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.

To finish the article, subscribe below:

MQ Chess Match Ep. 7 – Steelers vs Cardinals (Attacking 3rd Down)

In this episode of MQ Chess Match, Coach A. illustrates how a simple Overload Front can pay dividends when a defense has two great edge rushers. The Steelers 2019 defense was 3rd overall in DDVOA and had the #1 ranked DE in TJ Watt according to PFF. Though the Cards weren’ the most efficient offense in the NFL, they were fun to watch. Pittsburgh held Arizona to 4/11 on 3rd Down. This episode shows you how the Steelers used the Overload concept to attack the Cards’ pass-pro and the adjustment to a “drop-8” scheme later in the game and in the Red Zone (which was still effective!).



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Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

Breaking Down Your Offensive Opponent

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– Coach A. | #ArtofX

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)”