Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Lighter and longer: fighting the HUNH

If you don’t think dealing with the HUNH attack isn’t the biggest thing on the minds of SEC defensive coordinators, think again.

At Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt and Tracy Rocker are concerned about their big men being able to stay on the field and contribute in the face of more pace.

Rocker didn’t call out any single player, but he just emphasized that everybody has to trim down.

“That’s going to happen. I mean, that’s going to be the No. 1 thing, is we’re gonna have to trim them all down and get them under weight,” Rocker said. “Because this league, it’s a lot of no-huddle, and we can’t be 330 pounds out there. We’ll get that done. But it’ll be up to them to do it, too. We’ve got time. But it’s going fast.”

“The way these offenses go now, and they go so fast, you don’t get to sub a lot,” Pruitt said. “If a guy is stuck in there, he’s gotta be able to play. To me, if you’re in shape, then you don’t make mental errors, because fatigue makes a coward out of everybody. So we need to get in shape as a football team. We’re nowhere where we need to be.”

And Ellis Johnson is a man in search of a different body type.

In the SEC, Auburn faces a mix of power teams, spread teams and everything in between. Defensive coaches need versatile players, especially in Auburn’s defense, which can wait to make a call until seeing the offensive formation.

“The game has become more spread out on all levels,” Johnson said. “Quarterbacks throw the ball better than they used to because they’re learning how to throw it at a younger age. High schools are teaching complicated and well-polished passing games and kids are coming to college —receivers and quarterbacks and pass protection — a lot better than they were 15-25 years ago. It’s a different style of football with most teams.

On the other hand, if you’re going to win a championship at Auburn, you’re probably going to have to go through Georgia, LSU and Alabama. They’re all power football teams. It’s difficult, game to game, it changes quite a bit. But even those teams can spread the field. They all throw the ball extremely well and they have great receivers.

“It’s hard to play with the old prototype linebacker that could stop the run and was a liability in coverage. They’ve got to be able to run, these days. We put a huge premium in trying to recruit length. Not just height, but armspan and those type of things, because so much is done in pass coverage and blitzing where arm length and overall length is such a big factor.”

Johnson mentions a concern I’ve discussed before – the risk that a DC goes so far in structuring a defense to stop the spread that he leaves himself vulnerable to offenses that deploy power attacks.  It’s a tough call.  Even in the SEC, there are only so many physical defensive freaks you can find who can play against all kinds of offenses.  What’s interesting to me is that Georgia seems to believe slimming down on the defensive line will payoff even against the power offenses.

… Tracy Rocker, the team’s new defensive line coach, studied tape of that second championship game, the loss to Alabama, and saw a problem.

“They go to the championship, and you turn on that tape, and the first thing everybody saw (was), they couldn’t get off the blocks,” Rocker said. “That answers a lot of questions.”

And that’s why the days of big nose tackles are gone at Georgia, at least as long as Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are around.

In order to adapt to a game that has become more up-tempo, the Bulldogs are emphasizing getting lighter at all defensive positions. Pruitt thinks his defense as a whole is “too big” and needs to cut down.

It sure is going to be fun watching the chess matches this season, isn’t it?

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Filed under SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“… as much as football evolves, we need to go outside the box with our thinking.”

Of the many things over the past few seasons that I’ve been impressed with by Stanford football, perhaps the number one item is how well it’s defended Oregon’s fast paced offense.  That’s probably why I’m so taken with this piece on how Derek Mason plans to transfer what worked for him as Stanford’s defensive coordinator to Vanderbilt to deal with the rise of the HUNH in the SEC.

There are so many aspects to the program he’s altering that it’s going to be a fascinating learning experience to see how Vandy’s defense evolves over the coming years.  And if he’s successful, you can damned well be sure there will be other SEC defenses adopting what works.

Definitely worth a read.


Filed under SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Another clue to the new defense

The offensive players can’t seem to shake off Ramik Wilson this spring.  Todd Gurley gives one reason:

“Linebackers are more close,” he said. “They’re like three yards away so it’s like so hard. Like leads or zones, you’ve really got to press your track to get them boys flowing just to get the line to block them because if not then they’re going to be right there on you.”

It’s aggressive.  It also puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers to make solid tackles and on the players in the secondary to make sure they’re spaced properly behind the linebackers.  Seeing as these have never been strong suits of recent Georgia defenses, at least not on a consistent basis, it sure sounds like the defense is going to be living in interesting times this season.

Hoping for a short learning curve…


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Star Star, baby.

Kevin Sherrer answers a Chip Towers’ question of interest:

Q: Last year the Star position was played primarily by Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. How has a 5-9, 183-pound guy like Green been able to fill the role so well?

