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.

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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”

The Morris/Clemson Offensive System

It’s one of the most popular offenses in the country. MQ helps you understand it.

Stephenville High School (TX) is located about 100 miles southwest of the DFW metroplex and is the birthplace to two of college football’s most dominant offensive systems. The modern dominance of Yellowjacket football began with the hiring of Art Briles in 1988. For 12 years, the offensive guru haunted the minds of fellow Texas head coaches and defensive coordinators winning four state titles (’93-’94, ’98-’99) during his tenure. Briles would leave the sidelines of Stephenville after his last set of back-to-back state championship campaigns to join the college ranks in Lubbock, Texas under former Texas Tech and current Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach. The meshing of Briles “high school” offense, adapted from his former Houston Head Coach Bill Yeoman, and Leach’s pure Air Raid developed at Tech speaks for itself.

A few years after Briles’ departure to join the Red Raiders, Stephenville would turn to a young, up and coming coach in the name of Chad Morris. Morris would come from the storied program in Bay City, Texas to try and regain the glory created by Briles. After a first rough season, Morris needed answers and turned to a coach who was racking up points and making noise in a neighboring state. That coach was none other than Gus Malzahn and his unique brand of no-huddle Spread. Briles had proven the Spread could be a success in Stephenville, but Chad Morris’ brand needed an update after falling on hard times. Morris’ career and Spread offense would explode after his meeting with Malzahn.

The Yellowjackets under Morris’ tutelage would real off four consecutive 10+ win seasons with a high water mark in 2005 at 13-1. Morris’ success would take him to Lake Travis High School and two consecutive Texas State Championships, going 32-0 before moving on to the University of Tulsa in 2010 and then Clemson the following year (2011). His tenure at Clemson would solidify him as one of the top offensive minds in college football, eventually landing him the Head Coach title back in Texas at SMU.

The QB Whisperer

Morris has a knack for developing elite quarterbacks (…outside of his tenure at SMU). Starting with his stint in Stephenville, Morris would help develop former Texas, Ole Miss, and Prep All-American QB Jevan Snead. At Lake Travis HS, Morris had two of the top high school quarterbacks in the country with Garrett Gilbert (Texas/SMU/6th Round) and Michael Brewer (Texas Tech/Virginia Tech). Both prep QBs had video game numbers, with each throwing for over 4,000 yards while rushing for over 600 yards on the ground (and 65+ total TDs each!).

During Morris’ brief one year stint at Tulsa, the Hurricanes would real off a 10 win season with QB G.J Kinne passing for 3,500+ yards, 31 TDs, and accumulating over 500 yards on the ground. After the 2010 season in northeast Oklahoma, Morris would leave the region for Clemson where he inherited Tahj Boyd (three seasons of 3,800+, 30 TD seasons/6th Round) and helped elevate the Clemson Football program to national prominence under current Head Coach Dabo Sweeny.

In his final year at Clemson, Morris would oversee a young Deshaun Watson (1st Round) lead the Tigers until he tore his ACL during the season. During Morris’ tenure with Clemson, Tiger offenses were consistently ranked in the top 25 in offensive efficiency. The program would also see four consecutive 10 win seasons (something that hadn’t happened at Clemson since the late ’80s: ’87-’90). He also introduced America to the now infamous “Philly Special” (below).

Continue reading “The Morris/Clemson Offensive System”

The Katy HS (TX) Hybrid 3-4

Nestled in suburban Houston is one of Texas’ most storied football programs backed by its own unique take on the Hybrid 3-4.

Welcome to Katy, Texas home of the Tigers and to one of the most dominant defensive schemes in the state. The Houston suburb has become somewhat of a “football Mecca” and even has the facilities to match. In 2017, Katy ISD completed the most expensive high school stadium to date, Legacy Stadium. The whole complex even has naming rights which were snatched up by locally based Academy Sports + Outdoors (for a mere 10 years, $2.5 million deal). Needless to say, football is important in Katy.

The Tigers’ football program is one of the most storied in the state and has had only two coaches since 1982, the latest being Gary Joseph who took the helm in 2004 and had previously served as the schools defensive coordinator. Since Joesph’s ascension to the helm of Katy Football, they have not failed to win 10 games with the “low” point coming in the 2016 campaign where the Tigers only went 10-3. The program hasn’t failed to make the playoffs since 1990 and only once since that time have they failed to go further than the 1st Round (1993’s 8-3 campaign). Katy Football, as a program, has won 8 State Championships in its history, with half of them coming under Joesph’s leadership.

