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#FreeMalik Files: The Fox and The Predator

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s edition of the #FreeMalik Files, we’re going to take a look at how the sophomore superstud was able to turn in a high-impact performance against Notre Dame - thanks, in part, to the unexpected deployment of another position.

Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford have traditionally used the Fox position as a combination stand-up rusher, twisting blitzer and curl/flat coverage player during their time at Louisville and their first two seasons in Austin. You tended to see the Fox either standing up on the end of the LOS or in one of the outside spots in a stacked 3-3 look, and he’d attack in various ways from there. Going into 2016 it appeared that Texas had neither the ideally flexible Fox nor the beefy 4i ends to make the 3-3 look click, and the Longhorn D spent just about all of the Spring Game in a more traditional 4-2-5 alignment with the Fox playing your garden-variety weakside DE role.

It triggered some surprise when Texas lined up in a classic 3-3 stack look in the first quarter on Sunday - and no small degree of PTSD, given the Longhorns’ run D woes out of that alignment last season. But a closer look showed something interesting - the nominal Fox was lined up as the middle linebacker with Malik and Andrew Eric Foreman Steve Buechele Anthony Wheeler in the outside ‘backer spots.

Here’s an early look at that package, with Naashon Hughes is aligned as the Mike and Malik (highlighted in orange) flanking him to the field side:

Let’s take a look at this alignment through the patented Barking Carnival X and O-verview (soon to be un-patented as soon as LonghornScott teaches me to use a decent freaking graphics program):

Notre Dame ran a Power concept with right guard pulling, the H-back leading into the hole and the left guard (future NFL’er Quenton Nelson) climbing straight to the Mike as Malik attacked the C gap*:

Malik did a reasonable job of taking on the guard to keep that gap squeezed, but Naashon was an absolute superhero on this play as he took on Nelson...

...fought through him...

...and detonated the H-back in the hole (orange), freeing up Wheeler to flow straight to the ball and make the play (blue).

That kind of fundamental, physical play from a guy like Hughes could prove to be a Godsend for letting guys like Malik and Wheeler get loose.

Later in the first quarter we saw a similar approach with Breckyn Hager manning the FoxMike and Malik again attacking the edge.

Notre Dame ran Outside Zone with the interior OL reaching the down linemen and the left tackle and tight end moving out to engage targets on the edge (with dashed blocking lines indicating significant failure):

It appeared they weren’t ready for a target moving quite this quickly... Malik shot right between them to blow up the play and turn the runner back inside for a vintage Hager shot (mullet added for extra 80’s):

On the goal line, we got to see Malik and the Fox occupy opposite sides of the LOS as Texas lined up in something akin to a classic 3-4 look:

The Domers ran a Zone Read, looking to attack Malik as the unblocked defender:

Malik did a textbook job as the unblocked guy, bouncing in with his shoulders square to prevent a cutback on the handoff while maintaining the ability to get after the QB on a keep...

...which he was able to do with ease.

Would they have tried to pull this shit against Jaylon Smith in practice last year? If not, they should have known better than to try it on Malik.

Finally, we got to see some Dirty Dime action as Strong and Bedford took advantage of Malik’s unique ability to align wide and choke off the quick outside game while still possessing the ability to fly back to the box as an elite eraser. In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame aligned with a stacked trips look to the right with the back split out to the boundary and Kizer alone in the backfield. Malik took a soft split out towards the bunched receivers:

The Irish basically ran a counter for the QB keep as Kizer looked right before keeping the ball and following his H-back into the hole.

The Fox got outfoxed here as Hager (blue) chased a dead soldier into the middle of the line, but Malik (orange) turned on the burners...

...ole’d the hapless H-back and fetched Kizer to set up 3rd and 6.

This review only scratches the surface of everything Jefferson did on Sunday night, but it’s an interesting window into how an unexpected deployment from another position can #FreeMalik to be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker this season.

*Yes, the running back is invisible in this diagram because I forgot to include him and am frankly too lazy to go back and change it at this point.