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Taking back the edge: Will Muschamp edition

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Unless you got your face stepped on by a third rate college player's foot and went into a coma 10 years ago, you've probably noticed how nobody even bothers running a "pro style" offense anymore.

Those that still insist upon that ancient way of being find their results to be satisfactory in their eyes, but wildly unimpressive compared to those hotbeds of pure football electricity like Missouri and Kansas.

Simply put, the spread has taken over college football like microscopic animals in CloseToJumping's pubic region. It has spread its evil into high school football, threatening to completely ruin the sport to the point where people think Riley Dodge and Taylor Potts are legitimate prospects at QB. Graham Harrell's name gets tossed about as a first rounder by men that are paid handsomely to judge such things, then he goes to the Senior Bowl and treats it like an old folk's home, shitting his pants for literally one straight week. Not even the experts are safe.

The players are all just cogs in the machine. If it wasn't them it would be someone else, and if it wasn't that person, it would be someone else still. The spread has a life of it's own. It does so much heavy lifting that the only way to tell any of them apart anymore is by their stupid, stupid haircuts. Seriously guys.

The spread, pictured here:

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. . . is the greatest threat defensive coordinators have ever faced, making the wishbone look tame by comparison. The west coast offense is child's play.

In basic terms, the spread makes the QB's job much easier and the defense's job much harder. Since the defense is so spread out, there is usually only one read the QB has to make, and often times he needs to make no read at all. The defense, meanwhile, has to defend everything, which normally means they are defending nothing.

Defenses up until now have basically two options: Be that team with several NFL pass rushers, or be that team with several NFL defensive backs. This is why Rice scores 40 points a game and Kansas won a BCS bowl. Those teams are rare. We happen to be one of the few that can pull it off, but in the years where we don't have enough talent (2007) or that talent is not mature yet (2008), we're just as vulnerable. Texas fans have to close their eyes and pray just like everybody else. Difference is that ours were answered.

utcoachguy.jpg*

There are basically two kinds of coaches -- those who steal and those worth stealing from. Greg Davis famously treks off to remote locations every summer to draw more plays onto note cards that he can pull out of a hat the next season. As far as I know, he has never spontaneously added anything to our offense during the season.

Muschamp, on the other hand, understands the game in a way an computer engineer understands a programming language. He has certain tools, he has certain parameters, he has a goal, and his solution is built from whole cloth within those confines. This past season he did something monstrously interesting to me and possibly the Ryan family of coaches, had they been aware of what he was doing. He ran the 46.

You might ask: Wasn't the old forty six made obsolete by the spread of the short passing game? Please note the pun.

Nice pun, reader. And yes, the 46 was ultimately made irrelevant, just like the Run & Shoot, because it was mostly a gimmick that opponents quickly digested, metabolized, and shit out. But, just like any other fad that ever graced the football field, it was rooted in an idea that worked. For the R&S it was receivers and QBs playing their own game of adjusting routes based on coverage. For the 46, it was covering the center and both guards with down linemen so that all three couldn't be double teamed.

The R&S died when the zone blitz raped, killed, and dumped it's limp body behind a 7-11, but the successful concepts have been absorbed into various west coast offenses and added yet another dimension to the offense. The 46 had to be similarly adapted into this brave new world.

There is no need to rehash the spread in great detail, but the important thing about it is the way to stresses every single player on the team. Typically, when an offensive player and defensive player are locked in combat, the offensive player has the advantage. He already knows where he and the ball are going. This is truer the farther down you go. Huckleberry was actually a not bad high school WR. Think about that.

So the first step in stopping the offense is taking back some of the personnel discrepancies. Find where you have an advantage and exploit it. For most defenses, there isn't even more than the one option of isolating your nose tackle over the center and giving him a two way go. Luckily for us we had one of the best in the business at the position.

The 46 front comes into play when you try to isolate. This is the schematic witchcraft you have to pull to fight back. Traditional concepts won't work on a theory based on beating traditional concepts, after all.

The old front looked like this:

old46.jpg

The 46 had an unusual alignment in that the SS lined up on the weak side of the formation. In fact it took it's name from the Bears' safety that year, Doug Plank, wore 46. That is your history lesson for the day, unless you are remotely familiar with sports at all.

So not only did the 46 make every offensive lineman have to block a guy on his own, but it also made each lineman accountable, so he couldn't run off and pull towards a more helpful destiny. He had to stay and block. The pendulum was swung to the defensive side. The only game the Bears lost that year was, prophetically, to Dan Marino, who went 45/51 for 580 yards in that game. It was a barrage of short passes, negating the pressure and exposing the (relatively) weak coverages. Those numbers might be off, by the way, I am going from memory and I was 3 at the time.

These days, almost nobody uses old fashioned pro formations. In fact we haven't even had a proper scholarship fullback since Ahmard Hall proved that you could just put an athletic, determined walk on there and be fine. Derek Lokey took it from there.

While offenses have gradually whittled down the blockers, defenses haven't really found a balance between speed and power. LBs these days are either not fast enough for pass coverage or not big enough to stop the runs, and the ones that are only moderately good at both have been entirely invalidated by the extreme nature of the offenses they have to face.

