds in the country in Sean Payton.

The main focus of the meeting would be on Saints OC Pete Carmicheal, but when the topic of RPOs and college offenses came around, Brady stole the show. Outside of the Saints office, many did not know that Brady was actually the mastermind behind many of the packages that featured do-everything athlete Tysom Hill. Brady would talk to LSU offensive staff about RPOs and the “college” packages they used in New Orleans.

Though Orgeron was not present for the meeting, he definitely heard about it. Brady had impressed the Tigers staff. Coach “O” couldn’t hire anyone at that point, but he got the chance following the ’18 campaign. Orgeron made his move. Brady would have to decide, stick with the Saints as an assistant to the assistant or go reshape the LSU offense. Sean Payton told reporters in January that he had told Brady he was making a mistake, then added: “So much for what I know!” Brady took a chance on the Tigers and it paid off immediately. The addition of modern, forward-thinking passing combined with Ensminger’s run game propelled LSU to its first National Title since 2007.

The Tigers offense will go down as one of the most efficient offenses to play since BCFToys.com began keeping track in 2007 (’18 Oklahoma is the only other at 2.20). QB Joe Burrow (#1 overall in ’20) would win the Maxwell, O’Brien, and Heisman completing the trifecta of offensive awards. Burrow would throw for 60 TDs (that’s 4 a game!) and would finish as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passer rating. The LSU QB would barely miss out on the completion percentage record. Regardless the Tigers would put up the most points in the NCAA’s history.

The WR corps of Jr. Justin Jefferson (1,000+ yards), So. Ja’Marr Chase (22nd pick in ’20 & Biletnikoff winner), So. Terrance Marshall and Jr. TE Thaddeus Moss (you know, Randy’s son) would collectively dominate opponents through the air. The use of multi-purpose RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (32nd pick in ’20) punished teams on the ground and Brady would use his ability to catch with routes out of the backfield. Most importantly, the offensive line was dominant, winning the Joe Moore Award that goes to the best O-line unit (three were drafted in ’20). The Tigers had it all.

LSU would lead the nation with 48.4 points a game. They scored on everyone, even Bama (46) and Georgia (37). The Tigers racked up over 568 yards a game, with over 400 yards through the air. To say they were dominant is an understatement. Mississippi State would hold the Tigers to 36 points in their matchup on October 19th in Starksville. It seemed the Burrow led Tigers were unstoppable. Then the other Tigers came to Death Valley, holding LSU to a season-low 24 points and put a scare into Orgeron’s dream season. Continue reading “Evolution of the Odd Dime: Stopping the Tigers (LSU vs Auburn 2019)”

MQ Pressure Tape: Clemson vs UNC (2019)

MQ reviews three of the Tar Heels best pressure schemes.

North Carolina Defensive Coordinator, Jay Bateman, made a name for himself at Army with his use of delayed pressures. Most notably the one that hit home versus Oklahoma in 2018 (below). A delayed pressure is a great way to give the presentation of drop-eight (rush three) only to have the ILB away from the RB insert on the guard. The goal is to get a static guard to block a more athletic LB.

The design of a modern 3-4 is to get LBs that can pressure yet drop out into coverage. This use of 240 lbs LBs as rushers is nothing new. The main transition has been to put them in the middle of the formation instead of always on the edge. This has fundamentally changed defenses. The 4-3 Under was created to get an athletic 3 technique in a one-on-one on a run-blocking guard. The natural evolution as the Spread has grown in popularity is to have LBs become major players in rushing the passer. James Light had a great tweet from a college coach explaining the idea behind using LBs, something Belichick has been using to kill the NFL for years.

Continue reading “MQ Pressure Tape: Clemson vs UNC (2019)”

MQ Quick Hots Episode 22 – Defending Jet Motion

MQ details how to defend pop motions from a split-field structrue.

In this episode of Quick Hits, Coach A. details how to defend Jet motion from split-field coverage. Learn to defend the final formation, adjust to quick motions, and how to teach your DBs to defend this type of offense.

For more clinics like this be sure to checkout MQ’s YouTube channel.



I have also started a series called “MQ DB Training 101” that will cover all aspects of DB play. Make sure to bookmark the playlist and subscribe to MQ’s YouTube channel as I will be adding more videos. Check out what is already there below:

 

© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.


Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 3 – Pressures (2019)

Baylor’s 2019 defensive success was built on creating havoc. The creation of turnovers and negative plays directly correlated with Baylor’s ability to win games. Nationally, Baylor ranked 8th in DEff (Defensive Efficiency), but that didn’t mean they were dominant. The Bears were middle of the pack (#55) in First Down rate (the percentage of opponent drives that result in a TD or at least one 1st Down) and 39th overall in Total Defense. Where Baylor excelled was in killing drives and limiting TDs. To do that, a defense needs to dominate in negative plays (TFLs/Sacks) and turnovers.

Baylor was second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma in total TFLs (Tackles for Loss) with 102 total and 18th nationally. Included in that stat is Baylor’s 46 sacks, which led the Big 12 and was ninth nationally. Finally, Baylor was tied for second nationally in opponent turnovers, ending the season with 30 total (13 fumbles/17 intercepts). These stats were crucial to the Bears’ success. One way the Bears were able to cause havoc was to bring pressure. As shown in Part 1 (Coverages) and Part 2 (Fronts 7 Fits), Phil Snow’s 3-4 defense was transformed into a 3-3-3 in 2019. His aggressive style of play calling meshed with the roster Baylor had. Placing two converted CBs at “hash safeties” and hybrid LBs allowed Snow to bring pressure from all over. In Part 3 MQ takes a look at the most frequently used in the Bears’ scheme.