A: “It was a little bit of a different philosophy. Our Star is a little bit more of DB than linebacker. A third corner is what he is. Last year, it was a little bit different of a philosophy as far as coverages. The things we ask that guy to do, he’s got to do a lot of the inside receiver coverage by himself and that’s a challenge.[Emphasis added.] That guy has got to be versatile because he’s got to be able to blitz and he’s got to be able fit the box against the runs and he’s also got to be able to run and play coverages and everything has to be tied in with everybody else we have on the field as well. So it’s a little different in Coach Pruitt’s system than what they did at least last year.

Any DB handling inside receiver coverage has to be an improvement over an ILB.  Thanks for giving me hope, Coach.

It also sounds like Green will be on the field a good bit:  “Sixteen to 18 percent of the time we’re in our base defense that puts a SAM on the field. Our nickel package has a star and our dime package has a “Money” that puts six defensive backs on the field.”  That’s less time for Herrera and/or Wilson on the field making tackles.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Mano a spreado

It’s unusual to see an article from a beat writer get so deeply into the strategery weeds – not because the beat guys are incapable of writing about that, but because it’s hard to imagine their audience would be that interested – but this piece about Dana Holgorsen’s offense (h/t Chris Brown) boldly goes there.  And it turns out there’s some really compelling information in there about how defenses combat packaged plays:

Holgorsen’s offense may be revered for its stars and its successes, but it’s like many others. It uses a lot of combination plays that can be a run or a pass depending on how a defense sets and reacts and how the quarterback reads it.

WVU likes to run a stick-draw play where the quarterback can wait and hand the ball to a running back on a draw or wait and sell the draw and throw a simple pass to an inside receiver for easy yardage. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has the authority to hand the ball off on an inside zone or flick a pass to a slot receiver running a slant. Kansas State and TCU both hurt WVU when the quarterback would run outside or sell that action and then throw a pass to a receiver on the move in space created by the threat of a quarterback run.

In all those instances, the offense is at a greater advantage when a defense plays zone. The offenses try to target linebackers, nickelbacks or the hybrid linebacker/defensive back types in the area they’re trying to cover. The offense’s options force that defensive player to make a decision and the offense acts off of that.

If the defender reads pass and covers someone in the zone, he leaves space for a run. If he reads run and goes for the ball, he’s left a receiver open in his area.

In man-to-man, the defender has a set assignment. There is no decision-making that can create possibilities for the offense, and the defense actually creates its own advantage.

Sound familiar?

“Quite a few teams use the zone read and that pop pass off the zone read,” WVU cornerbacks coach and former ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You don’t want to put your defender in a run-pass conflict. He bites on the run and they throw a pass right behind him, or they run some kind of bubble screen off of it. When you go man, you take that out of the equation. He’s either a run defender or a pass defender, and you get an extra guy in the box with man coverage.

“That’s what a lot of teams did to us. If you look at our team, the most productive guy was Charles Sims. How do you take Charles Sims away? You put an extra guy in the box, and that’s what teams did. They played man and filled the box. I would do the same thing.”

In the new era of offense we’re in, could it be that the most valuable player on defense is the defensive back who can play man-to-man?


UPDATE:  Of course, let’s not forget that offenses adapt to defenses, too(h/t Chris Brown)


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Forget the 10-second rule.

You want to talk about something that gives the offense a ridiculous advantage over the defense?  Take it away, Corch.

Ohio State’s coach uses the board to answer a question about the latest offensive trends in college football.

The second-level zone read has his attention. In the traditional zone read, the quarterback reads the defensive end to dictate whether he’ll hand off or run. In this version, the quarterback is reading the linebacker.

“That’s going to not disappear,” Meyer says. “It’s even in the NFL now. The NFL doesn’t give you three yards.”

College does — as in, officials allow linemen to get up to three yards downfield before a throw. If the linebacker bites inside, the quarterback can throw to the open space with a slant, hitch, out or whatever the pattern dictates. Meanwhile, linemen already are downfield to block.

That’s nice.  Packaged plays are effective.  They’re even more effective when the officiating inconsistently enforces that three-yard cushion.  Which happens pretty regularly, based on what I saw on TV last season.  And it sounds like I’ll see more of it.

Meyer estimates 25 teams or so use the second-level concept. He thinks Rich Rodriguez might have started it. Auburn is good at it.

“Probably next year — 50 (teams),” said Meyer…

This has nothing to do with substitution or pace.  It is about taking advantage of a rule and lax enforcement.  Perhaps it’s another good reason to increase the size of officiating crews.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

“I mean, we’re just going to prepare more for fast offenses.”

Alabama’s linebackers seem a lot more sanguine about playing against the HUNH than their head coach is.


Filed under Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics

“The only problem with this plan was that Georgia was terrible at it.”

Yesterday, I gave you a tasty, refreshing beverage to consume.  Today, you get something a little harder to swallow and go down.

