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.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 10 – The Tite Front”

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

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

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

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

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

Baylor’s Hybrid Defense

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

[BUvBSU] 00 Base Def

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

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

[BUvBSU] 01 Okie Light Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Baylor vs Boise St. (2016)”

Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz

Applying Saban’s Match 3 Principles to Split-Field Quarters Defenses.

Everyone can agree, Nick Saban knows defense. In fact, according to BCfToys.com, which rates college defenses on their efficiency and is “adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced,” has never placed Alabama outside of their top 10 in the past five years (low being #7 in 2014 – the only time they were out of the top five). In the past three years, Alabama has been either #1 or #2 in defensive efficiency. One of Saban’s bread-n-butter schemes is his Rip/Liz or Match Cover 3. This single-high coverage is crucial to his run defense and is adjusted to defend the offensive counter move in the four verticals.

Many defensive coaches are familiar with Saban’s Cover 7 schemes that he uses to defend spread teams from a two-shell, but his Rip/Liz tends to be the “go-to” coverage during base downs. Even Clemson has become a heavy user of the Rip/Liz concept, using the scheme to dominate ACC opponents (and also being in the BCfToys’ top 10 in defensive efficiency the last 4 years). Needless to say, the Rip/Liz concept is an important scheme that every coach should familiarize themselves with, even Quarters coaches. What makes the coverage scheme unique is its structure and how Saban decides to spin the secondary (and protect the seams). It’s something defensive coordinators who base out of Quarters coverage understand – Never roll strong.

Saban’s Rip/Liz

One of the unique ways Saban protects his defense is in the way he inserts the extra box player. Cover 3 and any single-high coverage is designed to maximize the box players. By spinning, the defense has created overhangs and cover downs to the slot players. These overhangs enable the box players to eliminate their conflicts. In a typical Quarters defense, at least one linebacker will be in “conflict.” This conflict player is typically where spread offenses attempt to attack the defense with RPOs. In the illustration of a typical Quarters defense below, the Will LB is the conflict player. He must fill the open “B” gap while covering down to the slot. Saban and teams that base out of Rip/Liz reduce the conflict for the Will by spinning the safety to his side over top the slot (DS).

99-1-2-3

In Rip/Liz, the weakside safety is usually the spinning safety. By spinning weak, Saban is ensuring that his front side pass distribution is intact. Versus a basic 2×2 set this allows the ILB closest to the RB to vacate the box if the RB flares because the backside safety can fold into the box vs a QB run and in the pass the Will can handle the middle hole. Where the weak spin helps is against single WR sets (3×1/2×1). Many teams will choose to spin to the Trips side or the passing strength, but this can be dangerous because the defense loses an overhang to the boundary (and exposes the backside CB to a one-on-one matchup). Continue reading “Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz”

MQ’s DB Resources

A comprhensive collection of MQ’s DB technique videos, clinics, and articles.

Much like MQ’s Link Book, this blog post has everything you need to implement Quarters coverage and understand the WHY behind how to teach it (and put it in your scheme). Starting with a brand new Quick Hits on the Slide technique and ending with a mini-clinic on what a safety “step-off” looks like, this page has everything you need. As more content is added to the main site pertaining to this topic I will add links here. So bookmark and enjoy!

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 8 – The Slide Technique

The latest edition of Quick Hits discusses the use of the slide (also known as a shuffle) technique. Used from an open stance, the slide technique is an essential technique for DBs that play in Quarters or off-man coverage schemes. The technique allows the DB to read his triangle (WR to QB) and easily flip his hips on vertical routes. Below the video are other resources on the topic that MQ has produced. The design of this “vlog” article is to be a “bookmark” resource for DB coaches.

Continue reading “MQ’s DB Resources”

Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12

Welcome to the Big 12 where Dime has now become your base.

