So much for the everybody knows it was Saban’s defense narrative.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that Kirby gave a coaching lecture at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention..

If you’re looking for a remarkably deep dive into what he had to say, click here (h/t Chris Brown) and strap it on.

Smart’s lecture was broken into several parts: 1) the evolution of his defensive scheme; 2) winning 3rd down; 3) TFL study (how to get more of them); and finally 4) a question and answer session. What I really enjoyed about Coach Smart was the fact he was willing to admit he needed to change. Many coaches, especially at his level, can get comfortable after a lot of success, but that breeds complacency. He had several comments on how he needed to adjust his defense to what they were seeing and encouraged everyone to go and visit people to gain new ideas and insight on their particular scheme. Don’t be a dinosaur – adapt or die!

That’s Smart’s overall philosophy in a nutshell, but if you’re looking for specifics, here you go:

Most know that Saban and his proteges base out of his Match 3 coverage Rip/Liz scheme, but Smart has discovered that you have to adjust not only the overhangs (Saban likes his outside leverage) but also how the CF safety plays (MOF). I’m assuming a lot of this change came after he went and met with current Texas DC Todd Orland when he was at Houston. This wanting to adapt came after Ohio State scored 42 points and beat Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. Tome Herman, former Houston HC and now Texas HC, was the OC for the Buckeyes at the time. Interesting stuff.

  • Smart is moving away from the DEEP middle third safety (unless D&D calls for it)
  • The “High Safety” (FS) now plays the RPO (think like a high low hole player -Quarters guys should be familiar with “robber,” and if you are in Big 12 country the 3-safety Dime).
  • The safety sits at 10 yds and is like a “High Rat” or robber player reading the QB. He will take the inside RPO to let the LBs fit run. Think of it as a funnel. The overhangs are outside leverage and funneling everything to the safety who is sitting at 10 yards reading the QB.

This is an interesting idea because it allows your ILBs to be late. Smart referred to it as similar to Tampa (think an inverted Tampa). The way I see it, it is like what the Big 12 teams are doing with their 3-safety (Dime) looks, but from a Sabanistic perspective (Rip/Liz). I love the way he adjusted the scheme to fit what he knows.

Notice the references there to what Big 12 defenses are doing.  Looks like Kirby may already be a step ahead of Lincoln Riley’s perception of Georgia’s defense.

Because of the way he was aligning his Ni, Spread teams could force his hand and get what they wanted. He noticed a lot of teams were going FIB and dictating where the Ni was depending on his front. If Smart had his 4-down unit in, teams knew the Ni was going to the passing strength, so they played relatively normal. When he would go 3-down, the Ni would now go to the field no matter what and he was getting a heavy dose of FIB. If he tried to leave a hybrid package on the field and switch from 4 to 3-down, but teams would tempo to get him to play “Palms Up Defense” because his verbiage was too long.  This changed the way he thought about his defense: 1) he needed to cut verbiage and 2) he needed basic rules for alignment – the Ni always goes to strength.

  • The Change:
    • Smart figured he must be able to line up versus tempo
      • Eventually switched to pass strength in every package (alignment)
      • Started using one-word calls
    • He tried to devise ways to keep alignments consistent even when switching packages
    • Simulate tempo in practice
      • “Fastball” starts versus formations – this is like a pursuit drill:
        • Team aligns to a formation
        • The ball is snapped and thrown to a spot on the field
        • The team runs to the ball. The whistle is blown and they must get lined back up
        • Repeat with a different formation (x4)
        • He would add scouts and work leverage on the ball versus screens and “pop” or snag routes
    • Don’t line up and play “vanilla.”
    • Design a field/boundary and match-up defense. This allows you to give different looks and the players know where to go instantly by the call.

I hope nobody tells Todd Grantham about this.

There’s plenty more there and you should read it all if you’re interested in learning more about what goes into designing the Georgia defense.

If you want more of a tl;dr analysis, Ian Boyd’s got you covered.