Delays/Green-Dogs

The “ameba” front highlighted in Part 2 of this series is a base down look for the Bears. By standing the D-linemen up, the O-line has no anchor point to go off or. The single-high look can indicate pressure is coming. In the prior article, I highlighted a clip that showed the Bears using this as a “bluff.” Below, the Bears Sam LB “green-dogs” once he has deemed the play a pass (green-dog refers to a “delay” pressure where you insert if your man blocks). With Cover 1 behind the front structure, the Sam can climb to contain once the RB and QB divvy out the mesh. The Sooners’ QB, Jalen Hurts, pulls the ball on a slight Waggle (no O-line protection) and the Sam climbs immediately. The pressure in the QB’s face forces an errant throw.

Continue reading “The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 3 – Pressures (2019)”

The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 2 – Fronts and Fits (2019)

In Part 2 of MQ’s Baylor Defensive series, we take a look at how Baylor fit the run & used their fronts.

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.

Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 12.49.39 PM

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. Continue reading “The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 2 – Fronts and Fits (2019)”

The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 1 – Coverages (2019)

The Big 12 is the land of the Odd Dime ushered in by the Cyclones. Baylor took it one step further to in 2019.

What a decade the Baylor Football program has had. From “the season that no one talks about” (RGIII knee injury in 2009), to a Heisman and the first 10 win season since 1980, to the back-to-back Big 12 Championships of ’13-’14 under former Head Coach Art Briles. Then there was the scandal that burned the program down, the limp to a 7-6 record capped with a win over Boise, the hiring of Matt Rhule, and the one-win season. Life was breathed back into the program in 2018 with a 7-6 finish, but no one saw the meteoric rise of 2019, capped with an 11 win season, a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, and a Sugar Bowl appearance versus Georgia. The roller-coaster ride that has been the past decade of Baylor football cannot be understated.

When I stepped foot on Baylor’s campus in the Summer of 2011, the 2009 season where Robert Griffin tore his ACL in a blowout victory over Northwestern St. (LA) had the same reverence as the uttering of “Voldermort” in Harry Potter. You just didn’t talk about it. 2009 was supposed to be “the year” that Baylor made its assertion into relevancy. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The Bears would finish 4-8, going 1-7 after their victory over Kent State in early October.

Once Art Briles decided to make a change on defense after an average 2010, and a concerted effort to commit to the ultra-spread in 2011, the rise was real. RGIII would win the Heisman in ’11 on the back of stellar performances against Oklahoma and Texas in the latter part of the season. Though 2012 saw a step back in terms of wins (they did lose a generational talent at QB), the Bears solidified their spot atop the Big 12 in ’13 and ’14, as they won back-to-back championships. The ascension, as we all know too well, was short-lived.

2016 is the season the wheels came off. The program was rocked with multiple sexual assault accusations. Briles, the school president, and the AD were all let go. Former Wake Forest Head Coach Jim Grobe was brought in to calm the waters and steer the program out of the storm as Baylor searched for its next Head Coach. At the conclusion of the ’16 season, Baylor settled with Temple’s Matt Rhule who had just taken the Owls from a 2-10 record to 10-4 in only three short seasons.

Baylor took a chance on Rhule who had an NFL pedigree and a knack for turning programs around. Rhule instantly instilled a degree of discipline and toughness that the Bears desperately needed following the tumultuous roller-coaster ride that was the 2016 season (remember the famous “bull-in-the-ring pre-game routine?). The results of 2017 were predictably grim, as the Bears finished 1-11. People around college football started to question if Baylor could ever get back to prominence in the Big 12 again?


Where Baylor was known for their offense under Briles, Rhule shifted the focus to defense. the 2019 Baylor Bears were one of the best defensive units in America, finishing eighth in Defensive Efficiency. There is always a learning curve when entering the Big 12. It takes time to understand the nuances within the conference and adjust the defense accordingly. Iowa St. starting in 2016, began aligning in the now-famous Odd Dime. With so many Air Raid offenses in the conference, HC Matt Campbell and DC Jon Heacock shifted to a modified 3-3-5 (below). Following the 2018 season, many in the Big 12 followed suit. The Odd Dime essentially became the de-facto “Big 12 Defense.”

ISU vs OU (2019) Continue reading “The Evolution of the Odd Dime: Baylor vs Oklahoma Pt. 1 – Coverages (2019)”

Attacking Empty – A Case Study (Indiana vs Tennessee 2020)

MQ takes a look at the Vols defense versus Indiana’s Empty sets from this years Gator Bowl.

Having a detailed plan of attack for Empty is something all defensive coordinators need to carry when going into a game versus a Spread team. An Empty formation stresses the defense in many ways by placing three WRs to one side and aligning two the other direction. This 3×2 set “zeros” the box, meaning it forces the defense to cover down to every wide WR. Regardless, if the defense leaves a linebacker(s) in the box, the offense has created an advantageous situation where the defense must run blitz or “max” coverage to overwhelm the offensive front.

Most defenses will carry three types of schemes versus Empty: Cold, Warm, and Hot pressures. In a “Cold” pressure the defense will use line stunts to create one-on-ones for the defensive line while dropping eight (or seven if a four-down) into coverage. This type of thought process maxes out the coverage ability and bets on the front to win with games. “Warm” pressures create man blocking upfront with five-man pressures. By sending five defenders the DC has guaranteed the offensive line must account for every defender.

The man-blocking creates one-on-ones for the defenders. Win one of those and the defense can get to the QB. Coverage wise, the defense can either run man to the pressure and zone away or run single-high coverages with no “Rat” or hole player in the middle (This is Cover 0 in Saban). Finally, “Hot” pressures sound exactly like their name, the defense is sending the maximum number of defenders, creating a man free somewhere along the line. Blitz coverage (or man) is ran behind it with the assumption that the ball is coming out HOT!