This is where the schemes come in. Defensive coordinators can't rely on hustle and technique to stop people anymore, because those under athletic relics can't hang in the isolated states in which they exist. Linebackers aren't really backers anymore, they are front line infantry. Nobody has the resources, really, to help them.

RC Slocum used to have a phrase regarding his 3-4 defense, "use 3 to stop 5." He probably still has that phrase, but he only mutters it in College Station hang outs while sitting alone, waiting until someone recognizes him. His philosophy was to use his 3 down linemen to take up blocks from the OL, freeing the LBs to do their thing. The 46 operated in almost diametric fashion, practically just lining dudes up man for man and telling them to whip the other guy's ass. Philosophically it's closer to the modern Cover 2 4-3 defense than anything else. But anything can be retooled, which is just what we did.

Quickly take stock of what we had. A dominant NG. Two great pass rushers. A number of big, althetic DEs who aren't quite fast enough. This is the engineer's toolset. The goal is to maximize all of that talent. Our solution, while not of full-time use (we went entire games without doing it), was to put our guys in a new and improved 46 package. Behold the majesty!

new46.jpg

Pure letter domination. Fucking dots had it coming if you ask me. We actually use a lot of variations on the one concept:

new46-2.jpg

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These are all non literal translations of our package. We run a lot of different fronts, and a lot of three DL packages. These are a few of many, and I may not have everyone in the right position. The important thing is the squeeze in the middle.

Let's run down the checklist.

- Does it maximize the impact of your best players?

Yes. If the center wants double team help on Roy Miller, the guard puts the tackle next to him in the impossible situation of having to somehow close on a fast DE lined up 2 yards inside of him. It's not just unreasonable, it's ludicrous to even consider. Unless you are us and you need to run the ball on 3rd and 2. If I wasn't on the 2nd floor I would leap out the window right now.

Second, if the offense wants to double team the DEs, they'll need to block down with the OTs to do so. We have a couple of very strong DEs. one in Orakpo and one in Melton with a little bigger frame who can play on the strong side and survive those doubles. Orakpo and Kindle played on the same side in this package so Orakpo often avoided the double team, meaning Miller, Orakpo, and Kindle all got single blocking, minus whatever help the backs gave.

- Does it give you a numbers advantage?

Yes. Unless the other team's coaches love watching their QB get hit in his ribs over and over, the front demands double teams. All blockers are needed to account for three guys. The solution is to either let Roy Miller through, where he will mysteriously stop 7 yards in even though he is well past your center (this only works in Big 12 play, lucky for Florida and Ole Miss), or just throw the ball quickly and not worry about it. The 3 on 5 aspect gives us the best of the 3-4, and the fact that it can turn a team on dimensional is the best of the 46.

- Speaking of one dimension, how is it at stopping the run?

Well that's the real question, isn't it. In order to have your ducks in a row against the pass, you can't really afford to outnumber the offensive line to stop the run. If both safeties are back, and you have a DB in to cover the slot, you've only got 6 guys left to commit to the front. Against 5 OL and a TE, this is the kind of slow suicide that Hollywood would adorn with Oscars. But the guy still dies in the end. We'd be the guy in this scenario.

So, you need your numbers back. The front we use can do this, but it takes a disciplined lineman to pull it off.

We start in an advantageous position. In order to keep it that way, our DL need to play proper technique. If the ends allow themselves to get hooked, the the RB can just go around them:

46hook.gif

But if the ends hold their gap, it gives them containment. Roy Miller, the undoubleable monster, has a freedom to move over to the playside gap and clean up if there is a cutback:

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So in theory, we are forcing the tackle down and freeing whatever player is over there to do something productive. If that player is 5'9, the productivity is more or less in question. But he bled for this team, which outweighs being horrible. Theoretically, though, it forces double teams along the line and let's LBs be LBs, instead of having to be the point of attack for a blocker.

Isolating Miller has advantages in the passing game, too. If the Ten Yard Torrents wasn't sp stubbornly moronic about it's upload ratio, I would put in the plays against Tech early on where Miller barged into the backfield time after time (only to get "tired" 6-7 yards in). But they expect people to keep up ratios even though nobody downloads old games, so fuck them. I will do it in dots.

Since the guards can't help on Miller -- it would give the DEs a straight shot into the backfield -- he gets to engage the guy in front of him, all alone. The way a pit bull engages a small child.

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Add Kindle to the equation:

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And now you've essentially created a good match up for your three best players.

We may never see this package again, because who knows if we'll have any linemen worth singling out next year. But the actual X's and O's aren't important. What is important is that our defensive coordinator/head coach in waiting/object of secret sexual desires took what we had and configured it into an outcome that gave us advantages over the powerful offenses we faced. Next season will give us different challenges, but I am confident that we'll have answers, now and for the next how ever many years.

Plus, I heard  that Andre Jones guy is pretty good. So we have that.

*No idea how to give credit for that picture, but I found it here.