The Spread offense has touched every corner of college football. The SEC used to be one of the sole holdouts with only a few teams, namely Ole Miss and Texas A&M, embracing the shift. Saban has finally embraced the change as well, throwing the ball more than he ever has before with Tua Tagovailoa. The 2019 National Championship saw a battle of Spread teams that featured two of the most efficient offenses in the country (and two of the best QBs as well).
Even the NFL saw many of its teams embrace a more open style of play. Defenses in “the Leauge” were getting scored on at a historic rate. Sean McVay and his 11 personnel under center (UTC) offense has taken over the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance. In McVay’s offense, the use of quick motions, multiple formations, and what seems to be an Air Raid-ish passing game has given NFL defenses fits all year. Even further, turn on a Cowboys or Seahawks game and you are likely to see multiple ways to run the Zone or Arc Read. The trickle-up effect is in full swing. Even former Big 12 Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury got a head coaching job with the Cardinals on nothing more than his offensive acumen.
One key element I talked about in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, is the use of a more positionless defensive gameplan going forward into the future. Rigid positional structures are giving way to a more fluid style of play. For example, to counteract the speed of the Raven’s Lamar Jackson, the San Diego Chargers went uber-small and put up to SEVEN DBs on the field at a time. This is something, until this year, fathomable only on a 3rd and Long or an end of a half situation in the NFL. The Chargers based out of it for a whole game!
This positionless style of play allows hybrid players, primarily at linebacker and defensive back, to play a larger role. In the NFL, the increasing use of 11 pers. groupings are being countered by many defenses basing out of a Nickel defense. Since L.T. in the ’80s, most NFL defenses also carry a hybrid DE, regardless if basing out of a three or four-down defense. The use of “small ball” to counteract the space created by Spread offenses is understandable. Hybrid players allow an almost endless amount of ways to blitz and pressure an offense without losing coverage ability (you’re dropping a speedy LB/DB instead of a rigid D-lineman).
The Big 12 is not new to the concept of “smaller” faster players playing on the defensive side of the ball. The notion that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense is false. Innovation comes from desperation, and in the offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12, it has created an evolutionary playground for defensive (and offensive) football. It comes as no surprise that in a league that is at the forefront of the evolution of the Spread would feature unique defenses within the league to counter the offensive onslaught.
Though Iowa State and their base Broken Stack that features a three-safety Dime Robber scheme has become the most popular scheme within the league, in truth, it is Todd Orlando at Texas that has made his mark around the country behind his use of a positionless defense and defending the wide-open schemes found in the league. I wrote about Orlando’s prowess as a DC in my article discussing how teams attack the Tite Front, the Longhorn’s base defense, but it is his use of multiple personnel packages within a game that truly shows his knack as a DC.
The Longhorns base out of a 3-4 that utilizes the Tite Front (404) and a stand-up hybrid DE to the weak side, or away from the passing strength (this is “Mint” in Saban-speak). The inside LB corp consists of a Mike and what is referred to as a “B” ‘backer. In Orlando’s scheme, the Mike is the plugger and will go away from the Nose. This allows the “B” ‘backer to be a free player and essentially “go get the football!” The Longhorns base with a true Nickel as well, and align him opposite the Jack, primarily with the passing strength. The image above shows the Longhorns base look against the ever prevalent “Y-Off” 20 pers. looks seen in many Power Spread offenses.
Like Iowa State, Texas has a three-safety “Dime” package that they utilize against pass-heavy offenses (think Kingbury’s Tech) or in obvious pass downs where Orlando wants to drop eight and flood the zones. The beauty within Orlando’s use of interchangeable players allows him to stay within packages, but get different pre-snap looks. It also gives him the ability to put players in situations to take advantage of deficiencies within an offensive scheme or weaker/slower players. Continue reading “Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)”