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BSD Film Room: App State Defense

BSD Film Room

The foosball was a simple game 40 years ago. Every team did the same thing, more or less. You put on your big boy pads and helmet. You lined up in a base offense/defense. And then you and your opponent bludgeoned each other until one of you fell unconscious. Whoever dropped first, lost.

Take a look back at a few of the old Big Ten or Big 8 game scores from the 1970s. You’ll see scores such as Oklahoma 900, Iowa State 0. Iowa State would line up in the same formations, running the same schemes as Oklahoma - and they’d get beaten to death, because the Cyclones didn’t have half of the cavemen that OU did.

Ah, simpler times, friends.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Somewhere in the 1990s, the smaller, weaker, slower teams introduced a concept called “brains”. As the story goes, one brave fool - no one knows his name - volunteered a revolutionary idea at a coaches meeting. “What if we don’t stand in front of Goliath and let him punch us in the face? What if we instead trick him, and/or move out of the way?”

That was how it all began - with a simple question. Naturally, the guy who asked it was beaten with clubs and tossed to hyenas outside the cave for having asked such a sissified question. And so was the 2nd, 3rd, and 50th person to suggest change. But, eventually - perhaps as early as 2000 - the concept took form off of the cave wall and onto the field.

Today, thanks to “brains”, (almost) anyone can beat (almost) everyone, because (almost) no one will stand still and let a larger, stronger guy beat him senseless anymore. Sun Belt co-champs Appalachian State, our Beaver Stadium visitor in just 10 days, exemplifies this notion on defense.

Kill The Lights

Toledo faces a 2nd and 8 in the shot below. App State counters with its “base” 3-4 defense, as shown inside the yellow box - 3 down linemen, and 4 linebackers.

For most teams, and for Toledo in particular, a 2nd and 8 is a passing situation. App State’s defensive coordinator knows this, and sends a 5-man blitz. Of course, as diagrammed below, it’s not so simple as rushing 5 guys straight at 5 offensive linemen. The Mountaineers will run two “games” up front. First, they’ll smash their NT into the right guard, and loop their right DE into what should be a gap between the RG and RT (since the left DE will rush wide) if Toledo pass protects with a man-blocking scheme. Simultaneously, they’ll send their right OLB off the edge, and loop their right ILB around him on a delay. This will get some pressure, albeit a little late, off the edge should Toledo choose to pass protect with a zone/slide.

Toldeo runs zone protection, and slides the OL to the right. That manages to rub out the DL stunt on this snap. But it leaves a RB and an HB/TE to pick up the two blitzing linebackers off the QB’s blindside. Fortunately for Toledo on this snap, those two manage to pick up the blitz, and the QB gets rid of the ball quickly, completing a pass for a first down. But note that it’s a good thing the QB got rid of the ball quickly.

Below is a 3rd and 5. App State comes out in a 2 down linemen, 4 linebacker nickle package. The two OLBs show blitz at the line, but both are fakes - they’ll drop into the slant passing lanes. Instead, this blitz is actually just a 4-man “zone blitz”, schemed to get one-on-ones up the gut, through the A-gaps.

The two down lineman will rush wide, and get double-teamed by the OG and OT to each side. And that will leave both blitzing ILBs - the circled guy below coming on a delay - matched up solo, against the OC and the RB.

App State’s right ILB falls down, and the left ILB gets stuffed by the RB. Thus, Toldeo picks up the dreaded double-A gap blitz, made famous by Pittsburgh’s Dick LeBeau. PSU’s new center Michal Menet, and new tailback Miles Sanders, will likely need to do the same in order to keep Trace McSorley clean.

It’s never a great idea to get behind the sticks on offense with a false start. That’s particularly true against App State. In the shot below, the Mountaineers send 6 rushers at the Toldeo QB Logan Woodside.

App State picks on the Toldeo RG in this scheme. The 3 App State down linemen all slant right, one gap away from their pre-snap alignment. The left ILB occupies the Toledo left tackle, keeping contain whilst putting the right guard on an island by himself. Meanwhile, the right ILB and left OLB will shoot the A/B gap, hoping to get home.

Toledo’s right guard starts his pass set by dropping his right foot off the snap - in exactly the opposite direction that the slanting DE goes. Change of direction and lateral agility do not appear to be the Toledo RG’s strengths on this play. Consequently, the Toldeo QB throws up a prayer just as he gets leveled.

Here’s a close up of the action in the trenches.

Hit The Lights

Forty years ago, a team like App State would stand still and let bigger, stronger, faster PSU club them to death with a 4-lb masonry hammer. And PSU would keep swinging the hammer until there was nothing left but a puddle of goo. Our Lions would win 72 - 14, write App State’s athletic director a check for $250k plus burial costs, and move on to the next week, whilst we fans would return to the tailgate, or head downtown.

Those days are mostly long gone. Sure, maybe you can find a Georgia State to come in, hand you their blunt instrument of choice, and then lay down on the natural grass, awaiting death via bludgeoning. But they’re rare.

Without a doubt, that’s not Appalachian State. Defensively, the Mountaineers have a lot in common with 2016/17 Indiana - which should not conjure fond memories for fans of Dear Old State. Thus, while PSU’s offensive line has received a ton ‘o praise from the coaching staff this off season, the Mountaineers are going to put it to the test early. How Menet, Sanders, and new OC Ricky Rahne answer this challenge could go a long way in determining the Beaver Stadium crowd’s comfort.