In part 2 of this series on Sparty’s D, MQ discusses their top pressures and coverage distributions.
In Part 1 of MQ’s series on Michigan State, we discussed how the Spartans have adjusted over time to develop a base that can adapt to the Spread’s evolution to downfield RPOs and TE formations. The primary set being used in the game today is the Y-off formation group. Many times, the TE is in a slotted position (outside the tackle), either to the two-speed (3×1) or away (2×2). This is similar to the H-back offenses made popular by Gus Malzahn’s Slot-T scheme that uses 20 and 21 personnel formations from the “gun.”
The Big 10 is home to some heavy hitters in Ohio St. (Urban Meyer with Rich Rodriguez made the Gun Option a national staple), Michigan who has used Y-off formations more prevalently with a running QB, Penn State behind the dual-threat McSorley, and Nebraska with Frost’s adoption of the Chip Kelly system. Needless to say, the Spartans are well versed in the modern Spread game. The first part of this series focused on the foundational schemes within the Spartan defense. In part two, MQ dives into some game plan adjustments, pressures, and coverages that established the Spartans as one of 2018’s best defenses in the country.
Michigan St. bases out of a Press Quarters scheme. The CBs are pressed and responsible for the outside WRs. The Safeties are responsible for #2 with help from the overhangs (Star/Ni to the field and the Will to the boundary). One concept that the Spartans use consistently to combat 3×1 formations is Solo coverage. This is called a “safe” kick coverage because the backside Safety will kick to the front side depending on the release of the #3 WR.
In a 2×2 formation, that would be the Mike. In a 3×1 formation, the Mike will relate to the bottom of #3, but the Will must take the RB. If the RB were to push to the field or boundary, the LB to that side would take him. The ‘backers take the RB and the second takes the receiving threats. Unlike other two-high schemes that will drop in the backside Safety so the LB to the #3 WR can take him man-to-man, the Spartans opt to keep the Safety in coverage.
Below is a prime example of Solo coverage (also referred to as Poach). Nebraska is aligned in a Trips Slot Open formation (3×1). This particular Y-off set is a favorite for modern Spread attacks because the TE can stress the defense horizontally (Split Zone/Arc Option) and vertically (Y-pop/Arc Option) in any direction. The main issue versus this formation is who takes the TE vertically? If the defense sinks in the backside Safety, the Mike LB must now match-up man-to-man. This also gives away the intentions of the defense because the Mike must now cover down to the TE (most defenses are still setting the 3 tech. to the TE – Over). In the clip below, the Mike is in a 10 (“A” gap). There is little the Mike can do if the TE arcs vertically. This is where Solo comes in.
Sparty is known for its Press Quarters coverage & stingy defense. MQ reviews one of the best 4-3 Quarters defenses around.
When running a Quarters system, the Michigan St. Spartans are a go-to when looking for quality ideas. On the surface, the Spartans defense looks simplistic but has had major carryover throughout the years. Outside of the 2016 anomaly (#104 in Defensive Efficiency and 2-10), the Spartans have fielded one of the better defensive units in the country. The high water mark coming in 2018 when they finished #3 overall in DEff. Head Coach Mark Dantonio has kept the defense as one of the better units in the country even without his long-time side-kick in Pat Narduzzi (Pitt. HC and former Spartan DC) and losing another long-time assistant in Harlon Barnett (current Florida St. DC).
Narduzzi, on the other hand, has not fared as well as Dantonio. The Panther defenses fielded by Pitt have consistently been in the bottom half of all defenses in the country. Pitt’s four-year high water mark came in 2018 with a DEff finishing #65 (the previous three years? ’15 – 74th, ’16 – 97th, and ’17 – 74th). Narduzzi has yet to find the same recipe he had in East Lansing. The jury is still out on Barnett, who’s inaugural Florida St. defense finished 50th in DEff.
One major issue with the scheme Dantonio has been running forever is the overhang defender. In a traditional 4-3 defense, the field overhang (Sam) is most likely not going to be a Nickle type body, but rather a true LB. Although probably the most athletic LB and paying to the field, he is not going to be responsible for carrying the vertical of #2. The bigger body actually works in the Spartans’ advantage. Most defenses are trying to get “smaller” at that position and put a true cover man to the passing strength. Like any modern defense, the Spartans have the ability to put a true Ni at Sam, but Dantonio opts to stay with the bigger body near the box. Leading up to their 2015 Cotton Bowl match-up, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban detailed the difficulty of defending a bigger body on the perimeter:
“…we could not block the guy, couldn’t block the linebacker because he was a bigger guy than what we were used to seeing. We need to be able to make those kinds of blocks this year because when a guy cheats in the box, you need to throw the ball out there so that he has to get out there and he can’t cheat in the box because you can’t block them all if you allow them to do that.” – Saban, AL.com
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”
In honor of my book being published (Cautious Aggression – click the link to get your copy), I figured I’d review the book I read to start the summer, Urban Meyer’s “Above the Line.” I believe that reading allows us to open our minds and truly think critically about the actions we have taken. Reading pushes us to redefine our reality and forces us to take a critical eye on our actions. Fiction books allow us to escape, highlighting the things we are trying to run away from. Non-fiction and coaching books, in particular, force the reader to look inward and inspires us to do better than we have been. As Harry S. Truman once put it, “… all leaders are readers.” Maybe you are looking for more ideas on leadership or a new way to approach the game of football, reading helps us grow. Meyer’s says it clearly at the beginning of his book, “Leaders are learners,” (p. 7). Continue reading “Summer Book Review”