If Georgia winds up not missing Roquan too much this season, Kirby ought to be coach of the year.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

15 responses to “So much for the everybody knows it was Saban’s defense narrative.

  1. Hogbody Spradlin

    Yeah! What Kirby said. Huh?


  2. 86BONE

    Bored in H Town…put on another pot of coffee and keep me coming Senator!


  3. 86BONE

    Keep them coming…


  4. Dawg19

    A “Ni”?…perhaps Kirby should call Hedley Lamarr.


  5. W Cobb Dawg

    “I hope nobody tells Todd Grantham about this.”

    Having seen CTG in action, I’m skeptical he’d adjust to quicken his signals, or speed up practice, or work harder recruiting athletes that could fit such a defense, or put the right players on the field for the various situations, or bother to read a summary of Kirby’s lecture. But HE DID coach DeMarcus Ware while he was an assistant at Dallas.


    • Jim

      If grantham read that he’d think the “palms up defense” was a good thing. He was an early adopter of that scheme you know


  6. When given this much football info…I turn to an expert on how to answer when you don’t have any quality input.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ASEF

    In an era where offenses have significant advantages well into the play (3 yard rule, relaxed holding enforcement, stricter contact rules for DBs), making teams one dimensional is harder than ever. Alabama had a spell where their defense was sort of all or nothing – gave up nothing most of the time, but when someone got rolling on them, they struggled to adjust (Oklahoma ’13, Ohio State ’14). What Alabama has done exceptionally well is retool their defense to play both heavy and fast – rotation guys who are going to get more snaps against a certain type of opponent (either/or players), along with athletic hybrids who can handle all kinds of challenge (both).

    Year 3 of Smart”s defense is going to combine serious athletic upgrades with a more comprehensive understanding of roles and assignments. Losing Roquan is going to sting, but I’m not seeing an offense who is going to be able to attack the sorts of spaces he was so gifted at erasing, at least not until the LSU game. And that’s only because I have no idea what LSU is going to be capable of, so I am assuming a worst case scenario with Burrow and Ensminger. They could in theory combine a nice running attack with a TE and slot passing game that drives linebackers crazy and runs over dime packages. In theory.


  8. Macallanlover

    Does the comment about not using 3 deep safeties except when down and distance dictates otherwise support the “should have called a TO after the Tua sack” in OT last January? I have always maintained that was a critical/fatal error (after the refs allowed it to get to OT, of course.)


    • ASEF

      In terms of percentages – and this goes waaaaay back with Saban’s offenses – deep shots only come after something has been established underneath and even then usually on a standard down and distance (1st and 10, 2nd and 5, etc.). Kirby calling a timeout to say, “Hey, watch for a deep shot, let the underneath stuff go,” would have amounted to him reading Daboll’s mind on the playcall AND Tua’s intentions.

      Tua took the one deep shot to Ridley first series off a play-action. Everything else he threw was underneath the safeties. Everything.

      It just seems revisionist to suggest everyone – or even a lot of people – saw that coming, and Kirby should have, too.


      • Macallanlover

        I don’t know, that was an extraordinary situation and required some time to think to me. With us holding the better hand, I wouldn’t care if that gave them time to think as well; it would also have given the inexperienced, true frosh time to realize the enormity of the situation and let his palms get sweaty. As it were, the play came off lightening fast and was just instinctive for him. I think the 3 deep was definitely a must for UGA at that time and we missed it.


        • ASEF

          Agreed, in retrospect, the offensive call, the defensive call, and the read from the press box on the prior Seattle call, all came together in a pretty low percentage way. My comparison would be a situation in poker where you commit your whole stack knowing your opponent has exactly 4 outs – and he hits one on the river.

          You could easily make the argument that, given the Bama kicker’s night to that point, you emphasize deep coverages and let them hit some underneath stuff to get back to a 35-40 yard attempt. But the 4th quarter had been all Bama. I think Kirby went for the win.