Film study: A more aggressive defensive scheme than in previous years

After the fun of breaking down UW’s offensive performance earlier this week on Film Study, we had the less enviable task of diving into what the Huskies looked like on defense. There were stops, there was takeout and there was really good energy. But the tackle was too reminiscent of the last two seasons, with guys just not finishing.

Kent State’s overwhelmed defense made the UW offense probably better than it is. But the Golden Flashes have some absolute guys on offense, including a running back and a receiver who each passed 1,200 yards a year ago.

Collin Schlee is a mobile guy at quarterback, and pretty quick too. He’ll be rushing for a lot of yards this season (if he’s successful in the Oklahoma/Georgia portion of the schedule). But it seemed a bit like the Huskies weren’t quite aware of how difficult it was to contain him.

We’ve seen plenty of two-pitch looks, but also more aggressive storylines from Inge and Morrell.

Here’s a look at three pieces that stood out.

1st and 10

The Husky defense got off to a great start against KSU, but midway through the 1st quarter we were reminded that our new aggressive coverage system is a double edged sword. After rewatching the game and getting a better sense of how this defense actually works, it’s clear that Morrell’s covers are rooted in modern defensive principles, but they sometimes open things up for big plays.

Morrell prefers press and bail coverage because they take away from the quick passing game that many offenses are built around. However, it’s the back end of the secondary’s coverage pattern and lineup pattern that determines how much risk he takes. We generally like to run quarterback coverage (coverage 4) from a 2-high shell to make sure we have enough numbers to cover 4 green concepts, and at a minimum there will be a nearby safety that can clean up for a CB getting beat on their jam. However, staying static in a cover or cover shell (1 or 2 safeties deep) is an easy way for the offense to find holes in your cover, and that’s why Morrell doesn’t exclusively use cover shells. 2 heights. This is where alignment comes in.

Morrell wants to play our coverage numbers in the field and the even numbers on the border. That means we’re always going to line up or adjust to have one more DB playing on the pitch side than the offense has receivers on that side. For example, if there is 1 WR in the field, we will usually have 2 DB in the field. If there are 2 WR, we will have 3 DB. This ensures that we have a numerical advantage where there is more grass to cover, and it is a fundamental principle in modern defensive schemes. The tricky part is that it can take on many different looks with varying degrees of effectiveness. If it’s our typical 2-height safety shell against 2 WRs in the field, we’ll have our CB and Husky on top of the WRs with a deep safety behind them, but if we’re in a 1-height shell , we’ll only have shady security on that side instead of real security help. This is where we got in trouble.

Facing a 1st and 10 situation just inside our own territory, KSU comes out in a 2×2 shotgun formation with 11 people. Their TE is aligned to the border in a wing alignment, and their RB was also aligned to the border. We’ve matched our core 4-2-5 staff in a 1-high shell look. Before the snap, we have Mishael Powell and Dom Hampton at LOS covering the 2 WRs on the pitch and Asa Turner is shaded on the pitch. Before the snap, KSU puts his lunge into throwing motion, which forced us to swing Turner to the boundary and Hampton back into the center field safe point. Turner is our best safety in center field, so we’re trying to keep him there at all times, but the move has forced the rotation to keep even numbers to the limit. With Hampton trailing off the field at the time of the break, he was unable to help Powell on the road and the KSU QB threw a perfect pass under duress for the big TD.

It was a well-crafted play by KSU, and surely part of their game plan was to kick that look out of our defense. Powell played pretty tight bail coverage on the play, but without safety help and a perfect pass from Schlee, he wasn’t in a great position to earn that rep. We should expect the defense to check 2-high covers against similar movement looks against better passing attacks in the future.


3rd and 15

Next, we turn our attention to the run defense. Facing an overrun situation on the 3rd and 15th, KSU takes out 10 personnel in a 2×2 formation which we associate with our Pass Rush 4-1-6 dime sub-pack (Trice, ZTF, Martin and Tunuufi on the DL and Fabiculanan as a return penny). We also play a conservative cover 2 with both safeties at least 12 yards from the LOS to prevent the through pass. Considering the length and distance, we weren’t expecting a race, but KSU saw the light box and decided to bet on their racing game.

With only a 5-man box, we never had enough defenders to cover every gap without 2 gaps, but KSU added to their running advantage by running a G/T counter. On this one-back version of the counter, the center, LG and LT all block on ZTF and Tunuufi while the RG kicks out Trice and the RT shoots through the hole as a head blocker. Martin is incapacitated by the threat of a QB run from the back, and Moll is put in a bad position to react to the play as he is lined up with LOS under simulated pressure. As we have seen against KSU’s own defense, when the LBs are lined up on the LOS they are unable to keep up with the shooting linemen and fill the new gaps they create because they have to fight in traffic at LOS.

Regardless of how our front reacted to the game, we didn’t have enough body, and KSU’s RB found the reduction lane wide open at the back. That right was worth 8 yards, but it shouldn’t have been a 1st down. What the staff will really focus on this week will be the bad cleanup tackle that resulted in the 1st down. Alex Cook and Asa Turner came down quickly from their deep lineup, and both met the RB from below the line to win, but neither made clean tackles that took him to the ground. Looks like both guys were trying to strip the ball, instead of wrapping around the ball carrier. It was a theme throughout the game once the running backs got into space, and we should improve next week.


3rd and 6

In our last game this week, we wanted to take another look at how our defense adapts to the different looks of offense. Static attack and defense is fairly simple, but it’s rarely something we see on Saturdays. Facing a 3rd and 6 in the red zone, KSU comes out with 12 in a balanced 2×2 shotgun look with the RB on the court. We fit this with 5-2-4 staff (counting EDGEs as DLs) and a 2-deep shallow hull.

Before the snap, KSU puts his WR into a throw motion again to force our safeties to turn. However, instead of attacking the back of the rotation with an isolated 1v1 route, KSU composes a game action TE trailing concept. By simulating the jet sweep with both an RB lead blocker and a guard pulling, KSU sinks the entire defensive front to the field while the playing side TE fakes a block down before fleeing to the back of the game. Powell, as the only limit DB, should have been in a good position to cover the leaky TE, but he was also drawn to the play side by the back TE on a decoy crossover route.

Powell ends up making the TD backup tackle, but it was still a pretty big play for KSU. Similar to the first game we broke, this has less to do with a specific cover bust, but was more of a byproduct of our aggressive plan. Our safeties being more involved in running adjustments forces them to react more aggressively to the action in the background, and our use of safety rotations to match the movement of the attack makes it easier for teams to manipulate certain aspects of our coverage. As the season progresses, we should expect to see our pre-snap adjustments become smoother and our DBs become more nifty with the current look of the offense.

Again, Kent State has a very good offense and a pretty poor defense. These two factors should be weighed when evaluating the performance of the Husky offense and defense in week one. It’s exciting to have a more aggressive scheme, if only for another reason that it’s a change from what we’ve seen.

Will the defense be better in 2022? The jury is out.