French on the Bench: Bud Foster's Gap Defense Part III

French on The Bench continues. Today, a look at some of the pass rush and blitz packages utilized in Bud Foster's Gap Defense

As discussed in "A Look Back at the Hokie Wide Tackle Six Defense" , Virginia Tech rose to defensive dominance running an 8-man front which allowed the Hokies to blitz from multiple angles. A trademark of those pre-2004 defenses was a speedy defensive end lined up significantly wide, outside the shoulder of the last man on the line of scrimmage (tackle or tight end), at a 45 degree angle pointed towards the quarterback. The whip or rover lined up inside to protect the gap. This look allowed the Hokies to use all the linebackers as blitzers, yet they could get significant pressure from the speed rush of elite ends, like Cornell Brown and Corey Moore, while dropping back linebackers. The result was never-ending tackles in the backfield, sacks, and when things were not going so well, forced deep passes.

Perhaps nothing exhibits this attacking 8-man front better than Corey Moore's legendary "Welcome to the Terror-Dome" performance against Clemson.


Notice how wide and at the angle Moore's lined up.

Moore blows by the offensive tackle (who even got jump start). The whip, backer, and mike are all poised close to the line in position to blitz, but back off at the snap.

The defense had it's upside, but just as the 46 died in the NFL, a series of torching at the hands of NFL caliber QB's and receivers caused Coach Foster to reexamine his defense after the 2003 season.

When Coach Foster changed to the 4-2-5 front, he looked to retain the ability to bring blitzes from every angle on the field, while being better in coverage. He also used the stud defensive end in a tighter alignment as a safeguard against the zone read and draw series that have become staples of spread offenses. As discussed in the running defense breakdown, the linemen are expected to be playmakers in the base look, but must successfully draw blockers as sacrificial lambs in these blitz looks.

Prior to 2010, the Hokies used a nickel defense that removed their slowest linebacker, often the mike backer, and replaced him with a nickel corner in the old whip alignment with the whip moving to the mike spot. After the Boise State game in 2010, Foster instead started to replace the whip with a nickel corner, leaving both the mike and the backer in on passing downs. Against many teams, the mike and backer merely serve as extra blitzers to give Foster a potential six man pass rush, and have very little pass coverage responsibility. When they don't blitz, both backers usually drop into short zones where they look for draws, late releasing backs, and quarterback scrambles.


First we will look at a basic dog blitz using the backer and the mike. The Hokies used this look frequently, especially once Jack Tyler (who is a liability in coverage) came into the starting lineup.

On the interior, the nose and defensive tackle both stunt to the outside gaps of the guards, drawing their attention. The mike and backer blitz through the center guard gaps, forcing the center to choose one or the other. The ends will rush wide to contain with quarterback. Ideally, the linebacker that does not get picked up by the center will either force a quick throw, get a sack, or push the QB right into the contain ends.

On the following play, the whip also blitzes, but the pressure up the middle forces Andrew Luck into a throw-away.


When the Hokies really want to dial up the heat with this blitz look, they harken back to the old 4-4 days and bring the rover through the middle as well, while dropping a defensive lineman into coverage.

On a 3rd-and-10 against UVa, the Hokies show a normal nickel 4-4 G look (4-4 G, Robber, and Zero coverage will be discussed next week). At the snap, both defensive tackles split to the outside gaps, with the mike and backer both blitzing the inside gaps. However, Antone Exum sneaks in behind Tyler and Edwards, using them almost like lead blockers to clear the path to the QB. Tyrell Wilson drops back into a short zone to take away Rocco's hot read (a crossing route into the space vacated by Exum) and Rocco takes a grounding penalty.


The Hokies also like to bring pressure from the edges using their defensive backs. For a long period of time, Virginia Tech was notorious for bringing the boundary corner from the weak side, especially if the offense had trips (three receivers) to the field side. Perhaps no Hokie was better at the corner blitz from the boundary than Brandon Flowers, who had great timing and nasty intentions. However, the Hokies have started to use the whip/nickel position more for blitzing from the edge over the last couple of years, especially in 2011 with the emergence of Kyle Fuller.

Here the Hokies use a basic zone blitz look with the nickel/whip against an unbalanced front from UVA.

The stud defensive end and the tackle both stunt hard to the inside across the face of their blocker. The right tackle and right guard both get suckered to look to the inside, and Kyle Fuller blitzes just outside of the tackle and Jack Tyler blitzes through the guard-tackle gap to the play side. On the backside, the defensive end drops into coverage along with the backer in a short zone, while the nose stunts outside trying to draw the attention of the center, left guard and left tackle.