The Big 12 has always been on the outer limits of what coaches are willing to do on offense and a graveyard for “guru” defensive coordinators (just ask Diaz and Strong). Defenses in the Big 12 play more snaps than the average Power 5 defense. Tempo and the Air Raid reign supreme in a league that prides itself on scoring points. The knock on the league has always been the defenses in the conference. To many outsiders, the Big 12 is offense first, and it is, but if you are looking to defend the spread, there is no other place to look – they live with it every day.

If looking at defensive stats alone, the Big 12 is on the outside looking in, but there is something to be learned here. Starting in 2016, teams in the Big 12, primarily Oklahoma St. (2016) and Iowa St. (2017), began using a modified Dime (3-down) and Nickle (4-down) package to combat the Air Raid heavy teams in the league. I discussed in January’s article about how teams are becoming more fluid in their fronts; switching from 4-down to 3-down without losing scheme.

The Dime package utilized by Iowa St. in 2017 was no different. Versus a run-heavy Oklahoma team, the Cyclones relied on a modified 4-down defense to defeat the Sooners in Norman. There ability to switch from a 4-down to a 3-down without subbing made the scheme a perfect fit for the multiple Sooners. With a TE like Mark Andrews and an H-back like Dimitri Flowers, the Sooners could give multiple looks without subbing. This fact alone is why the Big 12 is so innovative on defense. Hybrid players are a premium in the league. In Iowa St.’s season finale versus a high-powered spread attack in Memphis, Iowa St. utilized the 3-down version of their hybrid Dime to defeat Memphis 21-20.

The Dime/Nickel hybrid defense has become Iowa St.’s base defense and is fluid between the different front structures. When the Cyclones go 4-down, it is no different than if they are blitzing a linebacker from their Dime package. The coverages are similar too. Here is a look at the two base defenses:

Oklahoma St. Nickel (4-Down)

02 Cy Ni Base

Cyclone Dime (3-Down)

06 Cy Di Base Continue reading “Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12”

Defending “Bash” Concepts

Defending “back away” concepts with a four man front.

The modern Spread offense is nothing more than the natural evolution of traditional schemes found in most Flexbone or Wing-T offenses. The main difference is the addition of multiple wide receivers and the location of the quarterback (gun or pistol). Take the traditional double slot look of the flexbone, add a couple receivers as the slots and spread them out, back up the QB to five yards and an offense now has the Spread’s 2×2 look. The plays that run from this particular set look similar to the Flexbone’s veer plays, obviously with some tweaks. The Triple’s Dive Option is the Spread’s Zone Read. The use of a different formation and location of the QB changes the conflicts of the defense. Running from the “gun” backfield allows the offense to have a full field range of reads. Utilizing pistol or dot (UTC – under the Center) leaves half the field to read and an offense cannot use a RB stretch path to challenge the defense’s fits.

A different defensive approach must be taken when defending an offense that runs from the gun compared to a team that primarily aligns from the pistol or dot. RBs in a pistol/dot backfield are forced to go downhill. Many defenses spill gap runs when defending these “downhill” formations. The best way to defend a downhill running team is to make the play bounce (or spill). When facing a gun offense, defenses must adjust the traditional run fit rules because the RB can easily bounce the play wider than his initial aiming point. The field of vision for the QB is also affected by a gun alignment compared to play designs from a Pistol/Dot alignment. From the gun alignment, the QB has a full field of vision, and the offensive coordinator can choose from a number of defensive players to read. The pistol/dot alignment cuts the field in half, allowing the backside defensive players to be more aggressive to the ball (see image below).

 

Running from the gun allows the offense to attack a defense horizontally as well as vertically. The full plane attack by gun backfields forces traditional defenses to adjust the way it defends the Spread, primarily adjusting the play of the defensive ends. In a pistol/dot alignment the offense must attack the defense either vertically (downhill run/gap runs) or horizontal (wide zone/buck sweep/speed option). The full plane attack of the gun backfield allows offenses to run concepts where the offensive players have the option to attack downhill or stretch to the sideline, utilizing the whole field. These particular plays are known as Bash concepts, or “Back Away.”  Continue reading “Defending “Bash” Concepts”