When defending a team the runs a good amount of Empty, a DC must understand what the offense is trying to do out of the formation conceptually, but more importantly, how are they protecting with the offensive line. Max pressure will almost always trigger slide protection. Offenses can slide either way, usually to the best pass rusher. This ensures that the one player is free off the edge (below). By knowing this, the secondary can tighten up and trigger on short routes. Any long developing route will lead to pressure. Pressing in this situation is probably not the best because the offense can hit a quick-strike Fade route with no help deep. Better play off-man or Bail (look like press then work deep).

Hot Pressure (Slide) Continue reading “Attacking Empty – A Case Study (Indiana vs Tennessee 2020)”

Attacking 3rd Down With Multiple Fronts

Using packages & “problem” fronts to attack the Spread on 3rd Down.

Though 3rd Down is probably one of the more overrated downs in football (in terms of importance), being able to get off the field is an important concept for any defensive coach (yes, I’m being dense). Any series is won on 1st Down. Win that down and now the offense becomes more predictable on each subsequent play. By winning 2nd Down and forcing the offense into an obvious passing situation, the defense can now attack the offense. This is why looking at efficiency stats are important.

Looking at BCfToys.com’s DEff, you will only find two teams in the Top 25 with losing records against FBS teams, Northwestern and Miami (N’western’s OEff is 124 and Miami’s is #76 which explains their 6-6 record). Winning early downs is key to winning 3rd. That being said, defenses need to have a plan for 3rd Down and it’s variations (short, medium, long). The ultimate goal is to get off the field. Understanding how your opponent attacks 3rd should reflect your gameplan too. If a DC regularly goes to the same pool for 3rd Down, an OC will learn your rules and beat you at your own game.

Predictability in football is the holy grail. It is why coaches spend hours diagnosing film and coming up with a plan. Wining the base downs (1st and 2nd) is key to a successful defense. 3rd Down efficiency is a decent metric and does, to an extent, help with win probability. T. Tony Russell of Blue Stampede wrote an interesting article on the topic of 3rd Downs and win probability. Russell found that “3-and-Outs” doesn’t necessarily correlate to win probability. Yes, defensive coaches love to get off the field, especially if you have a dominant offense, but this stat over time doesn’t directly correlate to wins.

As Russell explains, the use of 3rd Down Efficiency (the percent of 3rd downs that a team is able to convert into a first down) ignores about 71% of all other plays. 1st Down conversion rate or just passing down efficiency are better stats to use when looking at win probability. So what does this have to do with winning 3rd and Long?

First, there is always a point at which a team chooses to pass at a high rate. This means a defense needs to win its passing downs. In the NFL, any yardage mark is a throwing down, but generally, if the yards to gain is around 4+, most NFL teams are throwing. In College, that mark moves to around 6+, which is probably similar at the High School level. Second, defensive coaches need a plan for passing downs, especially on 3rd Down. Finally, not all schemes are created equal when it comes to pressuring the QB. A defense needs options. A DC needs to consider several things:

  • Is the QB a runner? Is he a thrower?
  • Do they have a dominant WR?
  • Do they slide, Big-on-Big, or Combo their pass-pro?
  • What is the RB doing, or who is he responsible for?

All these questions need to be answered as a plan for 3rd Down is developed. This particular article gives you several ideas and ways to attack an offense in obvious passing downs, especially 3rd Down. As Russell pointed, winning passing downs is a better metric for win probability. Win your passing downs, or get a sack/turnover, and you have a higher chance of winning the game, which at the end of the day, is the only thing that matters.


1) The Overload Front

1 Overload

One of my favorite ways to attack an offense on 3rd Down is the Overload Front. In an Overload Front, the defense will put all its numbers to one side. This front mainly runs from a four-down look, otherwise, you have something completely different. Above, the Georgia Bulldogs align three linemen to one side. The boundary side only has a DE and a LB that is responsible for the “B” gap and RB. Versus a nub-set, as shown above, the CB will be over there as well.

Continue reading “Attacking 3rd Down With Multiple Fronts”

Manipulating The Cover Down

Versus Baylor in the Big 12 Championship, Oklahoma’s DC, Alex Grinch, showed the versatility of a modern Nickelback.

Most people are familiar with Lincoln Riley’s offensive genius. Since arriving at Oklahoma Riley’s offenses have been at the top of the charts in college football. He has had three different QBs, all of which either won the Heisman (Mayfield/Murray) or went to the ceremony (Hurts). The one thing that has been the thorn in Riley’s side at OU has been the defense.

After Bob Stoops resigned Riley was given a defensive staff that needed to be dealt with. One major issue was that Stoops’ brother (Mike) was the Defensive Coordinator. After two abysmal years, Riley pulled the trigger and made a change. In steps, Alex Grinch, who was seen as a rising star in the defensive community. Grinch had solid defenses at Washington St., and there is your connection to Riley. Everyone knows Riley is a Leach disciple.

Grinch was able to work alongside a powerful offensive mind (Leach) and still be able to keep the hands on the wheel. Wazzu was consistently in the top half of Defensive Efficiency ranking 13th in Grinch’s final year in Pullman. The job Grinch did in Pullman put him on the map. After his stint at Wazzu Grinch moved to Columbus, OH as the co-DC for Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. There, Grinch would hold down the secondary while Greg Schiano called the defense. Grinch’s success, pedigree, and connection to Leach made it easy for Riley to pull the trigger. He had all the intangibles: a young intelligent coach who had worked under offensive-minded coaches yet was able to show high-quality results.