Katy ISD is not a “one-horse-town” district like other dominant programs in the state. The most notable is Allen HS in northeast Dallas who was 2017’s 6A D1 state champ and has won four of the last six in the top division of Texas HS football. Until Katy’s new stadium was built, Allen had the most expensive HS stadium in the country. The other one high school town dominating the landscape is QB factory Lake Travis HS, 2016 6A D1 state champs, and lost to Allen in the 2017 state final. Needless to say, Katy ISD’s flagship program, Katy HS, has found a niche within suburban Houston and has dominated the football scene at the top levels of Texas High School Football on the back of a clock churning Power I offense and the Tigers’ own take on the 3-4.


The Personnel

What has set Katy Football apart from other programs in the state of Texas has been its dominant defensive play in a state that has fully embraced the Spread (Allen and Lake Travis are both Spread schools). Ask most defensive coaches at the upper divisions (4A-6A) of Texas High School Football and they will know something about the Katy 3-4 or have a concept they stole from them. Outside of the 3-4 Tite Front backed by a 2-Read coverage scheme, variations of the 4-3, or Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5, the Katy 3-4 might be the most popular defense in the state. Even if a team isn’t running the scheme as their base, the Katy 3-4 has influenced defensive coaching all over the state of Texas.  Continue reading “The Katy HS (TX) Hybrid 3-4”

Attacking the Tite Front

The Tite Front is becoming a popular way to defend the Spread; it’s important to understand how teams are going to attack it on the ground.

The Tite Front was all the rage during the 2017 season. From Georgia in the SEC to the Longhorns and Cyclones in the Big 12, the “new-age” Double Eagle took flight as one of the top ways to contain high powered Spread offenses. Georgia and Texas used the front and similar coverage schemes as a base, with both finding themselves in BCfToys.com’s top 10 in Defensive Efficiency (adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced – UGA was #5 and Texas #6).

The Iowa St. Cyclones rose from #103 in 2016 to a respectable #32 in BCfToy’s efficiency rankings in 2017. The Cyclones and Longhorns most notably did it while using a 3-safety “Dime” package for parts of the season. The Cyclones used the “Dime” look as their base defense for the entire season, leading to victories over high-powered offenses like Oklahoma (#1 in BCfToys’ Offensive Efficiency) and Memphis (#16).

The Tite Front works because it forces the offense to bounce everything outside. The two DEs (4is) in the “B” gaps close off the lifeline for every Spread team, the “conflict” gaps. Spread offenses search for the “B” gap because that is where the conflicted player usually is for a defense. By closing both “B” gaps, the offense has to either plug it up the “A” gap (which most Spread teams won’t do) or run it outside. Defenses that base out of the Tite Front don’t mind the bounce because their speedy (and usually “free”)LBs can now chase down the RB while its overhangs box everything back inside (think of them like the Double Eagle’s wide-9s). The diagram below illustrates the front’s usefulness versus a popular Spread play, the Power Read.

Tite vs PWR READ (W)

The 404 alignment does several things for the box: 1) the offensive line can’t climb because of the 4is, and 2) it frees up at least one of the inside linebackers (if not both). In the illustration above, the play side offensive tackle will either have to handle the 4i by himself or rely on the guard for a double team. If the guard decides to climb for the Mike (illustrated), the 4i can easily get penetration and maybe even block or negate the pull (I have a clip of this later vs TCU’s 11p single-back Power).

If the guard stays on the 4i (double team), both the Mike and Will are left free to flow with the play and what DC doesn’t want is ILBs free-flowing to the ball? In this particular instance shown above, the Jack ‘backer walls the play by climbing to the RB. The defense has numbers and is plus-one on the pulling guard. One thing to not overlook is the away side 4i who has leverage on the away side tackle. Once the guard pulls (the 4i’s key), he can chase and climb to the mesh. The play is ultimately killed.

Texas and Georgia, in particular, had great success all year running similar schemes from a base Tite Front. In this year’s (2018) THSCA Football Lecture, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart attributed his use of the Tite Front and how he played the secondary behind it to his meeting with Texas’ own, Todd Orlando. Most defensive coaches can recognize the usefulness of the front, but one thing is clear, Spread offenses will try and figure it out. It wasn’t all about the front either, the use of Match 3 (Rip/Liz) and the rebirth/redesign of the (Dime) Tampa 2, was a big contributor to how teams attacked the Longhorns, Cyclones, and Bulldogs.  Continue reading “Attacking the Tite Front”

MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)

MQ takes a look at how Don Brown’s defense handles 11/20 pers. formations.

