The news that the Longhorn Defense has outmuscled the O in each of the team’s scrimmages this August has caused consternation in some circles.
Not to worry.
Todd Orlando’s habit of taking it to Tom Herman’s O during August dates back to their time in Houston, and Orlando’s gap-shooting, spread-wrecking approach feels ideally suited to disrupt not only Texas’ developing offense but also the bulk of the Longhorns’ conference foes.
In Thinking Texas Football, we laid out some of Orlando’s defensive precepts:
Personnel, alignment and coverage will vary based on opponent and game situation, but the core Longhorn identity will be built around an attacking mentality with a heavy amount of stunting and blitzing.
This staff doesn’t want a defensive line that occupies a defined area of space and remains fixed. The goal is to deny the initial point of attack, but to do so by threatening to split a double team and cause havoc in the backfield rather than merely dropping to a knee and causing a traffic jam. Defensive linemen will frequently loop one gap over to attack unwary OL and set up blitzes, and when the ball bounces they’re expected to cover ground and close up cutback lanes. This is a transition from a Maginot Wall defensive line mentality to the heavy armor maneuver of Rommel, Patton and Zhukov.
Let’s take a look at some of the concepts that are likely bedeviling the Longhorn O at the moment, and that we’ll see unleashed on our foes in short order.
First up, here’s a solid example of Orlando taking advantage of his defensive linemen’s mobility paired with a hard-nosed blitz from the slot to attack 12 personnel out of a base 3-3-5 nickel.
Here’s a look at the play using BC Super Slo-Mo Technology:
And what things would look like with the Coog’s Longhorn counterparts on the chalkboard:
The DL aligns with a funky shift, placing the nominal nose tackle in the boundary A gap with the “ends” both aligned to the field, with one set up as a 3 technique and the other one as a 7 technique outside the left tackle (which ends up being head-up over the H-back once he motions over). Every down lineman loops at least one gap over, with the nose (Ed Oliver on tape, Poona Ford in the diagram) getting two gaps over to rush outside the right tackle. The Mac backer follows this flow with a blitz into the boundary A gap, and the edges are set by the B-backer attacking outside the tight end to the boundary side and a slot blitz coming from the field.
As the play unfolds it looks like one of the ends busts an assignment, either pre-snap or after misreading the backfield action, as the 7-tech end loops too far and ends up effectively trying to come through the same gap as his buddy. If they had either run a game with each other or the 7-tech end had just hit the field B gap the play would have looked even more disrupted. As it was, the end might not have swallowed up a handoff to Mixon and the Rover – ideally set up to flow free to the ball – ends up having to fight through the wash of the left tackle who was free to climb. It worked a treat on the play fake, though, as the slot blitz hemmed in Mayfield and the nose was able to chase the play down from the backside (before succumbing to a bit of catch-and-release tackling).
I didn’t draw up the coverage on the back half of this play because it looks like Man Free aside from no one appearing to have the H-back – not quite sure what was going on there.
Here’s a variant of a similar approach, again versus 12 personnel with the tight end and H-back stacked to the boundary.
And the chalkboard:
It’s a more typical DL alignment here, with the nose slightly offset into the boundary A gap and the ends aligned in the 4i/5-tech range. It’s another trio of loops backed up by a field Slot blitz and the Mac backer stunting with the field DE to contain the backside of the DL flow. The aim here is confuse the OL with motion and beat one or more of them into a gap with quickness, and it’s rare that you’ll see that approach bear more fruit as both the nose and field-side DE come flying into the backfield as OU’s center is utterly discombobulated and helps no one. All that disruption keeps anyone from climbing to attack the Rover, leaving him free to fly to the ball…though four of his teammates beat him to the punch.
I’m going to call Man Free as the coverage on this one, assuming that the B-backer’s somewhat aggressive engage and the boundary corner’s very aggressive downhill flow were triggered by run keys from their dudes.
Here’s some more field blitz goodness, this time facing 11 personnel during Houston’s late-season demolition of Louisville and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.
And the chalkboard:
It’s a standard alignment from the down DL with the B-backer outside the tight end and the nickel playing off the slot receiver. The Rover slides out of the box to follow the back, and the B-backer and nickel corner bring the heat. From an initial two-deep Quarters look, the D rolls into a 3-3 Fire Zone with the strong safety dropping down to the field side and the free safety rolling back to center field.
While the blitz doesn’t get anyone totally clean, it affords everyone a one-on-one rush and rattle Jackson into making a quick throw. This is the kind of coverage you want from your Rover in the boundary, with bonus head-on-a-swivel awareness from the Mac offering a powerful counterargument against diving for that slant.
Of course, that’s not the only trick up Orlando’s sleeve. Here’s a four-man pressure featuring a Mac backer blitz in front of Cover Three.
And the chalkboard:
With a five wide look, the DL is free to align a little wider with the field-side DE free to attack the left tackle’s outside shoulder. The Mac linebacker blitz coupled with more looping rushes by the DL provides an overload to the field side as the center is fatally slow to realize that his guard is beaten and needs help. With the B-Backer and Rover both dropping, this is a great look against a team that likes to play a two-man game in the boundary – you’re hoping that the rush gets home before the QB can find space to the field side, and that’s exactly what happened here.
The Bottom Line
Quickness, disguise and versatile personnel key the ideal embodiment of Todd Orlando’s disruptive tactics.
Mobile, penetrating D-linemen get the chance to befuddle opponents and shoot gaps, frequently backed by an edge-setting blitz or interior overload. Nickel blitzes are deadly, and even deadlier when backed by versatile safeties who can account for unoccupied slot receivers in either zone or man coverage. With a well-schooled secondary capable of mixing and matching multiple coverages to befuddle pre-snap reads, you’ve got a total package for driving Big XII QBs up and over the wall.
Should be fun to watch.