It is amazing what a year can do. In 2019, Grinch brought a calmness and discipline to the Sooner defense that had been lacking for a long time. In contrast, 2018 would be a year of opposites as the offense was stellar and the defense was one of the worst in the country. The 2018 defense would finish 114th in total defense. Surrendering 6.13 per play (102nd in the nation) while being on the field for over 1036 total plays (2nd in the nation behind Houston). Finally, Points Per Drive (PPD), which factors in the total amount of series played divided by points, was 112th overall at 2.88. That’s almost a field goal a drive! Needless to say, something had to give. Continue reading “Manipulating The Cover Down”

Sacking the Longhorns – OU vs Texas (2019)

The Sooners had a record 9 sacks against the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. MQ details three.

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. Continue reading “Sacking the Longhorns – OU vs Texas (2019)”

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

Get the latest book from MatchQuarters.

Split-field coverages are nothing new. Many coaches around the country run them at all levels of play, but there are not many resources on how to teach them. In Cody Alexander’s third book, he breaks down how to teach the many varieties of Quarters coverage.

From simple match Quarters to defending Empty and Quads formations, Coach Alexander breaks it down and simplifies the concepts for any coach. Xs and Os are great, but the players must still execute and the coach must know when to use each scheme.

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages, allows anyone interested in football to have a deeper understanding of the game itself and why each coverage is used. Along with the basics, Coach Alexander gives you multiple tags and variations within each family (Cover 4 and Cover 2).

Come learn the Art of X.

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Excerpt from Chapter 2 (We Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice!):

Great Quarters coverage starts with teaching. Each level of the defense must understand how they will relate to one another in each different coverage or “tag” within a coverage group. This translates into run fits or any other aspect of a defensive structure. The secondary must know who is in the intermediate zone and the LB’s must understand push routes/motions and Split versus Load flow. This sounds like a lot to teach, but in the end, it comes down to can you count to three? If you can, you can play Quarters.
Though Quarters is front-loaded in pedagogy, once a baseline has been established, weekly or yearly tweaks can be made with little re-teaching or learning. The ability to run what seems like a complex system is truly in word association and the ability of the coach to teach the concepts. Language and the development of meaning are crucial to the success of a Quarters defense, or any defense. Communication is one of the most important aspects of any relationship. It is a priority on defense.
Football is the consummate team sport and is built on 11 players going in the same direction. There is no one player better than the team. Sure, there are elite players that transcend that game and if lost, the team would be dead in the water, but it still takes a total team effort. This concept must be fostered in a Quarters scheme because there are so many related parts and it only takes one open WR or missed gap assignment for a successful offensive play. Each piece relying on the other to do their job.

Continue reading “Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages”

Solving the McVay Offense (SB LIII)

MQ looks back to one the most dominant Super Bowl performances ever & explains why it killed the McVay system.

Three points. That is all the Patriots’ defense allowed the high-octane Rams to score in last season’s Super Bowl. Historically it was only the second time a team allowed only three points (’71 Dallas over Miami 24-3) and no one has yet pitched a shutout in a Super Bowl. During the regular season, the Rams were averaging right under 33 points per game. Only the Chiefs and their 565 points were higher than the Rams 527. In terms of margin of victory, the Rams were third at 8.9 (Saints 9.4 and the Chiefs 9.0).

According to Football Outsiders DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) which ranks defenses according to efficiency (explanation), the Patriots were smack in the middle of the league at 16th. More glaringly, the run defense was 19th overall in that efficiency stat during the 2018 season. Before the Super Bowl, the Patriots had given up 28 points to the Chargers and won a 37-31 shoot out with the Chiefs. The 13-3 Super Bowl result was a stark difference for the perceived results (the over/under was set at 57!).

LA coming into the game having the #2 offense DVOA and the #1 rushing attack in the league. According to ESPN’s analysis, the 13 points scored by the Patriots in the Super Bowl would have netted the Patriots a 1-17 record against the Rams during the 2018 season. For many, this Super Bowl would rely heavily on the Patriots’ ability to stop the run. After the game, Belichick confirmed what everyone agreed on. In a post-game interview with Steve Young Belichick stated the obvious:

“We had to put together something that would neutralize the running game and their big play-action passes on early downs… We felt like if we could make them drive it and earn it… we would have a chance to get them off the field on third down.”

Belichick devised a simple, yet ingenious idea to counter the Rams offense. Sean McVay bases his offense out of an 11 pers. look. His use of the different zones is well documented and uses formations, shifts, and quick motions to gain leverage on opponents. As shown in his quote, Belichick knew he had to slow down the run game. To do this, Belichick used a goal-line defense in the middle of the field. In a quote for ESPN, LA Rams’ LT Andrew Whitworth explains:

They played six on the line all day, which kind of limited the space to get the runs in there… They played an open-field 6-2 almost, but with one guy in the middle… And they played a lot more zone than they played all season, so that kind of shook it up a little bit.

Belichick basically rolled out a 6-1 two-high shell and defended one of the NFL’s hottest offense. The scheme was very basic and the execution was flawless. The front the Patriots ran basically choked out the Rams’ zone run game, especially the Wide Zone that had killed many opponents before. RB Todd Gurly would end the night with 10 carries and 35 yards with a long of 16. CJ Anderson would end the day with 7 carries and 22 yards. Needless to say, the Patriots forced the Rams QB Jared Goff to win the game. As I noted this summer doing research for my podcast interview with The Ringer NFL Show, Belichick dared the Rams to pass and they did with little success.

Continue reading “Solving the McVay Offense (SB LIII)”

Georgia’s Mint Package

How Georgia and other Saban-ites strucutre their base Nickel defense.

The Tite Front has made a tremendous impact within defensive coaching circles the past couple of years. Since I first wrote about the front in October of 2016, it has become a top scheme across the football landscape with many defenses moving to the front as their base. The Tite Front plays on the Spread’s reliance on the open “B” gap “bubble” found in most four-down defenses.