SBNation’s Ian Boyd asks a simple question about Georgia’s change at defensive coordinator:

Contrasting Georgia’s and FSU’s seasons gives the impression that Richt has stumbled upon a substantial upgrade. Is that actually the case?

The answer isn’t nearly as straightforward as you might expect.

The puzzle for me is that whatever shortcomings you want to lay at Grantham’s feet, nobody’s ever accused him of not knowing his Xs and Os.  He’s a sharp guy who came highly recommended when Richt hired him, and even if Petrino had to overpay to entice him to Louisville, the fact is that despite underwhelming defenses in Athens, he’s still in demand.  So how to explain why the 2013 Georgia defense often looked like it couldn’t get out of its own way?  Was it scheme?

Man coverage was key for the Dawgs all season. It allowed them to stay simple on defense, with straightforward tasks for their defensive backfield behind myriad different fronts. This put a lot on the linebackers to cover ground playing the edge against the run or helping in the flats against screens. It also put a lot on the line and inside linebackers to hold with only five in the box…

Because of their overall athleticism and size up front, this was actually a viable strategy for the Dawgs and allowed them to pursue a strategy with keep-’em-in-front principles on defense. They would rely on the line and outside linebackers inflicting negative plays on an offense to kill drives.

If not scheme, then, where did the fault lie?

The Bulldogs ranked only 36th in passing S&P+ and 44th on passing downs despite having multiple strong pass-rushers, safeties deep, and simple man coverages. They were rarely beat by better athletes but by their own terrible techniques and blown assignments.

Either Grantham’s charges were inattentive and sloppy, or he was a poor teacher and motivator, because this unit put some terrible football on tape. The overall rankings of Grantham’s defenses over the last four years point to a pattern of underachievement…

I think Grantham was a better motivator than the man he replaced, but I recognize that’s damning the man with faint praise.  So was the teacher not up to par, or was it his students who let him down?  Obviously, we’d better hope it was the former.  But if it’s more a case of the latter, then Jeremy Pruitt’s got his work cut out for him.

But can Pruitt develop players that have been coached by Grantham into savvy, intelligent players, like the ones he coached at Florida State? Can Pruitt develop a defensive program to churn out the kind of results that Saban and Fisher saw in their respective systems?

The Georgia front is loaded with big, athletic playmakers who should feel at home in Pruitt’s hybrid fronts, which aren’t terribly different from what Grantham utilized. The challenge will be in playing the kind of aggressive coverages the ‘Noles used to destroy passing attacks without FSU’s defensive backs. Is Georgia’s secondary a few helpful offseason lessons away from erasing SEC teams with press coverage? Or will the roster take time to develop to that level?

There’s the $64,000 question for you.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Pruitt on defending HUNH

This isn’t exactly what I would have expected to hear from Todd Grantham, I admit.

“How do they go fast?” Pruitt asked of up-tempo offenses. “That’s the first thing you’ve got to look at. How do these offenses go fast? Obviously it’s got to be the verbiage. Their calls have got to be very simple — not simple in scheme, but simple in getting the call.

“I think from that perspective, you’ve got to go that way on defense. You’ve got to make your calls where they’re one-word calls. To me, that’s the first thing you’ve got to do as a defense.”

Are we about to witness the demise of the sideline towel?  It sounds like we’re headed towards something different, anyway.

“As far as the speed of the game and all that, in my opinion, I just think you’ve got to change the way you coach a little bit,” Pruitt said. “If [offensive coaches] can coach and get the plays in and get them called, I think as a defensive coach, you’ve got to adapt and be able to do that yourself.

“And coach Saban would probably kill me for saying that, but that’s just my opinion.”

I’m not sure I’d call eliminating confused defensive players “adapting”.  More like “being coached properly”.


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Nothing, part three

When in doubt, turn to strategery – in this case, an excellent blog post from a high school defensive coach about the questions you need to ask about how to defend trips formations.  (h/t Smart Football)

Here’s a little taste:

Question #2: Is their QB a part of their running game?

This one scenario in-and-of-itself has single handily turned the spread run game on its ear.  Before the advent of the QB run out of spread, it was sort of a “ho-hum” offense.  You knew what you were about to see, some sort of passing game and as a defense you could pin your ears back and go.  Not so much any more.  With the QB being a focal part of the offense in both zone schemes and gap schemes you now have to account for all six of the skill positions to be able to carry the football.  Also, the real nuisance in all of the new spread run game is the rebirth of the option.  Not just the double option either, the good old triple option, with veer, arc and load schemes to bound!  As DC’s we are facing a resurgence of the modern day wishbone triple option, just packaged differently.  No longer are halfbacks split in the backfield in three-point stances, but they are split out at wideout and can block, catch passes and run with the football in their hands as pitch backs.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics