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Film Study: Defense vs OSU

Not great.

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Lake is learning to head coach, and so far, it’s not going well.

Eventually, maybe, he’s the right guy. Maybe he’s not, but just like with young players, we look for improvement. We’ve given him a pretty long leash, because.. well.. we’re trying be optimistic. But we’re losing patience.

OK. That’s bullshit. The truth is, we’re not giving him the benefit of the doubt or a long leash. Nobody gets that. He’s already what we call “KJR fired.” Meaning all the people who don’t matter think he needs to be canned. He hasn’t even coached a full season, and that’s it, man. We’ve had it. Get better. Now.

Saying the right things internally and externally is a good first step, but we need action.

Coach B was in the unfortunate situation where he was thrust into a leadership/coaching role he wasn’t quite ready for, and it was a challenge to figure it out on the fly. Admitting mistakes is tough —and correcting them even tougher— because your sense of direction (and confidence in decision making) is shot. Jimmy Lake is almost certainly experiencing similar growing pains.

We’re not necessarily saying that Jimmy Lake wasn’t ready for the job, but, well... prove us wrong, Coach.

To the Film:


3rd and 2:

In a game where our own Wildcat package became the focal point of the offense, we actually see OSU’s version of the Wildcat strike first. OSU’s Wildcat package features QB-turned-ILB-turned-Wildcat-QB Jack Colletto, a 6-3 240lb battering ram who has a sneaky good feel for reading the rushing lanes. OSU’s Wildcat also takes a page out of the Stanford and Wisconsin versions of the short yardage Wildcat by playing with a 9-man blocking front that maximizes the beef on the LOS.

To counter the Wildcat, we roll with our goal line 4-3 front that is really more of a 8-3 alignment. We have 4 DL, both of our OLBs (Bowman & McDonald), and both CBs on the LOS, with Eddie & the two safeties essentially playing LB. Gregory plays all 4 DL in the A & B gaps, plays the OLBs head up on the Y-TEs, and the CBs outside the H-Backs in the E gaps. We’re not a huge fans of this particular goal line/short yardage front because of how susceptible it is on the perimeter and how it puts Eddie in a tough spot to do his job. Since we only have 8 guys on the LOS against 10 pre-snap gaps (plus the extra gap created by a potential option or lead block from the RB), Eddie & the safeties will need to flow to plug the gaps. However, while this alignment accounts for the most dangerous interior gaps by clogging them with DL, it is inviting a run off of the Y-TEs into the uncovered C or D gaps depending on how the OLBs play their blocks. Either the safeties will need to trigger down to plug the gap fast, or Eddie has to run the 8 or so yards to meet the ball carrier in the hole, which could be on either side of the blocking front and is no easy block to make.

Keeping things simple, OSU attacks the OLB and Alex Cook by running a lead Duo run concept with an adjustment kicking the point of attack out by a gap. A normal Duo play has the blocking front account for everyone except the MLB, who is the RB’s man to make miss. However, seeing the weak point in our alignment, OSU moves the point of attack from a trey combo (OT-TE block) to a TE-TE combo on the OLB and changes the unblocked 2nd level player from the MLB to Cook. This helps get more favorable blocks across the board. The RB’ kick out is on a CB instead of an OLB, the TEs get a combo block on an OLB to a far flowing ILB that simply needs to get slowed down, and Colletto is now matched up on a slow triggering safety instead of a 240lb ILB. This adjustment to move the point of attack out a gap against our defensive alignments that bring DBs into the run front was probably stolen from our Stanford tape last year where we were regularly gashed on a more traditional power play that also attacked the D gap.

Film Study Flashback:

One adjustment we’d like to see to our short yardage packages is to see us go back to a 3-4 tite front that we’ve see in base personnel situations. We can stick with the 1-gap structure in short yardage situations like we see here, but we can have Eddie or one of the ILBs account for an A-gap rather than forcing him to flow 3 gaps over from his starting alignment. It might make him more susceptible to A gap power or some other blocking mismatches with O, but it’d limit the safety exposure in the run game, and we’d take a mismatched Eddie over a safety trying to fight through blocks they aren’t used to.


1st and Goal:

Continuing our deep dive on our run defense, we have OSU’s next red zone possession on 1st & goal. OSU is running with 12 personnel in an under center Ace Trey formation. The personnel, formation, and down & distance screams run play, but we can’t sell out on the run play. Instead, we counter with anti-run personnel (3-4) and play a softer coverage behind it in a 2-deep shell. We are actually playing pretty conservatively against the pass with Bowman split out almost out to the far hash to infringe on the QB’s passing lane to the slot receiver, and we aren’t playing any overhang play to the field side. We are almost inviting a wide-run to the field side, which is exactly what they call.


For as much as our run defense has been trashed over the last couple years, we have actually been pretty good against outside zone runs this year, and this play shows why. Unlike gap runs and inside zone, outside zone rarely gets double teams that knock our DL off the LOS. Without these double teams that most DL would struggle against, and with obvious flow that gets our LBs moving early (moving targets being much harder blocks for the OL), our front is actually pretty athletic and slippery. On the replay angle you can see that none of our DL really move off the LOS, they mirror the OL’s zone steps, and in a 1v1 situation, they are actually pretty good. Tuli man handles the center, and he gets the tackle. Overall this game was a pretty good game for the DL, and Taki, Tuli, and Tuitele are starting to flash their talent.


2nd and Goal:

Following up our solid first down effort, we have OSU’s second TD of the game. This time they come out in a more conventional formation with 12 personnel in an under center look. Initially lined up in an Ace Pair look, OSU motions WR #8 into the backfield as a quasi-H-Back and runs another Duo play against our short yardage package. This time, because of the offense’ 3x1 alignment (the 1st TD had a balanced 2x2 formation), we bump the OLB out to be the end man on the LOS, we plug the safety (Cook?) in at the C-gap, and we pull McDuffie off the LOS to essentially play as our MLB. We’ve seen this version of our short yardage package several times this season, but this is the most glaring example of how it puts our players in bad match ups.

First off, we are putting Cook (?) opposite of #84 (6-6, 260lbs), a pure mismatch, and McDonald aligned head up or even shaded inside on #88 (6-6 252lbs) when he should probably be setting the edge. We don’t know for certain whether McDonald was supposed to play contain or if he was supposed to play the D gap and Williams was supposed to play the scrape exchange and get outside on contain, but regardless, no one actually stepped up to play the edge. Hypothetically, Eddie was unblocked and could’ve flowed to the play, but he was aligned over the backside guard and there was too much traffic in between he and the ball carrier because Cook got blocked 5 yards into the end zone.


All of this begs the question what the logic is here. We were pretty astonished by this front, and we would’ve structured it pretty differently at the second level. For example, we would have Ulofoshio swap with Cook to be on the side of the run strength and to pull Williams off the LOS, and we’d kick McDonald out a gap to make sure he has the angle advantage to set the edge with. Williams, Cook, and McDuffie playing off-ball LB isn’t ideal, but you’d at least have all the backside gaps covered, and all but one of the front side gaps covered, so they’d be playing as a free hitter. Hindsight is 20/20, and we’re sure there was some logic behind the alignment, but in a run situation, there are probably better fronts to play than what we showed.


2nd and 15:

This was the big passing play that made the difference in a ground and pound slug fest. With momentum on our side, and having backed OSU into a 2nd & long hole, this 20 yard pass just broke the back of the defense that had been otherwise doing a bang up job all game.

OSU comes out in 11 personnel on an obvious passing down, and they line up pre-motion in a Tight Bunch Nub formation. A “Nub” tag on a formation indicates that the TE is playing as a Y-TE (attached to the line) with the three WRs playing in a tight bunch alignment on the opposite side. This is a popular formation because the TE to one side, the RB aligned opposite of the TE, and the WRs on the opposite side split puts the defense in run/pass conflict by making the run strength of the formation different than the pass strength of the formation. If defenses want to play pure man coverage from a single-high shell and nickel personnel, they would need to either put a safety on one of the two slot receivers (a mismatch), or they could put the safety on the TE side (a preferable match up) but tip off the offense of their coverage. In this case, we preserve our match up integrity by playing Cook on the TE side and have McDuffie, Powell, and Gordon all over the bunch side. We are basically screaming that we’re in man coverage, but OSU motions the RB #5 out to the field side numbers to get a second confirmation of man coverage. The motion also confirms that Cook has the RB and Tafisi has the TE.

This is pretty much a 1-route, 1st down or check down progression for OSU. #15 on the crosser is the primary the whole way through against man, and the TE on Tafisi is the check down mismatch. The RB #5 is running an outside release fade to run Cook out of the picture, and #15 runs a flattened out crosser to make sure that he stays under Turner, who inexplicably starts dropping back at the snap after starting 20 yards deep on a 2nd & 15 play. This essentially widens the passing window for the crosser, and its and easy pitch and catch for OSU.

This is almost an exact copy of the play that we ran on Bynum’s long TD reception in the first quarter (motion, nub formation, crosser, etc.), and our defense got burned for almost all the same reasons. The difference here is that our defense was a whole lot closer to getting the pressure than OSU was. If it wasn’t for an uncalled holding penalty on the LG who lasso’d Ulofoshio coming on the blitz, we would’ve certainly got the sack on Nolan. Other than Turner’s depth, this was a pretty good call and design that got a bad break.


2nd and 2:

If the big pass play above was the back breaker, this was the dagger. On the same exact possession as the pass play, we give up this 27-yard rushing TD to tie up the game. Here, OSU runs an outside zone lead play out of 22 personnel in I-Tight against the 3-4 front that we had been so successful against outside zone in the earlier play we broke down.

The difference on this play between a stuff for no gain and this big TD is at the point of attack and our second level tackling. Both Tuli and Taki beat their blocks soundly at the snap, and both nearly make the tackle at the LOS. However, on this play, Tuitele lets his feet stop and he gets sealed in without much of a fight, thus opening a big lane for Colletto to lead Baylor through.


Ulofoshio had another chance at sealing the tackle, and he actually did his job of walling the play back inside towards the flow. Unfortunately both Cook and Turner whiffed on their open field tackles and Baylor was off to the races. This was a matter of technique and execution more than bad scheme. We might’ve been in a slightly better position to counter the lead block if we had an extra man in the box, but that wasn’t what killed the play. Had Taki been on the play side instead of Tuitele, the result of the play would’ve been a lot more favorable. The fact that neither of our safeties are very good at open field tackling is just what made the play go from bad to worse, and unfortunately there’s not a whole lot that can be done about that at this point of the season.


A week off to recruit (safeties that can tackle) and get better at football. UCLA comes to Seattle, and guess what folks, they can run the football all day long and have a very mobile QB.

Every conference game is winnable and losable; no one is emerging as a favorite in our eyes. OSU was plenty beatable, as will be every team going forward.

Keep supporting your Dawgs.