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.
THE DOG BLITZ
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.