The open gap is called a “bubble” because there is a natural opening in the four-man front and the conflict player is usually located there. Conflict players, which are usually the overhangs, are the ‘backers most offenses read when designing RPOs or packaged plays. The Tite Front is great against Spread teams that utilize Zone heavy run schemes to attack a defense because it gaps out the interior of the box (meaning everything is clogged up).

Gapping out the interior gaps with the Tite Front allows a defense to plug both “B” gaps by placing defensive linemen in them, mainly in what is referred to as a 4i technique (the Defensive End will align on the inside shoulder of the Offensive Tackle while reading the Guard). Many times in the Tite Front, the Nose will “lag” or attack the Center from a “zero” (head-up alignment) and “fall back” to the “A” gap to the RB’s side. This technique combined with the Tite Front blocks the natural cut-back lane found in Zone runs.

The diagram below illustrates how the Tite Front forces a typical Zone to go East and West. Depending on the read for the QB (overhang or Mike) the result is still very similar. In a typical Tite defense, the Ni will be completely removed from the fit, allowing him to cover down and negate the Bubble or assist in pass coverage (more offenses are using play-action with pass routes behind them for their RPOs). If the QB is reading “Pass” or “Give,” the hanging Ni should force the handoff. The lagging Nose closes the natural cutback lane for the RB and forces him to bounce front side to a plugged “A” (Will) or an edge setting Jack. The Mike is a bonus in the fit because he is reading flow/mesh.

Tite vs ZN RD (Bub)

If the QB is reading the Ni and sees him hang, he may feel there is a soft edge and pull the ball. If this is the case, the Mike will collect him at the LOS with support from the Ni who will trigger if the QB pulls the ball (each player on half the QB). Either running result ends in an East-West movement or drastic cutback. All of these are a bonus for the defense.

As shown, versus the Tite Front a typical Zone is made to go horizontal (East-West). The RB is forced to hit the run in the opposite “A” gap where a LB is ready to insert. This goes against what many want out of the Zone, a clean cutback. When the RB bounces the zone all the way out the front door, there is an overhang presence that is not typically being read for an RPO pass. The defense has pinched every gap in the box and has forced the offense outside to free hitting players. The basic run fits are shown below.

01 Base Tite Fits

Georgia, in particular, uses the Tite Front as their base defense with two hybrids for OLBs (DE/OLB). The Bulldogs refer to their Nickel-based Tite Front defense as Mint. It is a unique package that has a plethora of adjustments off it. The Bulldogs can run most of their coverages and blitz packages from this personnel grouping.

Kirby Smart, Georgia’s Head Coach, mainly uses the Tite Front versus 11 or 10 personnel offenses. The modern offense has quickly been moving to the use of a hybrid TE/H/WR types that can align outside in the slot, on the line versus three-down defenses, or in the backfield as an extra blocker versus four-down defenses. To counteract the multiplicity of the modern “big” WR, the Bulldogs turn to their Mint package. Continue reading “Georgia’s Mint Package”

Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations

One simple coverage tweak can add numbers into the box and free up your LBs versus Y-off offenses.

I learned about using a “key” read on an offset TE (H-back) in 2017 when I heard Don Brown speak at the Lone Star Clinic in College Station. In his words, he stated, that without City Check (Cover 1 with keying safeties), he didn’t know where he’d be as a coach. Those are powerful words from one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Sometimes you need an extra fitter on the H-back, especially as more Spread teams base out of 11/20 personnel sets (Y-off), and this was exactly what I was looking for.

Don Brown’s City Check or “Key/Fox,” as Dave Aranda (LSU)/Todd Orlando (Texas) refer to it, is a Cover 1 adjustment to any two-back formation, and can also be used if the H-back turns into a traditional TE on the line of scrimmage. Both safeties are aligned 8-10 yards deep at the edge of the box and are keying the FB or offset TE depending on personnel grouping. This is a great way to give a two-high look pre-snap (Quarters), then add numbers post-snap (gapped-out single-high). Below is a diagram of Michigan running the scheme versus a 21p “I” Twin formations.

01 Key vs 21p

Both safeties are slightly tilted in and focusing their eyes on the FB. Whichever way the FB inserts or moves, the safety to that side will trigger down to “cap” the box fit. Most defensive coaches want plus numbers in the box. The term cap refers to the third man responsible in the fit. There should be an inside and outside shoulder player on the ball carrier. The “capper,” or third fitter, caps or tops the fit.

Inside the box, the LBs are focused on the RB, and if the back were to go out for a pass (more likely versus a Shotgun offense), the LB to the RB’s side would take him. The rest of the secondary is locked on their man. In terms of pass coverage, the safety away from the inserting FB will work “through the Post,” creating a Cover 1 look. Below is a clip of the play illustrated above, a simple Iso from 21 pers. I Twin.

The motion by the Badgers’ FB triggers the safety to the nub-TE’s side to start working down. Wisconsin is used to seeing City Check from Michigan and understands how to manipulate the trigger. The open “A” gap is actually away from the motion, and the FB works back to it on the snap of the ball. Inside the box, the LBs must understand the leverage of the secondary and how the FB’s movement will trigger one of them. In the clip above, the ILB hits the FB away from the dropping safety (referred to as “boxing” the block), essentially forcing the ball carrier to the safety. The overall result is a short gain. Continue reading “Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations”

Playing Dime as Your Base Pt. 2 – The Front

MQ checks in on the Cyclones after 2 years of running their “broken stack” defense and discusses their front structure.

Iowa State is much more than Tite Tampa. That is the front (404) and the coverage (modified Tampa 2) that is most associated with the Cyclones defense. When I first heard about what the Cyclones were starting to do defensively in the Spring of 2018 I was instantly intrigued. The defense in Ames was once touted as a gimmick but has quickly become somewhat of an Air Raid killer and a major influence in college football over the past two years. The defensive prowess of the Cyclones has enabled Head Coach Matt Campbell to become a coaching commodity (had some NFL interest this year) and has put Ames, Iowa on the map. A stage the program has rarely been on in its football history.

