Sure, defending no-huddle tempo offenses has its own set of challenges, but what about the demands a defensive coordinator places on his own unit when his offense is just as highly productive? We interviewed defensive coordinators that are coordinating behind some of the top offenses in the country—three from the top five at the FBS level alone—and asked them a range of questions from the protocol they use to measure their units success after each contest, which statistics are now important (considering total defense and scoring defense are no longer relative) and what they are now doing in practice against their own offenses to prepare their units for the rigors of playing behind these tempo teams. Read here.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
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Defending up-tempo offenses can be difficult enough and because many systems have now transitioned into no-huddle operations, defensive coordinators are getting plenty of practice in defending them. After all, they see it in practice every day. But we wanted to research what lasting effect these up-tempo systems are having on their own corresponding defenses. While most coaches will argue a defensive system must match the offense’s system, we were curious to find how these coordinators were now gauging their units. How they assess them? What is considered productive? How are they evaluating themselves as coordinators? Below is the list of contributors to our study and some notes about the offenses they are coordinating behind.
Contributors (In Alphabetical Order)
Phillip Bennett (PB), Baylor University, Defensive Coordinator: Baylor’s offense finished 1st in the FBS with 48.1 points per game and 86 total touchdowns.
Ray DeFrisco (RD), Illinois College, Defensive Coordinator: Illinois College’s offense finished 10th at the Division 3 level, averaging 506 yards per game.
Josh Edwards (JE), Loras College, Defensive Coordinator: Loras College’s offense finished 9th at the Division 3 level, averaging 507 yards per game.
Jeffery Girsch (JG), Angelo State University, Defensive Coordinator: Angelo State’s offense finished 1st at the Division 2 level with 560.4 yards per game.
Nick Holt (NH), Western Kentucky University, Defensive Coordinator: The Hilltoppers offense finished 3rd in the FBS with 44.3 points per game and scored 82 touchdowns.
Mike Stoops (MS), University of Oklahoma, Defensive Coordinator: Oklahoma’s offense finished 4th in the FBS with 43.5 points per game, scoring 73 touchdowns.
Once we rounded up our contributors, we asked them the following questions:
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in playing behind these offenses? Please be specific.
- Have you changed your philosophy on how many sub packages to carry or put a quota on how many players you need to play each game? If so, how?
- What is something you’ve done in practice during the week to help your unit prepare for the rigors of playing behind these offenses?
- In our opinion, what is the most important defensive stat for your unit each week (points per play, red zone efficiency, etc.)? What is the least important? Explain why.
- What protocol do you use to judge your unit after each contest?
- How do you help change the mindset of an offensive minded team?
Their responses are below:
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in playing behind these offenses? Please be specific.
PB: “The number one thing is you’re going to play a ton more possessions than you’ve ever played before. We have played more possessions on defense than any team in the country the last five years. We play around 16-18 possessions each game.”
RD: “The biggest challenge I have encountered in playing behind up-tempo offenses is the shortness of adjustments between series. That being said the coaches on the headsets have to be in sync to distribute any and all adjustments.”
JE: “Making adjustments on the sidelines. I don’t see many 6-8 minute drives anymore, so my coaching staff and I have had to adjust how we see things and communicate with each other and with the kids on Saturday. Each of my coaches has a certain thing they are responsible to watch for, either from the opponent or from our kids. This helps make sure that things are not being missed and that we can coach up our kids.”
JG: “The biggest challenge is the number of plays that you have to be prepared to play each week. In our case, our offense would score at a very fast rate. This is obviously a good problem, but will test your conditioning and depth as a defensive unit.”
NH: “One of the big factors is that our possessions on offense are not very long so consequently we end up playing a lot of snaps. They score so quickly but many times there is no ball control and no conscience of clock management. Sometimes the negative is you’re playing a lot of snaps on defense and the offenses that you go up against are trying to be high powered also because they want to keep pace with our offense. Secondly, on defense you have to be conscience that your offense is high scoring so we need to not give up the big play. These offenses have to work hard. I’ve gone full scale. I used to be a very aggressive defensive play caller but when you’re scoring a lot of points on offense just hold back the pressure and play sound defense to eliminate the big play.”
MS: “The biggest challenge is getting the call in quickly and getting it communicated where everyone is on the same page. When the play is over, you have to be able to get everyone lined up and get the call in. The other item for us is signaling. We hated signaling because to give everyone on defense a chance to look at the call you had to hold that signal for a significant amount of time. I felt people were stealing our signals when that happened. We changed it to the way the offense does it by using cards. Everything is put up on a card and everything means something different. Basically we teach our players sign language and we do that throughout the course of the year or week. We change our cards each week by changing what each block means. We can change the cards every quarters if we have to, but luckily we have enough graduate assistants and quality control people to get it done so it isn’t too cumbersome.”
The Full Interview…
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- Why points per possession have become the most important stat these DCs are using to assess their units and what number they see as efficient.
- What measurables these DCs are using when it comes to defending first down, red zone and third down conversions, three of the most important stats they emphasize.
- Why Coach Bennett feels that if you don’t zero blitz “you’re crazy.”
- Why Coach Edwards rotates his subs similar to a basketball operation, so that his “goods” are fresh in the fourth quarter when his offense scores the most points.
- How Coach Stoops limits his play packages into 8-10 base calls each week.
- The system Coach DeFrisco uses to chart his unit’s reps during the course of a practice week, which is similar to a pitchers pitch count.
- How Coach Girsch is able to get numerous reps at a specific play or blocking scheme by using the “pod” system in practice.
- What Coach Holt says is the best thing he is doing in practice to get his unit to react and get aligned quickly to offensive formation structures.
- The protocols Coach Stoops uses to assess his unit when he’s played 10 teams in the top 20 offensively last season.
- How these coaches are continually trying to shape the mindset of a defensive culture, despite being associated as an “offensive program.”
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Our intent with this study is to give some coaches an idea of how they can assess their own systems. We wanted to provide some defensive coordinators with a little bit of “perspective” as they prepare to defend these up-tempo, no huddle operations this fall.