One of the toughest personnel groupings in football to defend is the 11/20 personnel Spread offense that utilizes an H-back/TE hybrid to create extra gaps and a multitude of formations. Teams that have a hybrid TE can line him up in the backfield, at slot, or on the line. The flexibility that an H-back brings to a multiple Spread offense is evident in the way the college game is evolving. More and more offenses are turning to hybrid “big” bodies to give defenses different looks on any given play. Going form a two-back three WR formation one play and a Pro Spread TE formation on the other.

One formation, in particular, is the weapon of choice for many teams that run Bash concepts, or “back away” runs, the 20 pers. “sniffer” look. One advantage offenses have by using a “sniffer” H-back is that he has a two-way-go. He can insert into an open gap (Iso), kick out the end man on the line (Power), pull along with another lineman (counter), or arc to seal a linebacker. There are a plethora of ways an offense can attack a defense using this grouping and formation. The addition of an extra blocker into the box also forces some teams to spin the secondary to add extra men in the box (which allows the offense to blow open the top on an isolated secondary player).

Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, used a unique style of defense (shown below) to combat the Minnesota Gophers multiple 11/20 pers. running attack. The Gophers were entering the game 4-4 and looking to bounce back after a close loss to Iowa (10-17), while the Wolverines were looking to continue their winning ways having beaten Rutgers the previous week (35-14). Minnesota’s offense under new head coach P.J. Fleck is a mixture of TE sets and Spread sets.

When looking at the scheme Brown chose to defend the Gophers 11/20 pers. formations, one will notice the ultra aggressiveness towards the run and the lack of “coverage” for the H-back. Brown also had several change-ups and automatics to motion and the different formations the Gophers threw at the Wolverines. Below is a diagram of how Brown blitzed the Viper anytime the H-back motioned away.

01 [MIvMN] Base DEF

Coach Brown during his clinic talk at the 2018 Lone Star Clinic noted the absence of the TE in the passing game during the Big 10 season. Outside of Troy Fumagalli at Wisconsin and Mike Gesiki at Penn State, one will be hard-pressed to find a TE that merits an extra man in the passing game. This allowed the Wolverines to add an extra defender in the box against most Big 10 opponents without worrying about an “H-Pop” or a TE streaking down the middle of the field.

Throughout the game, Brown’s defense was able to contain the Gophers running game, limiting them to just under 100 yards. As stated, Minnesota rarely used the TE/H-back in the passing game allowing Coach Brown to be ultra-aggressive to the run. Though the lack of an extra defender opened his secondary up to deep shots outside (and some did hit home), the Wolverine defense was able to limit Demry Croft, the Gophers QB, to a measly stat line of 5/12 for 74 yards passing. Below is a film study of how Coach Brown and the Wolverine defense defended the Gophers multiple 20 pers. looks.  Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)”

THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)

Learn how one of the top defensive minds evolved his defense.

One great thing about being a coach in the state of Texas is “Coaching School” at the end of the summer. The Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) puts together a massive conference that covers everything from professional development to sport specific clinics. If you have ever been to football’s national convention held by the AFCA, then you have an idea of what this convention looks and feels like. There are regional meetings to elect representatives for leadership positions in the association as well as rule committees for each sport. The association functions as the voice of coaches across the state and works with the UIL (Texas’ athletic governing body).

The convention isn’t just about football, though it is dominated by football coaches. That shouldn’t be a shock in a state that worships the game. Most head football coaches in the state are either the athletic director for the district or coordinate the campus they are on. This means that most decisions about sports for a district or high school are centered around the head football coach. As with college football, many times you are “hired to get fired” in Texas. Every head coach in the state has a crucial role even outside of football. They basically make sure every high school runs smoothly in the athletic arena.

This year’s convention in San Antonio saw a record number of coaches from all sports. There were lectures and clinics for everything from swimming to soccer, track to football. It is one of the greatest transfers of knowledge in the state and everyone is invited. For many staffs, this is the last days of summer and many spend it as a time to come together for fellowship and plan for Fall Camp. Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris and Georgia’s Head Coach Kirby Smart were the two main football speakers for this year’s convention. Below are my clinic notes for Coach Smart, which was one of the best I’ve been to. This will be different than my Don Brown clinic notes in the fact that I will add a little more commentary (and no PDF). Continue reading “THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 10 – The Tite Front

MQ’s clinic on the Tite Front explains the theory behind this popular front.

The “new age” Double Eagle is taking over Spread defenses and “squeezing” out the Zone. In this episode of Quick Hits, MQ explains how the Tite Front can be a great alternative to stopping the Spread. It makes the offense work for every yard and can be a great counter to Spread zone and gap plays.

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