Clemson’s Brent Venables’ Base Defense

By Cameron Soran

If you were to poll members of the college football cognesceti who the best non-head coach defensive coordinators are in the game right now, you’d see a fairly short list. They would include guys like Bud Foster, Don Brown, and Dave Aranda. But probably the name that would come up most often is Brent Venables, Clemson’s defensive coordinator since 2012.

Since taking up his post at Clemson, Venables’ defenses have ranked 34th, 12th, 1st, 6th, 6th, and 2nd in Bill Connelly’s Defensive S&P+ rankings. And he’s done that while losing about half of his starters every year – many to the NFL. This upcoming 2018 season will be the first several seasons where Venables returns nearly all of his key pieces on defense. So we’re going to be breaking down what I think will probably be the college football’s best defense in 2018.

An intriguing part of Venables base defense is that it is simultaneously complex yet straightforward. (I use the term base defense here to mean non- blitz calls.) He runs essentially five main split safety and nine main single-high play calls (and four of the single-high calls are essentially the same). So at first glance, Venables defense is relatively simple. But each individual play call is intricate and complex, particularly his split safety run fits. Venables schematic philosophy might be best summarized as, “depth over width.”

Perhaps equally interesting was that even though Venables has a reputation as a quarters coverage advocate, split safety coverages comprise only about half of his non-pressure calls. The other half: he’s in single high. Even in the spread-heavy ACC, Venables is dropping a defensive back into the box 50% of the time – and that’s only counting the plays where he isn’t bringing a blitz. Venables is a man firmly committed to stopping the run, and isn’t afraid put his guys in one-on-one coverage to do it.

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WR Play: The Art of Route Running

By Taylor Kolste

Clemson Head Football Coach, Dabo Swinney, once said that wide receiver was the worst coached position in all of football. This is because of how technical the position can be, yet how little coached some receivers are. Although route running isn’t the only component of WR Play, I believe it is the aspect that is most technical and should be coached the most. There is an art to route running, great receivers are intentional with their technique throughout the entirety of the route. This article will aim at creating a system for route running that will create a common language between coaches and players and help walk coaches and receivers through route running versus different defensive techniques. There are plenty of different terms out there for the techniques discussed in this article, but the important thing is that they are defined by the coach so that the players and coaches are operating under the same language.

We will breakdown route running into 4 phases:

  1. Stance
  2. Release/Start
  3. Stem
  4. Breakpoint

First of all, the receiver must understand the coverage and defender they are attacking. The receiver must always have a plan of attack that will be determined by the route and the defender that they are attacking. We will start by defining 5 different types of defenders:

  • Press
    • Quick-Jam
  • Soft-Press
  • Squat Defender
  • Off Defender
  • Bail Defender

Continue reading WR Play: The Art of Route Running

Nick Saban’s Alabama Pass Coverages

By Cameron Soran

Nick Saban’s success as defensively-minded head coach at Alabama is almost unparalleled. An official record of 218-62-1. Eleven SEC West titles. And, of course, six national championships. But perhaps what is equally impressive about his tenure at Alabama that his defenses have been consistently regarded as, if not the best, then at least top-5 in the country for ten straight seasons. It seems that no matter how many of players he loses to the draft or graduation, there is almost no drop off for the Alabama defense from one season to the next. And by all accounts, his defensive system has essentially remained unchanged during that time. So, I think it is a worthwhile measure to at least figure out what they are doing down in Tuscaloosa.

Before we begin, I want to make a few notes. First, I will not be covering every coverage or check Nick Saban has at his disposal in this article. For one thing, many of his individual coverage concepts are for highly specialized situations, such as calls for when the offense lines up with 3 wide receivers to one side and 1 tight end to the other. I may cover those at another time, but this article is intended about 90% of what you will see Alabama run on Saturdays. For another, Saban runs certain coverage checks depending on his game plan that will vary from week to week. Not being affiliated with – let alone a member of – Alabama’s defensive staff, there is simply no way for me to gain access to all of that information.

Next, I should define a few terms that I will be using when breaking down pass coverages.

First is the term Apex, which is the first underneath defender inside the cornerback. This can be the nickel, a linebacker, safety that has rotated down, etc. The point is that the Apex is generally responsible for the #2 receiver (second eligible receiver – TE or WR – from the outside in). I use the term Apex[1] because a lot of the same coverages will be the same regardless of who is playing the Apex position, whether it be a linebacker, safety, Star, or Money[2].

[1] I should acknowledge that many coaches use the term Alley for what I will be describing as Apex. The term Alley, however, confers a run fit responsibility that may or may not apply depending on the coverage called. This will lead to situations where the coach explains, for example, that the Alley player is force-contain and the safety is the Alley. To avoid this “Who’s On First?” type confusion, therefore, I will instead be calling this individual the Apex.

[2] Star is Saban’s term for the nickel player who will replace the Sam and align over the slot receiver. If there are two slot receivers, then the Star will align to the one on the wide side of the field in 2×2. Saban is big on word association, and since he’s replacing the Sam, his name starts with the same letter (i.e., “S”). The Money is Saban’s term for his dime player who will take one of the linebacker spots. The Money will align in a linebacker spot to the #4, which will be: (i) to the 3-man side in all 3×1 sets; (ii) to the tight end when offense is in a 2×2 set and 11 personnel; and (iii) to the boundary slot receiver when the offense is in a 2×2 set and 10 personnel. This means that unlike most linebacker-type roles, which tend to send the Mike to the strength of the offense, the Money will rotate to both the strong and weak sides: wherever the #4 is aligned.

Continue reading Nick Saban’s Alabama Pass Coverages

Bill Snyder’s Kansas State QB Run Game

By Taylor Kolste

The success that Bill Snyder has achieved at Kansas State is unparalleled in comparison to the work done by any other coach in the school’s history. In Coach Snyder’s 26 years as the head coach, Kansas State has accumulated a .656 Win Percentage and 19 bowl appearances compared to a .331 Win Percentage and 2 bowl appearances in the 80 seasons in which Bill Snyder was not the head coach. Although there are many other things that have contributed to their success, scheme is something they have excelled at that has contributed to some degree to their success.

Ever since Collin Klein became the starting quarterback for Kansas State in 2011, the QB run has been a staple of the Wildcat offense. Over the past 7 seasons, KSU’s quarterbacks have averaged 1012 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns per season.

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Chip Kelly’s Y-Cross Concept

By Taylor Kolste

Dating back to at least his early Oregon days, a Y-Cross concept known as “Saints” has been a staple of Chip Kelly’s offense. This was the #1 ran passing concept for both Oregon and the Eagles during Kelly’s tenure there. Here are the stats for “Saints” over Chip Kelly’s last 5 years in coaching: * Passer Rating is based on NFL calculation.

Oregon 2012: 45 for 58, 725 Passing Yards, 16 Touchdowns, 0 Interceptions, 158.3 Passer Rating

Eagles 2013-2015: 39 for 73, 801 Passing Yards, 5 Touchdowns, 2 Tnterceptions, 103.7 Passer Rating

49ers: 8 for 17, 177 Passing Yards, 1 Touchdown, 1 Interception, 84.7 Passer Rating

Here is a diagram of the “Saints” concept:


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Willie Fritz’s Georgia Southern Run Game

By Taylor Kolste

In 2014, Willie Fritz’s first year at Georgia Southern in addition to the Eagles’ first year at the FBS level, Georgia Southern was an offensive juggernaut running their way to a Sun Belt Conference championship. The Eagles had won 7 games at the FCS level the year prior before going 9-3 at the FBS level under Willie Fritz. Georgia Southern was first in the nation in rushing yards per game at 381.1, first in rushing yards per attempt at 7.1, first in rushing touchdowns at 55, and second in yards per play at 7.34. They accomplished this using a unique shotgun option run scheme featuring primarily inside zone and power-based schemes. While much of their blocking schemes differed from the veer schemes traditional flexbone offenses such as Navy or Georgia Tech have used, they still utilized the same option principles and series-based approach to play calling.

Note: This article will focus solely on their 2014 season.

Georgia Southern’s run game in 2014 utilized 5 blocking schemes: Inside Zone, Power/Counter, Speed Option, Load Option, and Draw/Lead Draw. Much of their run game revolved around their “bread and butter” play, the inside zone read. They could run the zone read as either a double or triple option play, and was the base play which helped set up the majority of the offense. They had multiple plays which were designed to look like a zone read option play, but were really just called gives to the running back. They were able to stretch the field horizontally with their option game, which helped create misdirection when running their constraint plays. This negated the need for them to use extensive RPOs since they could account for defenders with their option fakes.

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