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The Saddest Film Room: What happened to the defense?


NCAA Football: Louisiana State Spring Game Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

I have to expose the defense.

I had hoped I would never have to do this and put them on the spot like I’m about to. I didn’t have to do it last year. It was fun breaking down the defensive film last season. Watching this one hurt my soul. They were dominant for almost every snap in 2016. In this game, they were horrible.

One thing stood out when I watched the tape, MSU found their formation advantage and LSU didn’t adjust. When the Bulldogs went into trips, LSU had no answer for them.

I don’t want to sit here and question Dave Aranda because that man knows more about defense than I will ever know but some things just didn’t add up. When MSU went into trips, it took LSU’s “force” defender out of the picture on the strong side (the trips side) and MSU kept running there for big gains. There was no player there to force the runner back inside to the the chasing LSU linebackers and defensive line.

What ended up happening was that Donnie Alexander, who plays the Mack linebacker position, had to play the defacto force player on a lot of the runs to the outside, and he didn’t do a very good job. I’m not sure I would force my inside linebacker to be a force player, but because LSU so rarely tried to use their sam/nickel as the force player, Alexander had to do it.

The Bulldogs lined up in trips and ran outside to the trips side, often. Bill Connelly found this out when he charted the game here

Even with all-conference pass rusher Arden Key returning for LSU, MSU still boasted a size advantage and figured out how to use it. That frequently meant pulling a guard to take on either an end or OLB on the right side, and it created an opportunity for Williams.

I charted the first three quarters or so of this game (I stopped when MSU went up 37-7). On rushes I categorized as off right tackle, MSU carried 11 times for 125 yards and a 64 percent success rate. Four of those rushes went for at least 18 yards. Williams’ ability to make quick cuts, combined with MSU’s ability to clog up LSU’s vision with big bodies, created a lot of success. These 11 right-tackle plays accounted for only 30 percent of the rushing plays I charted, but 52 percent of the yards.

Everyone wants to talk about how young the defense and it really shows up on film.

Here’s every Trips formation run until the game got out of hand:

This is the first play of the game for MSU and it’s already started. This play is probably the one that bothered me the most too. LSU looks like they are in some sort of Cover 1. John Battle (26) or Kary Vincent (15) are the 2 possible force defenders, but both are in man coverage and don’t react quickly enough. This leaves the running back to deal with Donnie Alexander (48) and the pulling guard for Devin White (40) and no one else. Alexander probably has to understand this and take on the lead block with outside leverage but he doesn’t and Fitzgerald has a big gain. The other issue with this run is the where the alley player is. The alley player is generally a safety who comes down hill inside the force player to clean anything up. With the safety, Grant Delpit (9), rotating from the weakside hash to the middle of the field on the snap, he’s deep and doesn’t react in time. He only shows up on your screen when Fitzgerald is already tackled.

LSU is in the same coverage and again there’s no force player, so when Alexander gets sucked into the counter action, he can’t keep outside leverage on the pulling guard and there’s no one to force the running back inside. White is also fooled by the counter (he should see the guard pulling though) so he’s out of the play and then Battle, at safety, takes a bad angle as the alley player so the running back is free to scoot upfield for a big gain.

Finally, Alexander plays with outside leverage and forces Fitzgerald back inside the block of his running back. Devin White gets eaten up by the cut block but, at least, because the play didn’t bounce outside, Greg Gilmore (99) can come off his block and make a play.

LSU gets out of trouble a little bit here as Fitzgerald probably makes the wrong read on Christian LaCouture (18). LaCouture plays out so Fitzgerald should keep the ball, but Donnie Alexander fights outside and forces the play back to Devin White.

Based on pre-snap alignment, Xavier Lewis (17) is the force defender. He’s inside the nearest receiver and Greg Gilmore is lined up inside the tackle. The problem is that Lewis never reads pass or run and right on the snap turns to face the receiver. If Gilmore doesn’t make a great play penetrating and forcing the runner to cut inside of him, this is another big play to the outside.

The cool thing about this formation is that it kinda forces the defense to declare its intentions before the snap. LSU is keeping a cornerback Kevin Toliver (2) on top of the “nub” tight end instead of bringing a bigger safety over there and putting Toliver on the strong side. This means, a run to the weakside is going to make Toliver be an immediate run defender which, as you can see, he does not do well. There’s no reason for him to come anywhere near that pulling guard, but he does and then gets tripped up. Big play ensues.

Just like a couple plays ago, Lewis is the pre-snap force player as Gilmore is inside the tackle (and tight end). This time he’s actually coming downhill on the snap. This is good. He takes on the block of the running back. This is good. He doesn’t keep outside leverage. This is bad. If Fitzgerald has to cut back, Devin White is right there. Instead, he’s free to gain an easy six yards.

LSU ends up with two guys in the same gap when Fitzgerald reads Gilmore. Gilmore contains, giving Fitzgerald a give option. If Gilmore is outside, then Alexander has to be inside. This means when the running back cuts it back, there is a big lane.

When Devin White is free to make plays, he does things like this.

Arden Key (49) is a true linebacker on this play as he is outside the box. That means he has force if the run comes to him. He peaks inside as he throws the blocker off of him and now the cornerback has to come down and make a tackle on a running back — just what MSU wants.

Where. Is. The. Force. Player. Vincent is a pass defender EVEN THOUGH HE SEES RUN ACTION WHILE LOOKING INTO THE BACKFIELD. Delpit is late again in the alley. White gets fooled again by the counter action and MSU is off to the races.

And we finish with this:

Because it reminded me of this:

And that play still haunts me.


(Also that is a blatant offensive pass interference that went uncalled against Mississippi State)