The end result:


Both Tyler and Fuller come unblocked, and Gayle sheds the tackle, while four UVA offensive linemen are ghosting the two Hokie defensive tackles. Rocco shits the bed and the Hokies force a fumble. Perfect.

Every year, offenses change, and the Hokie coaching staff has to continue to evolve their blitzing schemes to cope with heavy play action and spread looks. Ultimately, while the design of the Hokie scheme is great to watch when it works, nothing tops a vicious four man rush with 7 defenders playing zone. Against UVA and Michigan, we saw glimpses of dominant pass rush from James Gayle and the young defensive tackles.


If the defensive line can produce over 25 sacks with a four man rush, I expect the Hokies to be national title contenders, especially with the lack of secondary depth being the biggest threat a top-tier defense this year. I think, perhaps more than we have seen in years, we will not see nearly as much blitzing from secondary players (as hinted at by the moves of Jarrett and Bonner to safety suggests more man and less zone blitzing). Foster will look to get pressure with four, and using the mike and backer on the edges and up the middle to compliment his front.

If you have any questions, I will be sure to answer to answer them in the comments.


Your analysis is great!

Thanks for the instruction. Do you think if the secondary gels in the first half of the season, we might see more secondary blitzes later in the year?

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

I will touch on pass coverage more next week, but consider this perhaps a preview. With Clemson and Duke being notable exceptions, Hokie opponents went out of their way to attack the Hokie safeties in pass coverage last season. If you rewatch the Michigan game, there was not a single pass completed against Hokie cornerback coverage.

I believe that Foster feels like run support from the safety position will not be as critical this year, and he wants his safeties to essentially play like corners, with the ability to play man to man coverage against quality slot receivers. The 4-4G coverage, which I will discuss in detail more next week, essentially requires both safeties to cover any receiver on the field that comes into their quadrant man to man, without the benefit of a bump at the line of scrimmage. That is no easy task. With a Jarrett, Bonner, Exum, Fuller group, the Hokies essentially will have 4 corners on the field to play man, which is a major change from the time that a rover was essentially a hybird outside linebacker who generally struggled in coverage.

The trade off is that I doubt you will see guys like Bonner and Jarrett, who do not have experience blitzing, coming up the middle like we saw from Exum last year. Instead, I expect the DB's to play coverage, with the occasional blitz from Fuller when he plays the nickel, or a boundary corner blitz by Exum when other teams go trips to the field side, or when he has safety help. But, if the front four is what we expect it to be, and with two outstanding blitzers in Jack Tyler and Bruce Taylor, I doubt those guys go as much as we have seen in the past.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN


Great analysis.

You ever think you give too much analysis and thereby give too much away to potentially other teams?

If it was that easy, teams would be decimating the Hokie D (or I would be a highly paid consultant to Jim Grobe.) For 120K a year or so, I'd be happy to offer my services, but I think they would be about as useful as a poo-poo flavored lollipop to a good coaching staff.

This series is a very basic look at what the Hokies do on defense, designed to give the average fan a window into the plan behind the controlled chaos on the film. While there are basic fundamentals that the Hokies use in every run defense and blitz package, there are a huge variety of formations and stunts that are used. A good defensive coordinator has to have a knack for feeling the game, and calling the correct defensive play at the right time. The best football teams can execute regardless if the other team knows what it is coming. Using the occasional counter to your normal tendencies serves as just enough of a distraction to make things happen.

The Hokies must have buy-in from every defender in order for this defense to work. That is why you see talented players who never get on the field, and that is why Foster recruits to an archetype rather than seeking the most talented guy on the board. This defense uses psychology perhaps more that any defense I have watched on tape. It is designed to make the offensive player make a quick decision under false pretenses, be it selecting a hole where a blitzing linebacker will be ready attack and fill, or a quarterback seeing a blitz and throwing to a spot that should be open against the coverage they normally see with that blitz, to find the "robber" in the area ready to intercept the pass. Football is ultimately a game of muscle memory, and this defense takes advantage of the muscle memory that teams develop playing a full season against more standard looks.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Much like how Sandy Koufax tipped his pitches

Knowing what's coming and stopping it are two separate matters.

When French disappears, we'll know he's said too much, but he ain't going down easy.

Our offensive line coach in college used to tell us on the line "if we call a 56 draw (counter trey) on 3rd and 25 and you execute, you will get the first down." The great teams are the ones that line up, and everyone in the stadium knows what is coming, and they still succeed. A great example is the Virginia Tech short yardage running game against Tennessee in the ChikFilA Bowl. They enforced their will on a Tennessee line that had two top 50 NFL picks and jammed the ball down their throat. When someone complains to me about the red zone playcalling in the Sugar Bowl, I point to that film.

