Florida State’s Favorite Run Blitzes
As most of you know already, I’m working on my next book, this time looking at Gus Malzahn’s offense, not just this past year, but over the past few seasons.
In going back and watching FSU-Auburn while researching the new book, I came away with about twenty pages of notes, and I wanted to share a few things that I found really interesting. One factor that stood out was the use of blitzing to contain the Auburn run game.
Often times defensive coordinators who regularly bring pressure from the corner and/or safety position are referred to as “gamblers” or “trigger-happy” by the guys on TV and on the radio. Bringing the corner as an extra rusher is viewed as a gimmick, a change-up, or a the work of a mad-scientist, another term the media likes to throw around way too much.
In reality, the defense deployed by Seminoles defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia) during the game forced the Tigers to play in a phone booth by eliminating anything on the perimeter and taking away a large portion of Gus Malzahn’s call sheet.
A big part of that was the use of run blitzes that involved the corners and plugged up all the holes in a hurry. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.
Boundary Pressure #1
In the first diagram, we see the defense aligned in an odd front. It’s worth noting that Florida State is primarily a four-down team, so whenever they showed an odd look, it was a reliable indicator that pressure was going to be coming from somewhere.
After the pressure comes from the boundary and the defensive linemen slant into their proper gaps, the responsibilities are essentially the same as a four-down under front, with a shade to the strong side of the center and a three and five technique to the weak side.
The defense brought this blitz a few times on run downs and effectively shut down the zone read game with it. The defensive line slants away from the blitz, and they’ve got players for the dive and the QB. If Marshall, the Auburn QB, does decide to pull it, he’s got a corner looking him right in the face. In this situation, it’s basically an automatic hand off, since the offense would rather take their chances inside where they have blockers in front of Trey Mason, the tailback, than have their QB earholed in the backfield for a loss.
The corner shows the blitz late, just before the snap, and the free safety is in position to play the receiver to that side man-to-man. He’s already lined up outside the hash prior to the snap, which should tip off the QB that a corner blitz is possible. This also gets the FS close to the line of scrimmage as an extra run player in case the offense breaks contain to that side.
This is a perfect example of the defense picking their poison and dictating who they wanted to carry the ball. Auburn’s offensive line was very talented, and the offense was still able to move the ball during the game, but it was in small spurts instead of the big chunks the Tigers had been used to.
Boundary Pressure #2
In this example, the Tigers line up in an empty set with Tre Mason lined up in the slot to the boundary and proceed to motion him to the backfield. They had already done this a couple of times in the game before this play, and had run the ball hoping to catch the defense off guard and with a numbers advantage inside.
This time the corner and Will backer bring the pressure from the boundary, once again providing a player to defend the give and another for the keep.
Throughout the game, FSU employed a type of 4-2-5 defense, and in this instance they had three men lined up at the safety spot. Once the corner blitzed, the nickel came down to play the flat, hoping for an easy pick if the QB decided to dump it off on a hot route. The free safety goes over the top of the receiver to that side and doubles him with a Cover 2 look to the boundary.
In this instance the Tigers decide to throw the ball, and Mason stays into block, but if he had flared out, the corner to his side probably would’ve kept the blitz on, since the nickel defender is sitting right there in the flat, and a quick throw to the tailback on a flare would be a short gain or possibly a short loss.
The defense plays Cover 4 to the field and the linebackers do their best to get out and cover their assigned areas.
The great players FSU has on defense allows them to get five rushers after the QB and still stay sound against the pass.
Finally we’ve got a field pressure from a 3×1 set. The positives for the offense here are that the formation allows them to see the pressure a little earlier, and the defense has to cover more ground making it tougher to disguise their intentions.
The defense brings the nickel corner and the Sam linebacker and plays a hard Cover 2 zone behind it, shutting down anything to the outside like the bubble or a perimeter run.
The Mike linebacker’s speed allows him to line up just about anywhere and still make it to his assigned hook zone in the middle of the field.
With pressure in his face, the QB doesn’t have time to throw the bubble, and even if he did, it’s not going anywhere. The corner pressed to that side will make it tough to maneuver, and the Mike and Strong Safety will get there in a hurry.
The interesting thing about this is that the offense starts out in the pistol before quickly motioning to an offset backfield. No matter where that back ends up, the defense will have guys there ready to make a play. If he lines up to the field, the field pressure takes care of any zone read or option stuff to that side. If he lines up to the boundary, the slanting will force a hand off up the middle for a minimal gain.
It’s important to remember that Florida State can do all of this stuff because of the talent found in their defensive line. When the defensive coordinator is confident that his guys on the line won’t lose contain, he can be a lot more aggressive with his playcalling, and that’s exactly what happened during the national championship game.
Auburn didn’t do much on the perimeter all night, and it had a lot to do with a dangerous mix of scheme, hustle, and talent.
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