3rd Down Study: Wisconsin vs Oregon (2020 Rose Bowl)

MQ reviews this years Rose Bowl and the top 3rd Down defense in the country.

Jim Leonhard, the Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator, has risen to one of the top defensive minds in the Big 10 in a short amount of time. This should come as no surprise though. Madison, WI is his home turf and Leonhard has received a first-class education in football. Leonhard started his college career as a walk-on DB for the Badgers and would leave as a legend, garnering back-to-back-to-back All-American honors (Yes, that’s a three-peat). Even though he had tremendous success as a Safety and punt returner in college, Leonhard went undrafted and was picked up by the Buffalo Bills were he played for three years.

Enter defensive guru Rex Ryan (son of 46 legend Buddy Ryan). In 2008 Ryan was the DC for the Baltimore Ravens and signed Leonhard away from Buffalo where he would start 13 of 16 games. Ryan would take him to New York (Jets) following the ’08 season where Ryan took the HC job. Leonhard would have three solid years as a starter in New York before he was let go following a knee injury. 2012-14 Leonard would sign year-long contracts and bounce around from Denver, back to Buffalo, and finally the Browns.

At the conclusion of his 10-year career, Leonhard went back to where it started in Wisconsin, asking Head Coach Pual Chryst to help with the defense. During 2015, Leonhard worked closely with current Baylor Head Coach and former LSU and Wisconsin DC, Dave Aranda. With the exit of Aranda to LSU in 2016, Leonhard joined as a DB coach under current Cal Head Coach Justin Wilcox. Leonhard would ascend to the DC position with the exit of Wilcox in 2017. The three years as DC have seen success under Leonhard, ending the 2017 season as the #5 team in Defensive Efficiency. Though there was a dip in 2018 (Wisconsin finished 8-5 and #35th in DEff), the Badgers were right back in the top 10 in DEff, finishing ninth in 2019.

Related Content: Lone Star Clinic Notes – Dave Aranda

With a defensive pedigree and a solid NFL career, Jim Leonhard is primed to be one of the top defensive minds going forward. Leonard’s professional mentor, Rex Ryan, is considered by many a great defensive mind along with his college mentors in Wilcox and Aranda (who just won a National Title). One area of interest is the Badgers’ ability to get off the field on 3rd Down. Wisconsin led the nation in 3rd Down Defense, only allowing 27% of 3rd Downs to be gained.

In this article, MQ will take a look at Wisconsin’s defense against Oregon’s offense highlighted by a traditional Spread offense and an NFL prospect at QB. Though Wisconsin would lose (by one point) to the Ducks, the Badgers held Oregon to 3-of-10 on 3rd Down. MQ takes a look at Leonhard’s philosophy on attacking the Ducks by highlighting five of those stops.


Personnel

Under Leonhard, the Badgers have been able to get off the field on 3rd Downs. As stated, in 2019 Wisconsin was tops in the land, holding opponents to 27% efficiency. 2018 was a down year overall for the Badgers, but in 2017 (under Wilcox), Leonhard’s first year as a full-time DB coach, the Badgers finished in at #5 in the nation on 3rd Down with 29% efficiency. The 2016 Aranda led Badgers to finish 4th at 27.9%. Needless to say, Leonhard has received a masterclass on stopping people on 3rd Down.

Similar to Aranda, Leonhard attacks offenses in a multitude of fronts, but not exotically like some other DCs. The Badgers opted to attack the Ducks from three main front structures: Jet (5s and 3s), Mug (ILBs in “A”), and Bear (Jet + Mike mugged on the center). Wisconsin runs a base 3-4 with two EDGE players as overhangs. EDGE is the “new” term for hybrid OLB/DEs. The boundary EDGE should be able to at least zone over the RB or cut the single WR. The field EDGE is a little more athletic but still tasked with being the primary force. This is similar to what Georgia is doing in their “Base” under Kirby Smart and other 3-4 hybrid DCs around the country.

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Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout

Improve your off-season self-scout by creating special cut-ups.

01-gosOff-Season Film Study

Film study is one of the greatest ways to improve on schemes and calls made the year before. In order to correctly monitor the calls that were being made a defensive coordinator must look at certain scenarios where he struggled the year before. It is important to analyze the season with a critical eye and always ask, “How can we improve?” From player personnel decisions to eliminating calls altogether, using cut-ups from the year before allows the DC to evaluate when and where plays were called. Remember hindsight is 20/20. One way to increase improvement from year to year is to view cut-ups that highlight defensive deficiencies and struggles. There are multiple ways to create cut-ups, but it is important to have certain ones created that highlight the unique ways offenses attack a defense while allowing the DC to have hard data on what needs to be fixed within the scheme.  Continue reading “Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout”

Throw Out The Stats

Five ways to judge a defense.

“Some teams will play 55 snaps today. I think we defended 17 possessions, 110 (snaps), so we just played two ball games… That’s why the yardage thing is so irrelevant.”

– Glenn Spencer/DC, Oklahoma St. | via Kyle Fredrickson, NewsOK.com.

It’s time for defensive coaches everywhere to start changing the way they view modern defensive football. The “spread movement” is real, and it is not going away. The spread scheme, though vast in its styles has one basic principle, create one-on-one matchups by using the entire width of the field. Adding tempo to spread schemes creates more possessions and opportunities to score points. It is not uncommon for college teams to run 90+ offensive plays in a game or a high school offense to reach 75-80+ plays. As the amount of snaps being played in a game increase, it puts more pressure on the defense to line up correctly and play every snap. Most teams in the Big 12 will play a half game or more each week compared to its SEC counterparts. As Glenn Spencer stated in the quote above, the yardage stat is becoming less relevant than ever before. To gauge how great a defense is in the modern football era defensive coaches and pundits everywhere need to readjust the standards for what makes a great defense.

Five Points of Emphasis

Points Per Possession

Conditioning against tempo teams is a premium for the defensive side of the ball. More possessions create more opportunities for points, thus more opportunity for mistakes. Spread teams operate by creating one-on-one matchups and “spreading” the field to create space. As more spread teams implement tempo and gain more possessions, the old stats of yards per game and points per game become irrelevant. If a team gives up 28 points and defends 8 possessions (3.5 PPP), are they better than a defense that gives up 35 points but defends 15 possessions (2.3 PPP)? Defensive coaches need to be less infatuated with yards and points. The only points that matter are the ones needed to win a game. The PPP stat evens out teams that play spread versus teams that play traditional huddle-up offenses. If looking at the PPP stat, one can better determine the strength of the defense because it focuses on how many drives turn into scoring drives. A drive is a drive, the difference is how many did a team defend, and did it give up some points? A good number for a defense is anything under 2 points, elite is under 1.5. Continue reading “Throw Out The Stats”