Old man football, one-gap style

One of the most impressive defensive displays this season wasn’t on view in a SEC game.  It came in last Saturday’s upset by Stanford over the most feared offense in college football.  And if you read Chris Brown’s analysis of what the Cardinal defense did there, it reads as something of a template for what Georgia needs to do against Tech tomorrow.

Speaking of Stanford, here’s what Chris described:

On defense, they use a “one-gapping,” attacking 3-4 system — the same system brought to Stanford by current San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio just a few years ago.

Fangio is a disciple of current Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and the system the Cardinal runs is really an adaptation of what the Steelers, Packers, and other “one-gap” 3-4 teams do. (To oversimplify, “one gap” means each defensive player is responsible for a gap between offensive players, while a “two-gap” system — which is more common for 3-4 defenses — requires defensive linemen to attack blockers instead of gaps and control gaps to either side while the linebackers are free to roam.)

In this scheme, Stanford’s defense has been great all year, but Oregon’s speed and system present a unique challenge. If you beat Oregon at all, you beat them up front, and Stanford’s defensive linemen and linebackers are the strength of its defense. But head coach David Shaw and defensive coordinator Derek Mason also had some wrinkles up their sleeves, specifically old-school principles that defenses have used for decades to stop option teams. Oregon is not a true “triple option” team, but their fast-break style of offense forces defenses, just like those option teams do, to account for every offensive player. This made Stanford’s impressive performance remind me of some old quotes from Iowa’s great (former) defensive coordinator Norm Parker when his team faced a true triple-option team, Georgia Tech, in the 2010 Orange Bowl. In that game, which Iowa won 24-14, Parker’s defense held the Yellow Jackets to 155 yards of offense — just under 300 yards less than their season average — and one touchdown.

Like Stanford, Grantham employs a one-gap, 3-4 scheme as his base defense.

So what happened against Oregon that caught Chris’ eye?  One thing in particular ought to sound familiar to us.

The Cardinal also did an excellent job of moving their three defensive linemen and linebackers around. Despite being a so-called “3-4” team, Stanford played most of the game in what was essentially a four-man front, albeit with a stand-up hybrid linebacker/defensive end. Ultimately, Stanford didn’t blitz or do anything overly aggressive. Instead, they relied on Parker’s most fundamental edict about stopping an option team: “The secret to the whole thing is that you have to get off blocks and run to the ball.”

It ain’t rocket science.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, either.  That being said, if Georgia plays the triple-option as fundamentally soundly tomorrow as they did in the third quarter against Georgia Southern, it’ll be a long day for Tech’s offense.  If not

Georgia’s defense can find room to improve, linebacker Christian Robinson said. Georgia Southern drove the ball inside the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line on its first four possessions in the game.

“We didn’t get off the field,” Robinson said. “We got lucky down there in the red zone going into half. They got that (chop-block) penalty that kind of shot themselves in the foot, but I think what we have to work on is tackling. We missed a lot of tackles, I missed a lot of tackles. We have to work on holding the gap.”

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