The Bay and the Bayou: Justin Wilcox and Dave Aranda’s Defenses

By: Cameron Soran

The Core of the Justin Wilcox and Dave Aranda Defenses

Both Dave Aranda and Justin Wilcox run a lot of the same plays.  This should come as no great surprise to anyone who viewed the transition from Aranda to Wilcox at Wisconsin in 2016.  But are these common elements really all that effective? I will let the advanced stats speak for themselves.

LSU – Before Aranda

2015 – LSU Defense – 34th in Defensive S&P+, 48th in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 11th in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 31st in Defensive FEI

LSU – Aranda’s tenure as Defensive Coordinator

2016 – LSU Defense – 2nd in Defensive S&P+, 2nd in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 3rd in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 4th in Defensive FEI

2017 – LSU Defense – 8th in Defensive S&P+, 24th in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 33rd in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 34th in Defensive FEI

2018 – LSU Defense – 5th in Defensive S&P+, 32nd in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 2nd in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 8th in Defensive FEI

Cal – Before Wilcox

  • 2016 – California Defense – 107th in Defensive S&P+, 120th in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 84th in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 117th in Defensive FEI

Cal – Wilcox’s tenure as HC

2017 – California Defense – 82nd in Defensive S&P+, 64th in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 58th in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 63rd in Defensive FEI

2018 – California Defense – 13th in Defensive S&P+, 29th in Defensive Rushing S&P+, 10th in Defensive Passing S&P+, and 15th in Defensive FEI

Who’s Defense?

I think it is important to briefly state that what I will be covering in this article.  Namely, just the schemes that these two men have in common. That should not be mistaken, however, for the entirety of either Cal’s or LSU’s defenses in 2018 (or, in several cases, 2017).  Both coaches have numerous elements that are unique and not shared by the other: not simply in terms of plays, but also what tags they have available. Our focus here is just on those schemes that both guys use.  

(For those interested in how both came to use many of the same plays, I will cover that briefly at the end of the article as an addendum.)

So what kind of defense is it?  3-4? 3-3-5? 2-4-5?  Well, it is all of those and more.  The defining feature of an Aranda or Wilcox defense is the absence of fixed position players.  Nearly everyone is expected to play a hybrid of responsibilities, whether it be stopping the run, rushing the passer, or dropping into coverage.

The modern spread offense is essentially built around the premise of attacking negative space in the defense – the areas where no defender is present.  (Think, for example, of the open B-Gap as the focal point of many spread-to-run offenses.) When defender positions are fixed, then the offense can focus their assault on the areas of the field they know will be unoccupied.  The slot receiver slant, for example, is premised on the idea that the defensive end will never drop into coverage to protect that throwing lane.

Well, what if the defense end can drop into coverage to protect that throwing lane?  What if all the defenders are versatile enough in their skill sets to protect potentially every area of negative space on a football field?  In answering this question that you begin to get a vision of what guys like Aranda and Wilcox are trying to do on Saturdays. They know they cannot defend all areas of negative space on every play, but in presenting the threat of such a possibility, they cause hesitation in the opposing offense.

And a hesitant offense rarely scores points.

Continue reading The Bay and the Bayou: Justin Wilcox and Dave Aranda’s Defenses

Book Preview: Breaking Down the 2018 Oklahoma Offense

I have released my book on the Oklahoma Sooners’ 2018 offense. You can buy it here. This preview contains an excerpt from the first chapter of the book which introduces the reader to the identity of the Sooners offensive scheme. This preview also contains an excerpt from a later chapter in the book going over one of the Sooners’ top passing concepts. This should give great insight into the overall structure of the rest of the book.

While the book was written in a way in which video isn’t necessary, it will be available. Every diagram in the book will include a label that corresponds to a film clip that readers can find on this site once the book is released. For the purpose of this article, the videos have been inserted below the diagrams.

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Two-Point Study

By Noah Riley

In the 2017 NFL season, there were 96 two-point conversion attempts, many of those coming in key situations which decided the outcome of the game. There were also several 3rd/4th and goal plays that had a critical impacts on the outcome of games. In the past two super bowls alone, there were four 2-point conversions attempted. Without converting on both of their attempts in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots don’t beat the Falcons. In that same game, the game winning touchdown was on the 3rd 2-point play the Patriots had in their game plan. Also, the famous “Philly special” that helped the Eagles win last year’s Super Bowl was run on 4th and goal (which is a similar situation to a 2 point play). Since many games are won and lost on 2-point conversion type plays, it is important for a coach to have a great plan to convert. 

Using NFL Game Pass, I was able to view all 506 2-point conversion attempts from the past 7 seasons. I then labeled each play 3 different ways (run/pass, play-type, and exact play), and kept track of whether or not the play converted. Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 3.20.50 PM.png

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Patriot’s Juke Series

By Noah Riley

The three ingredients to a well designed pass play are space, match-ups and leverage. The Patriots Juke series contains all three of these elements. It is designed to create space for a quick slot receiver to work off the leverage of a slower linebacker. It has become a staple of the Patriots offense, and has yielded great results. In the season I cut up (2014), when the Patriots ran the Juke series, they went 34/42 (81%) for 304 yards (7.2 yard average).

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Slot receiver Julian Edelman has plenty of space to work against a middle linebacker (#51)

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Baylor’s Vertical Passing Game

By Noah Riley

From Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence and Bryce Petty, it seems as though every QB to go through Art Briles’ system has produced outrageous video game-like numbers, particularly through the vertical passing game. For 4 years (2011-2014) Baylor didn’t drop outside the top 5 in passing yards. Yes, a large part of that success is due to the sheer-talent they had on the perimeter in players such as Kendall Wright and Corey Coleman, but they also utilized an extremely unique scheme to isolate and expose those match-ups in order to create possibly the most explosive passing game in the history of college football.

The average QBR of Briles QB’s is 165.5, which would be the fifth highest passer rating of 2017 QB’s.

Avg QBR of Briles QB’s is 165.5, would be the fifth best QBR of 2017 QB’s.Tulsa and Missouri are currently teams that have employed ex Baylor assistants and use the Baylor style passing game. Both Drew Lock (Missouri), and Dane Evans (Tulsa) went from having mediocre numbers in traditional offenses to outstanding numbers in the Briles system.

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Continue reading Baylor’s Vertical Passing Game