Ironically, the Big 12 is not known for its defense, but this is where you will find some of the most innovative schemes in college football. Especially when it comes to defending the Spread. Todd Orlando at Texas has become a big name around college football with his use of the Tite Front, simulated blitzes, and use of Nickel and Dime packages in the backend. Texas’ recruiting in 2018 saw them scoop up 6 DBs (all in the top 150 in the country according to 247 Sports) to add to their hybrid defense. This aligns with what is going on in Ames, Iowa as well, where the Cyclones defense has taken football schematic fans by storm. The defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s defense is something to behold. He has basically created an Air Raid “killer.”

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One could argue the Cyclones have grown in the three years since Campbell and Heacock came to Ames. Their record versus the top Air Raid offenses in the Big 12 isn’t stellar (6-6), but the numbers also don’t suggest they are a bunch of pushovers either. Outside of Oklahoma St., the Cyclones defense has consistently been able to hold the four opponents shown above under their season average. One thing that makes the Cyclones ability to stop these high powered Big 12 offenses, even more, impressive is the fact they don’t recruit at the same level as many of the teams listed.

For instance, Oklahoma’s offense has been the #1 or #2 ranked efficient squad in the country last three years. When they face the Cyclones, they have consistently scored their season lows; even in a victory. The 2017 Memphis Tigers were the 2nd ranked offense in terms of points per game (45.7), the Cyclones held them to 20 points. In 2018, the Cyclones went up against the Mr. Air Raid himself, Mike Leach, in the Alamo Bowl. Though the Cyclones lost, they held Washington St. to 28 points. Only one other team, Cal (16), held them to less.

Analytics

2018 was a coming out party for the Cyclone defense. They finished the year ranked 21st in Defensive Efficiency and in the top third (#33/1.82) for Defensive Points Per Drive (DPD) and Total Defense (#33). Iowa St. was among the top defenses in stops when teams started on their side of the 50 (-20 to -40), which is called DMD (Defense Medium Drive). If you are going to win in the Big 12 you must eliminate scores from your opponent. Iowa St. did just that in 2018, finishing the year as the #1 scoring defense in the Big 12 (23 points per game). Efficiency speaking, the Cyclones were on the rise in 2018 making a jump into the top 25.

Over the past two years, the Cyclones have been consistent when it comes to limiting offenses in the DMD arena. Meaning, if an offense gets the ball between their -20 to -40, the Cyclones were in the top 25 when it came to limiting TD drives from this area on the field in 2017 and 2018. Most offensive possessions will start in this area, so it is important to win on their side of the field.

Another stat that paints a bigger picture is DDS (Defensive Drive Successes rate). DDS, as explained by BCfToys.com (where I get most of my analytics data), “…is the percentage of opponent offensive drives that generate value greater than the starting field position value of the drive.” This translates to the Cyclones making offenses “earn” their yards and not allowing offenses to steal plus yards on offense. Basically, it is hard to move the ball efficiently against the Cyclones.

Recruiting wise (trust me, I’m not big on recruiting sites, but it does give you a point of reference on talent), the Cyclones have been in the bottom half of the Big 12 consistently (never higher than 7th) under Matt Campbell, and have never cracked the top 50 nationally until this year (2019 – #48) according to 247Sports. The composite recruiting score (average player rating) has consistently gone up every year: 2016 – .825, 2017 – .839, 2018 – .848, and 2019 – .859. These recruiting ranking give us context to the on-field play. You could argue Iowa State is punching outside their weight class. In fact, the Cyclones haven’t had a player drafted since 2014 (this changed in 2019 with WR Hakeem Bulter and RB David Montgomery being drafted in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively).


The question now has to be asked, is this a legitimate scheme, or is its unique success limited to the Cyclones? I’ve talked before about survival bias and how we need to look objectively not only at our own schemes, but other schemes as well. The ultimate goal of football, or any game, is to win. Iowa State hasn’t put back-to-back 8 win seasons together since the ’70s when they won 8 games three times from ’76 to ’78. That’s a 30-year drought! The Cyclones have only won 9 games TWICE in their history, 1906 (9-1) and 2000 (9-3). What Matt Campbell has done in Ames cannot be overlooked.

Defensively, the Cyclones have had a meteoric rise without the help of top-level recruits, going from 103rd in DEff to 21st in three years. DPD has dropped significantly too, going from 2.88 in 2016 (that’s almost a FG a drive!) to 1.82 in 2018. The real test will be in 2019 and if the Cyclones can maintain their consistency and continue to rise in defensive prowess. The 2019 Cyclone defense will need to replace only three starters, a LB and two CBs. Is the scheme legitimate? It is for the Cyclones and what they need to win games in the daunting offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12.

At the end of the day, a team is judged on wins and losses. The Cyclones have stayed consistently at 8 wins a year for the past two seasons but in order to become legitimate, a team needs to be winning 9+ games at a constant rate. Against the top offenses (ranked #30 or higher in Off. Efficiency), the Cyclones are 6-6 the past three years (3-1 in 2017). That’s not bad for a growing program, but one stat that can’t be ignored is the 3-6 record versus teams in BCfToys’ top 20 in overall team efficiency (0-4 in 2018).

In order to legitimize the scheme, the Cyclones are going to need to consistently win against top-tier teams. Only time will tell if Matt Campbell and the Cyclones can become a consistent threat to the Big 12 and college football’s elite. As for now, they have an intriguing defense that is gaining a cult-like following and a schematic foothold across the country. Campbell was even rumored to have been a target for some NFL teams this offseason.

