Bud Foster Gives Me Nightmares

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One of the fascinating things about watching college football in real time is the number of misconceptions that turn into conclusions. With the benefit of hindsight from the film review every Sunday, I gain a certain degree of insight about how the Hokie offense and defense performed that I otherwise would not have.

Most fascinating, perhaps, is analyzing Bud Foster's defensive concepts each week. While the basic tenants remain the same, he seems to constantly adjust alignments and concepts to fit the ability of his personnel, especially in the secondary. I expected his game plan to be very vanilla against Western Carolina, which would serve as an opportunity to evaluate personnel and give young players an opportunity to face spread concepts in a live game setting. Foster delivered a vanilla game plan from the standpoint of blitzes, however, his plan to stop the spread incorporated using nickel personnel in 7- and 8-man fronts via the base 4-4 and the 46 alignments. From these alignments, two facts presented themselves. First, Bud Foster has an incredible amount of trust in Kyle Fuller. Fuller played on the boundary in single coverage without any deep safety help on his half of the field for long stretches during the game. Second, and perhaps most importantly, every offensive coordinator has film of four of the top five Hokie defensive backs (Kyle, Kendall, Jarrett, and Bonner) lined up as a nickel slot defender, a cover corner, a deep safety, and as a blitzing outside linebacker.

For most of the first half, the Hokies used nickel personnel, with Brandon Facyson as the field corner and Kendall Fuller playing in the slot. But unlike the normal Hokies nickel look, Detrick Bonner, Facyson, and Fuller positioned themselves in a variety of "triangle" alignments. Sometimes Fuller would play between the two field-side receivers up close to the line, with Bonner aligned head up on the slot deep, and Facyson aligned deep on the wide man. Sometimes Fuller would line up deep on the slot, with Facyson wide, and Bonner up close to the line in the middle. And sometimes both Facyson and Fuller would line up pressed on each receiver and Bonner would align deep behind them.

Meanwhile, back on the inside, the Hokies have seven players inside the box, with two inside linebackers and Kyshoen Jarrett lined up as an outside linebacker to the boundary. In this alignment, there are seven defenders to account for the running back and the quarterback in the power and read option game, but there is not any kind of safety help on the entire boundary side of the field.

From this base nickel, Kyle Fuller and Kyshoen Jarrett played man or an inverted cover-2, where the rover has outside force responsibility, and then drops back into an underneath zone to the boundary. Kyle has a deep third. On the field side, Bonner and the two freshman corners ran a variety of zones. From this alignment, Facyson usually played a very conservative deep third to the outside. Bonner and Fuller changed up their keys, but one always played a man on the slot receiver, and the other almost always played a short zone. If a running play came to the field side, the defender in the short zone had force responsibility back to the inside. On occasion, Facyson and either Bonner or Fuller would be in man coverage, and the other inside player would have force responsibility. This created confusion for Catamount quarterback Eddie Sullivan on the opening drive of the game.

On first down, Western Carolina runs a basic veer option to the field side.

00:00:08–00:00:14

On this play, Bonner is aligned seven yards off the slot receiver to his inside shoulder. Kendall is only five yards off the slot receiver on his outside shoulder. Facyson is playing twelve yards off the wide receiver. At the snap, Bonner picks up man coverage on the slot, and Facyson is playing man on the wide guy. Kendall angles in from his wide alignment, coming in as wide run support at the snap.

On the next play, the Hokies use the same alignment, except Jarrett moves up to the outside linebacker spot late. Facyson and Fuller combine to play a cover-2 look, with Fuller in the short zone and Facyson to the inside. Bonner again plays man on the slot receivers. Jarrett, Edwards, and Tyler all drop into underneath zones, and Sullivan tries to force a go route against a corner playing as a deep safety.

00:00:16–00:00:21

Collins gets some pressure on the pass rush, and Sullivan throws a lollipop into the lap of Facyson for an easy interception.

The second pick was a similar coverage look. This time, Western Carolina used trips to the field side. With only a tight end to the boundary, Jarrett drops into coverage while Kyle Fuller blitzes from the edge, getting a piece of Sullivan as he throws. To the field, the Hokies have Bonner playing a deep middle zone, with Facyson as a deep third on the outside. Kendall Fuller jumps up initially to react to the screen, but then follows the quarterback's eyes to the football.

00:03:32–00:03:43

Fuller makes a spectacular play to deflect the ball to Bonner, but Facyson has jumped the route and is in front of the receiver. If Kendall does not deflect it, Facyson may have the pick-six instead of Bonner. The variability of this alignment is outstanding. At different points, Jarrett dropped deep and Kyle Fuller blitzed from the boundary. On the field side, Fuller and Bonner both played force responsibility and jumped back and forth between combinations of man and zone coverage, and Facyson is allowed to play soft and ballhawk. The one weakness of this alignment is that it limits the ability of the inside linebackers to blitz through the interior gaps. Both Edwards and Tyler, once recognizing pass, must drop into that soft area in the middle of the defense to protect against seam routes from the backs or a tight end. Western Carolina chose not to test them, but I imagine that other spread teams will try to get a tight end into that space against either Hokie inside linebacker.

Stopping the read option from the Nickel: The 46

As discussed several weeks ago, the 46 defense is another Hokies eight-man front, an alternative to the 4-4. Made famous by Buddy Ryan and the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 46 alignment moves Tariq Edwards head up over the tight end, and Jarrett as rover to a middle linebacker alignment. With the whip to the weak side, it gives Virginia Tech six men on the line of scrimmage and two linebackers, with a bigger linebacker on the edge to play outside force. This look is effective if your backer and whip are productive blitzers against the pass, and the bigger backer is more difficult to kick out against power plays to the strong side.

Western Carolina had some success in the first half using a veer option from the pistol to the field side against the Hokies, with the quarterback keeper giving the Hokies problems. Rather than bring whip linebacker Josh Trimble back into the lineup, Foster utilized a 46 look, this time with nickel personnel.

Foster's 46 look is the ultimate in high risk. The Hokies have 8 men in the box, with a defensive back aligned as a whip linebacker, the rover aligned as a second inside linebacker, and the backer lined up on the edge opposite the whip. Here is an example of the alignment against Western Carolina.

As you can see, Kendall Fuller is aligned as a whip and Jarrett is playing up as a linebacker. Bonner and Fuller also flip flopped with Bonner aligning on the edge and Fuller covering the slot. This leaves Kyle Fuller alone covering a deep third to the boundary. To the field side, Bonner and Facyson can either play straight man coverage, or each take a deep third. If they play thirds and the receivers cross, then they take the player who enters their zone. Underneath, Kendall and Edwards have force responsibility on the edge, and then if they identify pass each drops into a short zone. Jarrett and Tyler have underneath zones in the middle. Again, there is no help if Kyle, Facyson, or Bonner are beaten deep, so they must play conservatively against comeback routes and screens.

Kyle Fuller gave up a couple of quick button hook passes in front of him, but for the most part, Western Carolina didn't cope with the pressure of the 46 front. The alignment highlights Bonner's and Kendall Fuller's ability to both play run support and cover quick slot receivers in man coverage.

Let's examine some of the different variations of the 46 that Foster utilized. As I stated before, Foster seemed to use the 46 when WCU started to get some momentum with the read option. Mostly, it was effective. Here, the Catamounts show a read option look with a little wham block from the tight end aligned over Edwards.

00:06:43–00:06:48

Edwards steps up to force the play, recognizes that the quarterback does not have the football, and crashes inside to assist with the dive. The back has nowhere to go. The challenge here is to Edwards. He is on an island with the quarterback. If the quarterback keeps and can beat him to the edge, he has no help until Fuller releases his coverage once the quarterback passes the line of scrimmage.

Western Carolina attempted to alleviate pressure by challenging the field side by running a bubble screen.

00:02:04–00:02:10

Facyson allows himself to get cut blocked, but Bonner (playing in the slot in press alignment) shadows the slot receiver as he goes to block Facyson, and then steps up to force the screen back to the inside. Western Carolina's wideout hears footsteps, and drops the football.

Foster has always been a coach who has a reputation for sticking with basic principles. However, he constantly creates variations in alignment and assignments to create confusion against offenses. When he coached against Clemson in 2011, Foster played a very conservative defense focused on reading and reacting to their single-wing style spread. Last season, Foster used a double free safety alignment, with Michael Cole playing deep, Bonner on the slot, and Jarrett playing inside the box. It was more successful, but still allowed Clemson some ability to create seams for the running game. Now, Foster has shown Chad Morris and other ACC offensive coordinators a pure 46 pressure front, as well as a variety of combination nickel looks where each player can effectively force the run, blitz off the edge, or cover in man or zone, without tipping the coverage based on alignment. Just getting this on film will create all kinds of headaches for Hokie opponents this season.

Defensive Observations

One thing that Foster did not do much in this game is call a variety of blitzes. On occasion, his whip, backer, and boundary corner came off the edge, but there were only a limited number of stunts more complicated than something ran in training camp. Foster used this game to test his defensive backs in man coverage, and counted on his veteran line and inside linebackers to control the game. The Hokies looked dominant, as expected, but occasionally had some trouble with quarterback keepers on the read option. Tackling wasn't particularly sharp in stretches as well. East Carolina does not feature the read option as much, but Marshall has an quarterback who can run, so expect Foster to shore that up this week.

Up front, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy again turned in stalwart performances. J.R. Collins forced the first interception, but it seemed as if Dadi Nicolas got more repetitions this week. Nicolas had a couple of spectacular QB pressures, but had some trouble disengaging from blocks against the running game. James Gayle had some pressure, but did not register a sack. I thought Gayle was excellent in run defense, but after watching him destroy the Hokies in August scrimmages, I'm eagerly awaiting the explosive edge rush and sack.

Charley Wiles was able to play three groups of defensive linemen. Tyrell Wilson sat out, so Dewayne Alford got an opportunity and played well in his stead. Nigel Williams and Woody Baron again didn't lose their gap fits while getting work every third series. Kris Harley, Alston Smith, and Matt Roth got work in garbage time, but it was Ken Ekanem who made two nice defensive plays late to force a WCU punt near their own goal line.

At linebacker, we know what to expect from Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards. Tyler was outstanding in run support and made a terrific effort play when Sullivan escaped his grasp and Tyler chased him all the way to the sideline to finish him off. Tariq Edwards defended two passes in man coverage and didn't give up a completion. He was moving well. Chase Williams really stood out. He looked quick as he made two nice tackles in run support, and nearly returned a kick for a touchdown.

I can't express how tickled I am with the performance, so far, of all five defenders in the secondary. Depth is still a serious question mark, but both Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson look like veterans right now and stars in the making. Jarrett continues to be great in run support, and Foster put him in some coverage situations and he was not beaten. Bonner really has blossomed working with the two freshmen. His communication is on point, as Fuller and Facyson only busted one coverage all day (a wheel route against a cover-2 look in the 1st quarter). Bonner is reading the play wonderfully too. He nabbed his second pick helping over the top after the receiver got past Kyle Fuller with a double move. It appears that Chuck Clark has passed Desmond Frye as the No. 2 rover, so Donovan Riley, Clark, and Der'Woun Greene will be next up until Antone Exum returns.

Comments

As always, great write-up French. I don't know how you do it.

Question: You mentioned that Dadi struggled against the run at times but was great pass rushing. Do you think that we might sub him in particularly for passing downs when we face teams that want to air it out?

i really dont think ecu has seen anything like the d thats rollin into greenville on saturday.

bud will have their spirits crushed by the second half.

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

I think we'll lock ECU up on the outside. I'm shocked that's only a 7 point line. VT 34-13.

Fantastic read, Thanks as always French. I just hope we can maintain this level of insensity all year.

"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”~~Judge Holden

Hey French/others, can you answer a question that I've always wondered about? What's the general order of playcalls and audibles? For instance, does the Offensive Coordinator call the play down to the quarterback, then the Defensive Coordinator calls his alignment; or does the DC have to guess based on down and distance, and the players react?
Thanks in advance, I'll hang up and listen

HOKIE HOKIE HOKIE HI
'14 grad

Well, I'm certainly no expert but I've heard/read/seen that it goes like this on some teams. If the OC in the booth like ours he'll call the play down via a number to someone on the sideline (I see Grimes and Logan talk alot) and then from that person on the sideline to the QB. The QB then looks at the number on his QB wrist guard and the play is there. I think that is how we do it based Logans use of wrist band and talking to Grimes on the sideline before running out to the field. Once on the field the QB can listen via audio from the sideline what the play is. I could be wrong though. Other teams use a bunch of pictures and number to call an offensive play. I think our D uses a number system and hand and arm signals unless the opposing team is running no huddle which basically takes the DC out of the equation. Again, I don't know this to be true for VT, it's just a few things I've picked up from t.v. I'm sure someone here can answer truthfully.

"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”~~Judge Holden

I could be wrong, but I believe that there's no helmet audio allowed in college football like you see in the NFL (which is what that green dot on the back of QB helmets signify, as one member on the field on each team is allowed a headphone). That is why all college teams implement either the pictures/cards/hand signals/numbers system from the sideline to relay plays and formations out to the field. It looks like Grimes wears a headset as he gets the play from Loeffler from the booth and a number is signaled out to Logan, of which is the corresponding play on his wrist. We used to do hand signals from the sideline (2 dummy signals, 1 real signal), but I'm willing to bet that we switched to the number/wrist method to prevent signal stealing (a hot topic from the Clemson games in 2011). Or maybe it's Loeffler's preferred method.

Also, IIRC, when I took a class at VT a few years ago with Paul Torgersen as my professor, he had John Beilein come in and he gave us a quick overview on how signals are done at least from the defensive side. One person in the booth counts the number of tight ends and RB/FB the opposing offense has in the huddle and relays it down to the sideline via number form (ie: 21, which means 2 TE and 1 RB) to Bud. From there, he considers down, distance, and film study as to what formation and coverage would be best for likely plays, as well as what blitzes he wants. He and whoever else then signals it out to the field to be executed. That's a rough summary of how VT relays the defense, at least as of 2010.

Theory of Org?

What an awesome class. After he had us over for pizza the first time, his road is beautiful, I would go out and park near his house and study and stuff. My favorite spot in Blacksburg is off his road, looking down over the valley.

Chick Patty w/ Cheese

anybody notice the jar of moonshine in his basement? I asked him about it and he told me they used to use moonshine to lure recruits....but they're not allowed to do that anymore.

Onward and upward

His basement is unreal. I like the framed lifetime tickets to any VT sporting event and the $1,000,000 framed check to the University.

Yep, Theory of Org, and an awesome class it was. He has his class over for pizza every semester. Torg's house is basically a mini-VT museum. There's so much Hokie memorabilia everywhere it's quite the sight, not to mention the view from his back porch. Breathtaking.

Plus a million for Theory of Organization. Best class I've ever taken. Glad it was in ISE so I got first look at enrolling. It was like sitting around listening to your grandfather tell stories of the olden days. Except it was all behind the scenes VT stories from the former president of the university.

For the defense, if I understand the pattern correctly, the defensive front is called in the huddle. If the whip is in, he and the rover align based on strength of the passing formation. If the nickel is in, the nickel identifies the most dangers slot receiver and aligns on him. The rover goes to the boundary and the free safety goes to the field (even when the rover plays inside the box.)

Once everybody is aligned, someone signals to the free safety the defensive coverage calls. The free safety has to communicate those calls to the other defensive backs. If noise is an issue, the free makes the call to the rover and the rover relays to the boundary corner.

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

Great review- as always i really enjoyed it. i was waiting for a sack from Gayle- hope he can get them rolling.

D played stout and bowed up after the Jarrett punt problem. I just hope our O can stay on the field with a few sustained drives. It's gonna be hot in Greenville .

The punt return team was universally awful in this game, and most of that falls on Jarrett making numerous poor decisions in the return game. Again, if teams are going to kick short to prevent a return, it is silly to risk Jarrett's hamstring. Put someone back who will make the fair catch and say thank you for the free yardage.

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

Since the RB depth is Edmunds, Coleman, Caleb (or something to that extent) I could see Chris Mangus being a lethal weapon in the return game.

#ENFUENTE #BALLSOFSTEEL #Livefor32

Mangus is ahead of Caleb on the RB depth chart at the moment as well as one of the 2nd team options for KR along with Greene, behind Knowles and Coleman. Right now Ke. Fuller is next up on PR depth and Byrn also had a PR against Bama.

Edit: Also just noticed that Eddie D'Antuono is ahead of Joe St. Germain for Punt Snap, but not FG/PAT Snap. Anyone notice when that happened?

I don't like having Kendall on punt returns. It shouldn't be a starter and IMO Mangus is perfect for the job.

#ENFUENTE #BALLSOFSTEEL #Livefor32

Fielding punts is a much more difficult challenge than catching the ball on a kickoff. If Mangus isn't there now, that means he probably isn't comfortable in that role.

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

Any thoughts on the D'Antuono/St. Germain situations at Long Snapper? St. Germain is a r-JR, 6'1", 220lbs, and is first string for FGs and PATs, D'Antuono is a r-FR, 6'6", 263lbs, and is first string for punts. I would think that if they were going to have them spliting LS duties, it would be reversed with the smaller, presumably quicker option being in to help with punt coverage and the bigger, presumably better blocking option being in on FGs and PATs.

Bud Foster = Buddy Ryan

I like how Bud continues to create havoc with his defenses year in and year out. If he had elite level talent it would be scary to see what he could do. And I think that is happening with the last few classes VT has pulled in.

Should I correct this equation to Bud Foster > Buddy Ryan ?

#Let's Go - Hokies

This will only be true if Grant Foster is less annoying than Rex Ryan....and there's a pretty good chance that's the case...so I guess you're justified in changing that equation

Onward and upward

Coach Bud Foster never ceases to amaze me with how he can alter his defense based on personnel and situations. He is truly one of the greats.

VT '10--US Citizen; (804) Virginian By Birth; (210) Texan By the Grace of God.

Rick Monday... You Made a Great Play...

I also root for: The Keydets, TexAggies, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and Braves.

So is Bud doing all of this to avoid having Trimble on the field as much? It seems that these fronts all are without the Whip on the field, with Jarrett or Kendall replacing him as a nickel or a rover up near the line.

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

Can't confirm whether this is true or not, but I think Bud is trying to put his playmakers on the field, especially against spread teams where you need more coverage skills. Kendall and Facyson > Trimble.

Definitely not an expert, but i thought i recall hearing that was the plan even with RVD? Think from day one it was going to be Kendall vs sprang teams

in Fuller we trust

I think its more a function of WCU (along with ECU and Marshall coming up) running mostly spread, I think Trimble was in more vs. Alabama.

Again, nice read.

That 46 Defense does give me nightmares. It's such a back-breaker defense in both directions. Opposing offenses could turn some quick-hitting plays into really long TDs with good athletes at the receiver positions. I'll wait until after the UNC game to figure out if I like it or not.

🦃 🦃 🦃

It could be a pure red herring. Even if Foster never plans to run it again, every OC now has to gameplan for it. The Hokies use the 46 front in their base look anyway (especially in the Rutgers game last year.)

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

Nice use of "red herring." I had to look up what that meant.

Yea, Rutgers wouldn't scare me with their lack of playmakers. It's UNC, Miami, and Clemson that would scare me with their ability to take a quick slant or WR screen 80 yds like Demaryious Thomas against Baltimore. But, maybe, as you suggest, this was all about giving the opposing OCs and QBs one more thing to think about.

🦃 🦃 🦃

Everyone knows that Red Herring is a character from A Pup Named Scooby Doo, who Fred wrongly accused of being behind every mystery they investigated:
Red Herring of A Pup Named Scooby Doo

Which sort of explains the actual definition in an elementary fashion.

And then all the OCs in the country are like...

If Foster is playing mind games off the field, then he's even more of a genius than I thought.

Mind games? I think Bud Foster wages mind wars

Have you entered your PICK 6 on CBSSports yet? Click Here!

When I first saw the title of the post, I thought for sure Mike London was writing a guest column.

Great read, as always, French. It's awesome to see Bud constantly tinkering and trying to out-match his opponents. I'm guessing he was using the WCU game to work out his new look in preparation for ECU and Marshall. Smart move.

This shit ain't checkers. It's chess.

Leonard. Duh.

These defensive breakdowns are really helping me improve my defense in NCAA 14. The sad part is, I'm not even joking.

Logan 3:16

Post of the year candidate right here.

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

Teacher's pet!

VTCC '86 Delta Company, Hokie in Peru, Former Naval Aviator, Former FBISA, Forever married to my VT87 girl. Go VT!

Shoot, I'm hoping to coach a high school defense with the stuff I'm learning from French.

I'm really starting to wonder how Exum will fit in when he gets back to the field?

VT '10--US Citizen; (804) Virginian By Birth; (210) Texan By the Grace of God.

Rick Monday... You Made a Great Play...

I also root for: The Keydets, TexAggies, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and Braves.

True story, I always use the 46 defense in the red zone to stop runs and to put pressure on the quarterback. It's 50-50.

Just wish that NCAAF would let me customize the 4-4 instead of giving me generic plays. /rant

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

Just run a base 4-4 and manually audible guys. You have to be quick, but it works, and that's the only way you can get complex defensive schemes like what French is explaining. Just like he states, you can manually line guys up in lets say a cover 1 and disguise the coverages so that it's something different every time. But honestly, I've been running the 4-2-5 and replacing the 2nd SS with either Faycson or Kendall. Works much better and you can still stack the box and stop the run.

Logan 3:16

Long time listener, first time caller.

French, I love your analysis- they are always spot on. However, you mentioned that Cato can run. He really can't, he ran for 32 yards in his freshman campaign and 31 last year. My fiance went to Marshall so we go to a lot of the games when VT is away, and despite being small and athletic, Cato never really seems to get going (or try to) on the ground and often gets caught by lineman in pursuit. I am really interested in you all breaking Cato down because I think he is the black version of Kellen Moore. Which scares me for obvious reasons.

Long time listener, first time caller.

I laughed.

It seemed like I remembered Cato running some read option against us as a freshman. Again, I think all my old concussions are coming back to haunt me. Even better, a non running threat makes them much easier to defend.

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

You memory is probably right - at the time they were trying to use him as a dual-threat read option guy and they switched to a more mobile QB halfway through the year. Now they realize that he doesn't have a big arm or speed, but the little guy puts the ball on the money.

57 carries for 31 yards last year.

VHokie