Now, that being said, there are two teams on the field. If the opposite offense executes as well as the defense, it becomes a question of physics. Bigger, stronger, faster, disciplined, and well coached beats big, strong, fast, disciplned, and well coached. See Stanford (where the defense was outstanding in the first half), Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia. The Hokies are getting better, but getting that elite talent to compliment the scheme in the front seven is the biggest key to breaking through to the true college football elite.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I don't agree with that. Play calling is much more important than you're letting on. Obviously a coach would tell his players he wants them to execute on every play, but if you really believed that, you could give me $250,000 to call plays for VT and have the exact same level of success. The fact that coordinators are highly paid professionals means either a lot of people are wasting a lot of money, or play calling is important. I think it's fair to say that play calling and talent are both necessary conditions for being an elite team but neither one alone is a sufficient condition.

I agree that a coach and playcaller's responsibility is to put the players in the best position to succeed on every play. They have a feel for the game to call the right defense at the right time. BUT, they don't stray from that basic formula. Bud Foster has countless blitz designs, but the basic goals and fundamentals are the same on each one. He has run the same two core defensive coverage schemes (robber and 4-4G) since 1993. It works.

Teams that have long term success are sound fundamentally and have 100% buy-in to the system to go with great athletes. Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, USC... those schools don't trick anybody. Hell, Oregon's offense TELLS you what running play they are running based on their formation, but they execute so well that it is almost impossible to stop.

The counters and wrinkles are used only to supplement your fundamental core system. If you become dependant on them for success, you lose identity. It is a huge problem (as we discussed all last season) with the Hokie offense.

I may be the minority in this opinion, but I am convinced that power formations like the I formation stopped being run by college teams NOT because they stopped working when executed, but because the kids (who had grown up playing Madden 2000 where they ran around the end and threw post corners all day) didn't buy in to the concept that 3 yards and a cloud of dust would work. The sharpness was lost, defense started dominating, and then HIGH SCHOOL COACHES started incorporating the spread. High school coaches initiated the change and college coaches followed suit because they were getting players whose skill set fit that system. A great example is Chad Morris, who was coaching high school football in 2003.

Nevertheless, we see old school systems that work. Georgia Tech runs the option effectively. Clemson, Auburn, and Ohio State are now running the single wing, which hasn't been used in college football since the early 50's. Stanford lines up and runs Pro I and 3 tight ends like a boss. If you get buy in, you have excellent fundamentals, and you have great athletes, and you will win.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

This may be a little bit off subject but what adjustments did Stanford make during halftime of the OB that basically allowed them to shred our Defense? We were stopping them pretty good in the 1st half. Also why wasn't Foster able to adjust?

In my opinion it wasn't so much that they made a schematic adjustment (other than including more pre-snap movement to play on the issue I'm about to mention) but that our Defense was down to lower-string, lighter players who couldn't keep up with the physicality of Stanford's offensive line. That caused some frustration in the secondary, which led to blown coverages, missed tackles, etc.


was running on tech in the first half, pretty easily, that got easier. sigh.


"My advice to you... is to start drinking heavily."-John Blutarsky

Stanford had some kind of a key where they would get Tech to audible to a slant strongside (usually to the right side of the Stanford line, then they would run power plays back to the weakside. The stunt left a DE and the whip (JWG) exposed needing to beat blocks one on one. For the most part, the backside blocked just like a zone play, but it worked like a down block, then the tight end would just murder the whip and the end (who had contain responsibility) would get kicked out almost as an afterthought.

That comes from two places: 1) weeks of NFL caliber coaches getting to review film on Tech to see if they could influence the slants and blitzes with formation and 2) having a strong, fundamentally sound offensive line group including tight ends that you trust to use running to the weak side.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

For those of you looking for more variations, here is another interesting blitz look. In this look, the mike backer (Taylor) goes bananas in the middle during the pre-snap read of the quarterback for Arkansas State. With the back and the QB focused on Taylor and Edwards, who has moved to the outer edge of the line, they fail to notice Fuller sneaking in backside. At the snap, Taylor drops into a zone, Fuller and Edwards come off the edge, and the stud end (Wilson) drops to cover the left flat. I anticipate that the safety has the sideline deep third behind Fuller.

The Hokies did not show this as much after Taylor was hurt. Tyler may be a better tackler, especially in space, but Taylor is much more well rounded, especially in coverage.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN