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”

How Do You Play Your Cover Down?

Where a defense aligns its overhang directly reflects how it ultimately plays defense.

One overlooked aspect of defensive structure and scheme is the creation of overhangs and cover downs. Don Brown in most of his clinic talks speaks on the importance of creating overhangs to protect the edges of any defense. An overhang refers to the force player outside the box. This can be an outside linebacker, safety, or a cutting corner. The manipulation of these overhangs can create opportunities for defenses to challenge offenses at the edge of the box.

Structurally there are three “lanes” a defense must defend outside the box. It is important to establish what player has what lane at all times. This is a foundational concept that tends to be overlooked. The three lanes are: outside, alley, and crease. When defending the spread, or any offense, it is important for coaches to establish who has what lane. This is along the same lines as establishing who has the dive, QB, and pitch when defending an option team. Below is an illustration of the three “lanes” a defense must protect:

00.1 Fit Breakdown

One way for teams to manipulate these lanes is by how they utilize their cover down to the most receiver side. A cover down refers to the proximity the overhang aligns near the slot (or an inside WR). The further away from the WR the less a players cover down.

This effects the secondary, primarily the safeties, and how they fit the run and distribute the pass. When defending spread offenses there tends to be three main ways defenses cover down: Apex, Full Cover down, and the Outside Bracket. Each one has its own positives and negatives. What is more important is understanding how each cover down effects the structure of the defense from run fits to pass distributions.  Continue reading “How Do You Play Your Cover Down?”

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”

Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages

As the field gets compressed, all you need is Quarters.

Much like formation into the boundary (FIB), the Red Zone and goal line can be a tricky place for defensive coordinators. As the field is reduced for the offense, the likelihood of deep throws or play-actions is limited. In a FIB set, the offense puts a majority of their players into the boundary. By doing so, the offense is trying to get the defense to overcompensate for the speed, or strength, into the boundary. If the defense overcompensates, the offense can now take advantage of the space (or match-ups) to the field. The Red Zone/goal line area is no different. Offense change once they enter the +20, changing as they get closer to the goal line. Whether it is cluster/bunch sets or bringing WRs closer to the box, modern offenses have numerous ways to challenge a defense (and don’t forget going big with extra linemen).

Most modern offenses are looking for space to get their best athletes in one-on-one situations. Inside the defense’s +20 (Red Zone) is no different. As the field is reduced many offenses tighten the splits of their receivers (Bunch/Stack sets) or try and get their best man in one-on-one coverage versus a corner (Fade/Comeback). If the defense plays man coverage the offense will use rub/pick routes and cluster/bunch sets to combat this. If the defense is using zone, the offense will most likely create high-low concepts to try and bait a defender, only to throw the ball over or under his alignment depending on the play.

The objective of any defense is to force low percentage throws or throws into tight windows. This is where Quarters comes to play a pivotal role in defending modern offenses, especially in the Red Zone. Outside of powering the ball over the goal line, modern spread offenses try to reduce their splits to force the defense to play sound pass distribution and communicate. When the formation is reduced, it is important for the defensive personnel to understand where everyone is aligned and how the multiple rub/pick routes are to be distributed. Even the slightest misstep in the Red Zone can open a gaping window for the QB to throw into (If looking for a resource on Stack/Bunch formations click HERE).

The main objective of Quarters coverage is to force the most difficult throw for the QB. Whether basing out of 4-Read (Sky/Quarters) or 2-Read (Cloud), a defense must understand how the reduction in field space changes the coverage and distributions. Red Zone and FIB situations should be treated with respect and different than a normal situation. The defense must adjust to both scenarios without overcompensating and leaving leaky spots on the field. Overcommit to the pass, and offense will run it down the defense’s throat. Overload the box, and the defense becomes susceptible to play-action and Run-Pas Options (RPOs). The key to a great Red Zone defense is to understand what the offense is trying to accomplish, who they are trying to get the ball to, and how they react inside the +20 and inside the +10. Continue reading “Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages”

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”

Structuring Your Defense – The Front

Just like coverages, a defense should have different fronts to combat a variety of formations & schemes.

Just like coverages in a secondary, a defense cannot live in one front or technique on the defensive line. How a defense structures its front line has a direct correlation to how an offense is going to attack it. Most defensive coaches in America understand that the defensive line is critical to not only stopping the run but putting pressure on the quarterback when he drops back to pass. It is no stretch to say that the top teams in any level of football usually have one of the best defensive fronts for that level.

The front, and subsequently the strength call, create the first line of defense against an offense. In a well-formulated defense, the front seven (and even the secondary) act as links in a chain. The anchor points of these links are always the defensive linemen. Understanding how these links react to each other is critical in developing a plan to stop offenses. Not every front (or strength call) is equal to one another.

Some fronts and techniques are better suited to defend Spread offenses than Power ones, and vice versa. For this reason, defensive coaches should carry multiple fronts for multiple situations. Just like a defense’s coverages and alignments are different when defending a Wing-T team compared to a 10 personnel Air Raid offense, different defensive fronts can help combat the multitude of offenses seen throughout the year, and why every defensive coordinator should carry several fronts in his toolbox.

The advancement (and acceptance) of hybrid players have led many DC’s to switch from three-down to four-down in the same game (or even during the season – game to game). To the point of being multiple and carrying a plethora of calls on the call sheet, Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator for Michigan insist, “If you have more answers in your toolbox then you can go to them throughout the season and it’s a matter of just getting them back on recall.” Having a multitude of options at a defense’s disposal can only add to what it can ultimately stop. More is simply, just more. It comes down to how well you can teach it. Continue reading “Structuring Your Defense – The Front”

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”

5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary

MQ discusses 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary.

Utilizing the secondary in blitz packages is one of the most underutilized tools in a defensive coordinator’s toolbox. As many DC’s will point out, blitzing from the secondary will expose the defense to man-to-man coverage, but if used correctly (and in the right situations) a secondary blitz can hit home. When offenses create pass protection schemes they use the box numbers in front of them to divvy out responsibilities. Whether it is Big-on-Big (BOB), slide, or zone protection, the secondary is rarely accounted for in pass pro. Knowing this, and utilizing the secondary in pressure packages, can give the defense an added advantage and lead to QB pressures or sacks.

Using the secondary near the box is not only for the pass. Much like pass pro, some offenses do not account for the secondary in the box. This can be used to the defense’s advantage. Putting a secondary player near the box and knowing he will not be accounted for is an automatic win for the defense. The use of “trapping” the secondary near the box can also be used to confuse “check-with-me” teams. By placing a secondary player near the line of scrimmage (LOS), the offense must decide if the defense is blitzing or will drop the player back into coverage. By utilizing the secondary in pressure packages a DC can create a simple confusing alignment that offenses have to respect. If done right, using the secondary to leverage the boundary can add to the box numbers without spinning to single-high and exposing the defense to verticals down the seam (or a LB guarding a speedy slot WR).

Below, MQ explains 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary:  Continue reading “5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary”

“How Do You Play Trips?” Pt. 3 – Defending the Run

Defending a spread offense’s 3×1 package run game from a two-high shell.

When developing a defense it is important to start with the front and work back. Lining up correctly to formations, understanding keys, and developing a plan to stop the run all starts with the front seven. In a 4-3/4-2-5 (or 3-4 Hybrid) defense, the secondary players become the adjusters. Playing a single-gap defense and using formations to dictate alignments allow defensive players to see the formation quicker and align correctly. Each player in a defense is anchored to one another in some way. Understanding these anchor points, and how they change depending on formations, is crucial to the success of any defensive unit.

The Spread’s utilization of space has put aligning correctly every play at a premium. It is easy to align to a simple 2×2 formation, but when offenses utilize 3×1 formations (primarily Trips Open) the defense must understand how it adjusts will dictate their areas of weakness. Offenses make use of Trips formations because it forces the defense to give something up. To gain a six-man box a defense must spin, either to the Trips or away.  Continue reading ““How Do You Play Trips?” Pt. 3 – Defending the Run”

5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams

MQ details 5 things to remember when facing a Spread Option team.

One offensive play that has not lost its power in modern football is the option. Spread offenses utilize option principles to test the mettle of a defense’s structure. An option offense forces the defense to play assignment football. Each player on a defense must stay gap sound and understand how the structure of the defense adapts versus each option play. When defending an offense that runs a variation of the Triple Option from Spread formations, a defense must have three main components: 1) a Dive player, 2) a Quarterback player, & 3) a pitch-man. Add pulling guards and trap plays and a Spread Option offense can inflict a lot of damage if the defense is not disciplined.

One of the main keys for defending Spread Option teams is eye discipline. It is imperative that each position on a defense understands his fits and read keys. When option teams motion it creates eye “candy” and distractors for defenders, especially at the linebacker level (Jet or Orbit motion). Spread Option teams also make it difficult to blitz. When applying pressure to an option offense the defense can expose itself to being a man short if the players do not understand how the pressure changes option responsibilities.

Many defenses choose to stay in base and fit the option. This can work if the defense has better players than the offense, but in most cases staying static helps the offense learn how to pinpoint a defense’s weaknesses. Understanding how Spread Option teams want to attack a defense’s structure is crucial in defending option offenses. Below are 5 tips for defending these types of teams:  Continue reading “5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams”

5 Tips for Developing a Blitz

Simple rules for blitzing.

Every defensive coach in America is looking for new and improved ways to attack offenses. Blitzing allows the defensive coach to gain a little control on the offense by creating cutbacks or forcing a quick throw. Sending extra men creates changes in the defense that affect players from the front to the secondary. Understanding how each pressure affects pass distribution and run fits is crucial for creating successful blitzes. Leave a gap open and the offense will find it. Over-rotated or leave a man uncovered in the back end and the opposing team’s band is playing.

Whether a pressure or a blitz, simple rules must be created when designing blitzes. The main goal of each blitz or pressure should be stopping a scheme the opposing offense is trying to utilize. Not all pressures are created equal. Some are more dangerous than others, but when designing a blitz there are five things a defensive coordinator should consider. Continue reading “5 Tips for Developing a Blitz”

Episode 5 — MQ Quick Hits :: Defending 10p 2×2 Pistol Clinic

A 9 min. video on the “Art of X.”

A few weeks ago I wrote about one of the hardest formations to defend in football is the Spread’s 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol. With a two-way-go, the offense can easily access where it wants to attack the defense. The evenness of the set puts pressure on a defensive coordinator to be creative. The offense appears to have an advantage because it can dictate who carries the ball.

Whether a 3-down or a 4-down defense, in the middle of the field, the defense must be creative to create hesitation against “read” offenses. MQ’s latest Quick Hits discusses these issues and gives an example of how to defend a 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol set within a clinic setting. Come learn the “Art of X.”

Continue reading “Episode 5 — MQ Quick Hits :: Defending 10p 2×2 Pistol Clinic”

Episode 4 — MQ Quick Hits :: Cover Downs, Overhangs, & Box Players

An 8 min video on the “Art of X.”

The latest Quick Hits video dissects a defense’s structure and explains key elements to defending the spread. Key terms are discussed such as cover down (a defender’s relation to the slot), overhangs (force players outside the box), and “box” players (players within the frame of the offensive line). These elements discussed are crucial to the structure of any defense and understanding how the offense relates and attacks these players is important to stopping any offense.


Continue reading “Episode 4 — MQ Quick Hits :: Cover Downs, Overhangs, & Box Players”