Is the scheme legitimate? I would argue yes, but like any scheme, it has deficiencies (which can be said about all schemes!). Teams across the country, and at all levels, are toying with the three-safety scheme. The concepts used by the Cyclones have been used by many teams in their long yardage package. Most have had it in their packages, but never thought to base out of it. As stated, only time will tell if this scheme can have a foothold in mainstream football or if it is unique to the Air Raid-centric Big 12.


The 3-3-3 Defense

01 Base 3-3-3

The Cyclones base, in Heacock’s words, is a 3-3-3, or a derivative of the Odd Stack. Unlike a true 3-3-5, where all three LBs are stacked on their anchor points (D-line), the Cyclone defense will “break” the stack in order to keep the look of a two-high shell at all times. The ability to break the stack comes from, what I refer to as, the Joker or Middle Safety (JS). Continue reading “Playing Dime as Your Base Pt. 2 – The Front”

MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)

Using Quarters to adjust to one of the most popular ways the Spread goes unbalanced.

The use of unbalanced formations is nothing new. Whether it is a simple Tackle-over to create a four-man surface or the use of an unbalanced open set (no attached TE) to get the defense to roll its coverage, unbalanced formations challenge a defense to stay sound and keep its numbers even on either side of the ball. One popular Spread unbalanced formation is the two-back Unbalanced Trips set that places three WRs to one side, yet keeps a two-back structure in the box. This can be a great way to out leverage a defense because it creates conflict.

The two-back set forces defenses to acknowledge the offense’s ability to run the ball. Adding three WRs to one side forces the defense to leverage the secondary to a perceived passing strength. This conflict is what leads to issues when facing a team that utilizes this type of unbalanced formation. In an earlier article, I highlighted ways to defend the top Spread unbalanced sets. One of them was the 20 pers. “X-off” formation usually paired with Jet motion to gain a Quads look to one side (below).

01-20p

This formation, in particular, forces a defense to acknowledge the leverage of the two WRs while challenging the defense to see that one of them is ineligible. The backside “X” WR now has the ability to go in motion. By using a quick motion like a Jet motion, the offense can now conflict the defense. One great way to do this is by using a BAsh, or “back-away,” run scheme. This split-run action can have a devastating effect on a defense’s run stopping ability if the defense over rotates the secondary or is overly aggressive to the direction of the motion.

01 Unbal 20p Q CTR Bash Jet

In the above diagram, the Jet motion challenges the defense to honor the fast pace of the WR. If the defense overreacts, the Q-Counter will hit home. Pop motions are great eye-candy used by offenses to gain leverage on the defense. In the play above, the QB can either read the DE or the Mike ‘backer depending on who is more aggressive. Either read works well, and the offensive coordinator can switch the read at any time. If an offense has a “box read” (counting the number of defenders between the tackles), the QB could see an apexed Sam and throw a WR screen, especially if the CB is backed off. The key to defending these plays from an unbalanced set is understanding numbers. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)”

MQ Film Study: Oklahoma vs Alabama (1st Half – 2018)

Let’s talk about that dominant first half by the ‘Bama defense.

The 2018 Orange Bowl was the most appealing contest of the two playoff games. The matchup put the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) with arguably the greatest offensive one (Lincoln Riley). It also had one of the more intriguing QB matchups of the bowl season. The efficiency at which both Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa play it is astonishing. Both are built completely different as well, with Murray listed at 5’10 and Tua 6’1″.

Murray is an absolute legend in the state of Texas, finishing his high school career at 42-0 while competing in the highest division in the state. Tua has become a legend in his own right, taking over for Jalen Hurts in last years Championship Game, and seemingly never looking back. The Tide’s offense is just different when he is in the game and has been steamrolling ever since. Overall, the game was a matchup of the two most efficient offenses in the country and one of the best defenses in the country. There was only one thing that didn’t fit into the game, Oklahoma’s defense, as I pointed out in this pre-game tweet:

Alabama’s defense has dominated the last decade of college football. Outside of Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa (#36 in Defensive Efficiency), the Tide have been a mainstay in the top 10 defenses in the country. The only outlier being the 2010 team that finished #13 in defensive efficiency. Defensive efficiency is a great way to monitor how well a defense is playing overall because it accounts for every down and judges a defense on whether they stay ahead of the chains. One player that stood out over any during the game was Alabama’s interior lineman Quinnen Williams. He consistently was camped in the backfield and early on made it hard for Murray to step up into the pocket. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman Center, Creed Humphrey, played valiantly, but there were multiple times Williams did whatever he wanted and single-handedly blew plays up.

On the other sideline, one could argue, Lincoln Riley is building the Spread of the future. I saw an interview where Bud Foster, long time Defensive Coordinator for Virginia Tech, stated that 12 personnel is the new 21 pers. Except it is much more versatile because of the two TEs. I agree with the 4-2-5 legend. The addition of multiple TEs into the game is something the NFL has been doing since Bill Belichick went to it in early 2000. The major colleges are moving towards it too as defenses are getting “smaller.” Hybrid TEs are a completely different animal, and Oklahoma has two of them.

The Sooners offense looked dominant all year, only stumbling to the Texas Longhorns in the annual Red River Rivalry (it’s hard to beat a good team twice). Only Army and their slow-paced Option offense were able to keep the vaunted Sooner offense under 30 points. The Iowa State Cyclones and their three-safety Broken Stack were able to even keep Oklahoma under 40 points in Big 12 play. Something no one else did. Needless to say, the offense in Norman was electric all year long. The Sooners based out of 12 personnel for most of the game against the Tide. Riley’s combination of Air Raid pass concepts with a power run game has been devastating for defenses. Below is a basic 3×1 look for the Sooners offense, which they ran numerous times versus the Tide defense.

