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.

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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”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 12 – The 3-Down Dime

MQ breaks down the rising popularity of the 3-Down Dime package found in the Big 12.

The 3-Down Dime package has become an intriguing challenge for Spread offenses and is becoming the way many Big 12 defenses are choosing to defend the high-octane Air Raid offenses seen predominantly in the league (or at least have a package to get into it). MQ breaks down the scheme and helps you understand the HOW and WHY teams around the country are turning to the “Dime” package to defend the Spread. Many Odd Stack disciples will see familiarity in the scheme. If interested in learning more about the scheme, be sure to visit MatchQuarters.com’s article on the Iowa St. and Oklahoma St. Air Raid killer defense.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 12 – The 3-Down Dime”

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)

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Cyclone Dime (3-Down)

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

Breaking Down the Run

MatchQuarter’s guide to breaking down your opponent’s run data.

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Of the two play types, breaking down the run concepts is much easier than the pass break down. There is less individual player variance and most run concepts are blocked relatively similar across offensive playbooks. The front of a defense many times will dictate the types of gap and option plays a defense might see. When looking to break down the run it is important for defenses to consider what defensive schemes are showing up in their opponent break down. If the teams in a league or district all run similar defensive schemes then the breakdown will stay relatively true across opponents. It is when teams run different fronts that the run breakdown can give false tendencies. One thing a defensive staff must keep in mind is how offenses change run schemes when facing a four-down front and a three-down front.

In order to keep the breakdown streamlined and efficient, each data point must help the staff paint a clear picture of what the offense is doing. Much like pass concepts, each offensive type (Slot-T, Air Raid, Pro Spread, etc.) has a unique way of blocking traditional runs. Formations add to the variations in blocking schemes as well. For instance, in a two-back power, the offense may choose to “J” block with the H-back and down block with the Tackle, while another offense may insert the H-back as a lead blocker and out-block with the Tackle. Each play is Power, but a defense needs to know the difference in blocking schemes. Luckily, most offenses choose a single blocking scheme and stick with it (therefore, no need to tag the variation), but when doing self-scout, it is important to be able to sort the Powers altogether and the variations between them. Even a play like Counter can be run several different ways from a two-back scheme. Is the offense pulling the Guard and Tackle, or are they using the H-back as the fold player? Add RPOs and a defensive coordinator can have a lot of information on one line. A defensive staff must have a structured, almost scientific, way of breaking down an opponent.  Continue reading “Breaking Down the Run”

Breaking Down the Pass

MatchQuarters guide to breaking down your opponents passing data.

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Once the down and distance data (D&D) and formation data are placed into a breakdown, the task turns to breaking down the plays an offense runs. Breaking down the run can be easy as long as the coaches inputting data speak the same language. At the root level, power is a power, a counter is a counter, and a zone is a zone. The biggest task in breaking down the run is if the team is a read/option team and deciding who the conflicted player is (who are they reading). In many cases, especially at the high school level, the plays are basic and can be easily labeled. Pass plays, on the other hand, are a whole different animal.

Unlike run plays that have a base set of rules and can easily be determined, pass concepts can get muddy fast. With so many moving parts and different tags to concepts, it is hard for defensive coaches to look at pass data and not have a convoluted mess. With so many variations within offenses and different tags for certain players, it can make a defensive coordinator feel like he is lost in a sea of data. Add the factor of formations (2×2 versus 3×1 pass can be much different) and it multiplies the problem.  Continue reading “Breaking Down the Pass”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

A “how to” guide to defending the Air Raid’s top pass concepts.

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With the birth of the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme and its expansion under Leach, the Air Raid concept has flourished alongside the advancement of the spread in modern football. The Air Raid offense, in particular, is married well with the no-huddle concept and can be run out of multiple formations even with the added effect of tempo. True Air Raid offenses base out of 20, 10, and 11 personnel sets. Many of the concepts needed to run the offense utilize 2×2 and 2×1 sets to put pressure on the defense’s back seven.

The Air Raid offense and its vast offshoots still boil down to several basic concepts. The key to any Air Raid offense is the use of “triangle” and simple high-low reads. The offense has been used to rewrite many record books and its concepts are present in most modern spread offenses. The main way Air Raid teams attack a defense is the soft middle of the field left by vertical pushing routes with the outside wide receivers. This vertical push forces the safeties in a two-high look to climb with the outside WRs. The zone dropping linebackers are left to defend WRs coming from the opposite way behind their view. These simple crossing routes are deadly to a defense that cannot get support from the backside safety or simply spot drop. One way a defense can counteract the Air Raids propensity to attack the soft middle vacated by the boundary safety is to run “Steal” coverage.

Steal Coverage

Unlike “Read” Coverage that takes advantage of the offense attacking the front side triangle (think pick/flat/corner), “Steal” coverage uses the boundary safety as a “robber” for the crossing routes. Much like its sister versus Trips coverage “Solo,” Steal uses the boundary safety as a spy on a front side WR. The main objective of the DS in Steal is to read the crossing route and hold his ground in the window vacated by the Will LB. The diagram below demonstrates Steal Coverage:  Continue reading “Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses”