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Film Study: Defense vs Oregon State

The Beavers only mustered 252 yards of total offense. It just seemed like more than that.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Jimmy Lake still hates to give up the big play. In fact, he hates it so much, he played a ton of 2-deep safeties against a team with a less-than-scary passing attack.

It’s what he and Pete Kwiatkowski have done, and it appears to be what they will continue to do. Getting gashed by running plays is going to continue to happen, and the Husky staff appears to be OK with making teams move the ball in small chunks.

To the Film:

We should note that every assignment or role that we are seeing here is an educated guess based on conventional defensive structures and the UW defensive staff’s past schemes.

3rd and 15:

3rd and long, first offensive possession for OSU. We were looking screen here, so we would hope at least a couple Huskies would be as well.

This was an early “flash” play from Edefuan Ulofoshio that got me (and many other fans) excited thinking that he would pick up exactly where he left off last year. Eddie U’s best characteristics last year were that he was instinctive and aggressive in the box. Whether it was as a blitzer, run stuffer, or in the easier underneath coverage assignments, Ulofoshio was exceptionally effective relative to our other options. He understands how to read the flow of the offensive front, backfield motion, and he lets his eyes carry him to the play.

It’s hard to tell the exact coverage assignments between Jackson Sirmon and Ulofoshio, but my guess is that Ulofoshio had first dibs on picking up the RB in coverage based on the field side alignment of the RB (same as Ulofoshio). Our defense’s backfield alignment suggests that we are playing some sort of man or pattern match zone, so our ILBs can focus on the immediate receiving threats once they read zone. Ulofoshio reads pass immediately and shadows the RB as he drifts towards the LOS. Ulofoshio does a good job recognizing the RB’s hesitation to step hard into his expected pass protection assignment, and he knifes through the OL to make the stop.

3rd and 7:

Late in the first quarter we got the first of our 2 takeaways in the game on a sack-fumble sequence that introduced the wider Husky audience to Zion Tupuola-Fetui (shout out to one of our 808-dawgs). However, despite the favorable result, this wasn’t a particularly strong pass rushing rep.

Situationally, OSU was in a tough spot on 3rd & 7 inside their own territory where this was a clear passing situation. Coach K decided to dial up pressure with an unusual 5-man front that put Ryan Bowman over the center as our NT and what looks to be a pass rush-heavy 1-5-5 personnel package (ZTF, Bowman, Smalls & Ulofoshio). Pre-snap, OSU aligns in a open bunch set that has the bunch out side over the hash, and they only kept 6 in to protect against 6 possible rushers. While that isn’t necessarily a numbers issue, OSU didn’t do itself any favors trying to work a verts-crosser concept that didn’t have a good catch-n-run outlet with the RB running a check-release, so the protection scheme relative to the concept is questionable at best. Good thing for the Beavers, our blitz scheme didn’t do a great job of setting up quick hitting pressure.

At the snap, our defensive front sets up Josiah Bronson on a 3-gap-wide loop/twist stunt where Ulofoshio crashes down towards the center from the near-side B-gap in order to widen the B-gap for Bronson’s stunt. Utilizing Bronson as the looping free rusher is an interesting choice as it forces him to fake a rush, disengage, and then loop around 3 gaps before he is able to apply pressure. Even assuming that Ulofoshio can set up the rush lane, it is a slow developing blitz that eventually has ZTF (an edge rusher) apply the pressure in a 1-on-1. I’ll chalk this up as a coverage sack, and I’d like to find out the logic behind the play design.

1st and 10:

Here we get to dissect a prime example of our porous run defense that I believe was strictly a schematic/game plan choice. Situationally, OSU is in a good spot for their offense since it is 1st down and their run game is still in play. Considering how strong our secondary is, I was amazed that we played so many of these conservative 2-deep coverages against a run-first opponent. This kept us playing at a numbers deficit most of game based on our coverage structure.

In this case, in 2-deep coverages against a condensed bunch formation, our defensive alignment rules dictate that our CB on the bunch side (Keith Taylor in this case) plays off the LOS and out wide, essentially out of the picture for a run play. This leaves us with 7 defenders in the box against 8 potential blockers attached to the formation.

As you can see from the end zone angle, the Beavers are running a pretty basic duo play (a foundational gap concept with double teams on the play side that is similar to inside zone in some respects). With such a light box, our defense does not have the numbers to plug every gap, and we do not have an effective enough NT in the middle to account for the extra gap that is unaccounted for. Here we can see Fa’atui Tuitele (#99) playing a shaded 1-tech alignment and trying hard to stack and shed the LG to plug both the play side A & B gaps, but the guard gets under his pads is able to turn his hips to wall off the rushing lane. This bust in run defense isn’t all on Tuitele though as we get an example of Smalls getting blown off the ball by a combo block form the LT and TE. It’s a tough assignment for a true freshman edge player that is playing at a size deficit relative to the combo blockers, but being responsible for setting the edge is a critical responsibility for our OLBs. This highlights one reason why in past years we’ve been hesitant to give extensive snaps in all situations to young OLBs and DL.

All of this could be solved if we made a conscious shift away from our more flexible 2-gap based run defense structures until we can fill the NT role effectively. Bringing a safety into the box to plug the extra gap would let Tuitele to play more aggressively as a gap penetrator, Salls to play the D-gap (outside shoulder of the TE) and avoid the double team block, and hopefully get a hat on the RB before he hits the secondary.

3rd and Goal:

Similar to some of the pitch/toss plays our own offense ran, the Beavers got into the end on a toss play that is particularly effective against the type of soft front we were showing. Here we again come out in a 4-down front with only 7 in the box against 8 potential blockers and are already playing from behind in possible 4-down territory where there is a credible run threat.

In my opinion, I don’t think it is a smart call to run a 2-deep look against a heavy personnel package that OSU had run out of consistently earlier in the game. Not only that, our alignment puts Taylor as our de facto “overhang” player who would need to trigger downhill to eat a block and allow the rest of our defense to flow towards the ball carrier. I’ve seen teams utilize DBs as the overhang defender before, but its also important to know the strengths of your personnel, and it may have been a wiser move to kick the OLB out to a wider gap, force the action back inside towards your LBs, and keep the DB out of the equation rather than trying to square up on a pulling OL.

From a different angle its even easier to see how ridiculous it is to expect a safety 5-yards into the endzone to rush to the perimeter, take on a block, and make a tackle before the ball carrier gets over the goal line. Taylor would’ve needed to crash immediately to funnel the play back inside, or Bowman would’ve needed to get immediate penetration for this play to get derailed.

3rd and 9:

Here on 3rd & 9 to we get to see a great hustle/heads-up play by Molden for a tackle for loss. It looks like we are playing either a Cover 1 or a pattern match Cover 3 with a 5-man pressure, and my guess is that we are playing a variation of pattern match here due to Molden’s eyes and reaction to the play.

Pattern match zone coverage is a type of coverage that is basically a hybrid between man and zone concepts, with a slight lean towards zone. The defense draws their coverage assignments based on their alignment relative to the offensive alignment and then play man coverage technique against that assignment most of the time. Depending on how the receivers break their routes (inside, outside, or vertical), pattern match coverage rules dictate if the defender continues to play man coverage technique or hands off (usually to an inside defender on inbreaking routes). There’s a bunch of contingency checks that can lock up defenders in straight man-to-man, but the important part to know is that our man coverage looks can actually have zone principles.

Molden’s initial hesitation to tightly trail his man off the line can be attributed to the fact that he is processing all possible threats heading back towards him. I was thoroughly impressed that he was able to recognize the RB sneaking behind the OL from the boundary side into the field side flats and peel off fast enough to make the tackle. This easily could’ve been a 15+ yard gain.

1st and 10:

Our last play on this week’s film study is from the end of the third quarter once it seemed like we were adjusting slightly to OSU’s run-heavy approach. Up only 3 points, we needed to clamp down and preserve our lead, so we continued to stick to our effective pattern match out of a single-high look to force OSU to march down the field deliberately.

This is an approach that has been used frequently over the years by our defensive staff, and it essentially is a bet that our defense will play more efficiently and soundly over a long drive than the offense. The problem is that it is a strategy that is prone to getting gashed if our DBs aren’t reading their run keys fast enough to play down in run support. Over the years, Budda Baker and Taylor Rapp were fantastic in this role, but Molden and Turner aren’t quite on their level just yet, so we can get caught slightly out of position.

Here, OSU is again using our motion response against us as they know we will bump over our LBs/Box DBs rather than rotate into the boundary to follow the motion man. This widens out Turner into the overhang spot outside of the OLB (ZTF?) and gives him a coverage assignment rather than acting as a free hitter in the box. Now that he has to read the slot receivers route in case he breaks outside, Turner takes his eyes out of the backfield and is out of position to fill the gap that the RB shoots through. Schematically it looked like we were almost there, and hopefully a more experienced Turner will be able to key in on the run action sooner to come up in run support sooner.

With some new starters on defense, it’s expected for the first game to produce some mistakes. There is no substitute for game experience. Asa Turner will get more disciplined. Jackson Sirmon will stay on his feet a little more often.

Overall, it’s the same defensive philosophy we have seen. One where you feel like the Dawgs cant stop the run, but when all is said and done, the opponent produced a modest yardage output. Allowing two redzone touchdowns (and nearly a third) is something this unit will want to clean up.

On to Arizona.