01 OU Base

For several years now, Riley has been staying in a 12 pers. look for better parts of most games. This allows the Sooners to have a hybrid TE in #80 Grant Calcaterra (So./6’4″ 220) and a blocking TE in #45 Carson Meier (Sr./6’5″ 254 and is actually listed as a FB). Both can catch the ball, but Riley uses Calcaterra mainly flexed out at WR (what is referred to as a “Joker” TE). Both accumulated over 300+ yards of receiving throughout the 2018 season. By having two larger hybrid players on the field, Riley doesn’t have to sub and can use timely tempo to challenge defenses that choose to go small versus the high powered Sooner offense. As stated prior, the Sooners lived in 3×1 for most of the game and mixed in different 2×2 looks as well as some 12 pers. Wing Twin to load the box.

Last year (2017), Riley used two current NFL players in the same way, current Jacksonville FB Dimitri Flowers and Ravens’ TE Mark Andrews (who had 500+ yards receiving). This is a trend that is probably not going away. Riley’s adaptation of the Air Raid offense to one that has a power run game has paid dividends for the Sooners since his arrival on campus. This year alone, Murray and RB Kennedy Brooks (#26) both had 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Trey Sermon (#4) would accumulate just under 950 yards for himself as well. To see the Oklahoma offense as one that is pass heavy is to miss the mark on what Riley is doing in Norman. In the passing game, Murray threw for over 4,000+ yards and Marquise Brown (#5) and CeeDee Lamb (#2) both had 1,000+ yard seasons. The former in Brown was hurt during the Big 12 Championship and looked off all night against Alabama, being held to ZERO catches on the night.

Limiting Brown (who was averaging over 100+ yards a game) to no production was a coup for the Tide and hindered the Sooners ability to attack through the air early in the game. Riley chose to attack the Tide with multiple 3×1 formations using several different personnel groupings (10/11/12) and moving his “Joker” TE, Calcaterra, around. Lamb would end the night with over 100+ yards receiving, picking on ‘Bama’s freshman CB in Patrick Surtain II. The Tide would also stifle the Sooners run game, only allowing Murray over 100 yards rushing (Brooks – 35/Sermon – 19). Needless to say, Bama forced Murray to beat them passing, and it paid off in the first half.

Take away the abysmal first quarter for the Sooner offense and the game was evenly matched. A team cannot spot a Saban team 28 points and figure to win the game. This is why the game is played a full 60 minutes! Riley adjusted to the lack of explosion from Brown and a nonexistent run game starting in the second quarter. It was too little too late.

The Sooners couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch on defense and lost 45-34. Overall, the game was a look into the future. Riley’s hybrid Air Raid scheme and Saban’s masterclass in adaptability highlighted where football is headed. As I wrote in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, the pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth between offense and defense. As defenses get smaller to counteract the high powered Spread attacks, offenses will eventually get “bigger” to push them around. The Sooners are the epitome of this cat-and-mouse game. The use of two hybrid big-men is evidence that the top offensive minds are beginning to go back to a power game.

The basis of this MQ Film Study is to see how the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) chose to attack the vaunted Oklahoma offense (#1 or #2 in O. Eff since 2016). Outside of the first quarter, the Tide really didn’t stop the Sooner offense. One thing the Tide did well all night was inhibit the power run game of the Sooners, forcing Murray to do it all by himself. Below is a breakdown of every play the Sooners offense ran during the first half of the Orange Bowl (outside of the last drive of the half). The Orange Bowl was a look into the future of football and how modern defense will defend the “Power” Spread going forward. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Oklahoma vs Alabama (1st Half – 2018)”

Three Coverages Every Quarters Team Needs in Its Toolbox

Go beyond static Quarters and be aggressive in your coverage schemes.

Split-field Quarters is one of the most adaptive and flexible defenses a modern defensive coordinator can base out of. It molds and flexes to fit whatever an offense can throw at it. Offenses can only throw so many different numbers on either side of the center; up to four eligible receivers at the most, and Quarters can adapt to all of them. At the fundamental level, Quarters is based off a numbers system. The corners always relate to #1, the safeties and outside linebackers #2 (bracket), and the Mike always relates to #3. If a player can count to three he can play Quarters.

Utilizing split-field coverages takes the Quarters scheme one step further, creating even more adaptiveness and flexibility. Being able to tag a base defense with small coverage manipulations can transform a static Quarters look into a robber, invert (Sky), or trap coverage. Pressure doesn’t always have to be the answer either. The defensive coordinator doesn’t have to outsmart his coaching counterpart on the other side of the ball, just the young QB trying to run the offense.

Many coordinators want to focus on pressures as a way to combat offensive schemes. Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the University of Michigan puts the words “Solve your problems with aggression,” in his install playbooks. Pressures are a great way to force the issue with offenses, but sometimes a defense needs to sit back and run its base. When sending five or more, a defense loses a man in coverage and can get overexposed or become deficient in a certain zone if the blitz coverage is not structured correctly. On early downs, many top DCs like to sit in their base defense. Being static can have its own set of issues too, but adding coverage tags to change leverage points and run fits can be just as “aggressive” as a pressure and force the QB to beat the defense and not the OC.

Aggression can mean a multitude of different things when it comes to defense. The obvious answer is to blitz, but defenses can manipulate the secondary to be aggressive in their pass distributions and against certain receiving threats. Every offense has counters built into their scheme to take advantage of a defense vacating zones or spinning to single-high. Not every problem can be fixed through blitzing. Sometimes you have to play your base. Below are three ways a split-field Quarters team can tweak their coverage while staying sound and aggressive in nature. You know, Cautious AggressionContinue reading “Three Coverages Every Quarters Team Needs in Its Toolbox”