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In Da Film Room: Dave Aranda’s Defense

Let’s take an intimate look at the concepts in Dave Aranda’s great defense

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

Baton Rouge was never going to be big enough for two bald-headed coordinators. It’s a cold world out there (especially if you don’t have hair) and one had to go. As the dust settled, it was the defensive bald man who will spend, minimum, one more year in Baton Rouge. That’s good news. He’s very good. I’m not sure he shouldn’t just be our next head coach, honestly. We’re going to get him for, at least, one more round in 2018 and I’m very excited

I’m going to try to do a deep enough dive on the concepts that Aranda runs as part of his defense using the 2017 film.

Aranda has a few different personnel packages that he runs with but the most common ones are his “base” and “peso” packages. Base puts three bigger defensive linemen in the game along with the bench linebacker who, with Aranda having Arden Key the past two years has been more of a pass rusher (but that hasn’t stopped Aranda from using that position as a jack of all trades). Key, when healthy, was a dominant rusher, but an underrated run stopper and excellent in flat coverage.

The field ‘backer is opposite the bench. Dwayne Thomas played this role often in 2016 (watch the Alabama film, he’s great in that game) and Corey Thompson was the field backer in 2017. Two different types of players. Thompson was sturdier against the run, Thomas better in space. The inside linebackers are the Mac and Rover. 2016 gave us Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith while 2017 showed off Devin White and Donnie Alexander/Tyler Taylor.

In “peso” a defensive linemen comes off the field and is replaced by a 5th defensive back. It makes the defense more of a 4 man front with some more speed. Technically, the defensive lineman going off is a nose tackle but with defensive line rotations I’m not sure it’s set in stone.

As Aranda said to Ross Dellenger in The Advocate a few weeks back, he wants to play more “peso” in 2018. Should be able to afford to do that with Ed Alexander and Rashard Lawrence clogging up the middle.

Within “base” Aranda will run his “tite” front about 99 percent of the time. It might even be 100 because I haven’t come across anything else but “tite” but I want to be sure. Tite is basically the future of football.

The nose is playing in a 0 tech which is head up on the center and has a two-way rush unless he gets a directional call from one of the inside backers — that is to say, he goes right at the center and from there move into either A gap.

“Lou”, “ram”, “lion”, are some example that would tell him which gap to slant into. The ends are in 4 techniques shaded inside of the tackles. The whole idea is to clog up the middle and force the ball horizontally to speedier players. It also helps tremendously against RPO teams. Without an open B-gap, none of the linebackers need to step to their gap while worrying about slants routes behind their heads. And while there are other routes on RPOs, the most common ones will have trouble being completed against this type of defense. A lot of teams are running similar schemes against Air Raid/spread RPO teams, you will see this as a base defense a lot more in the coming years.

When it comes to run fits, I noticed LSU spill a lot in 2016 (basically force plays to the sideline/laterally and run them down) while in 2017 they boxxed plays (force the ball to stay inside and clog it up) but my source says that it depended on if there was a tight end or not, however I could not find clips of them spilling anything in 2017.

This is what boxxing looks like:

Full play:

This is what spilling looks like:

Overall, Aranda’s defense’s have been able to stop the run (sixth and 24th in rushing S&P+ the last two seasons) however they can be had in certain instances because he tells his weak-side linebacker to attack downhill to the play side aggressively. This can cause issues in two ways:

A) Getting caught up in the trenches with big offensive linemen:

Full play:

B) Over-committing to the play side and then having the running back cut it back:

Full play:

Felt like one of their issues this year was against screens. Here’s an example from the first play against Florida and another against Arkansas but you will also recall a big one against Auburn among some others.

Transitioning to pass coverage and this is where you see some really cool things. Aranda has two base coverages: Quarters and Cover-1. They work together with the personnel call and the front call.

The most common way he plays his base quarters is by calling “Tite 4”. This sends an inside backer as the fourth rusher (Devin White a lot) and he can call “Wizard 4” which sends the bench backer as the fourth rusher (Arden Key lol)

Tite 4:

Full play:

The corners are locked in man-to-man often in a press technique. The idea is to force low-percentage throws, like fades. Everyone else in coverage is playing a sort of match quarters. The flat players are generally spot dropping players. The flat players are either the field ‘backer plus the bench backer in Tite 4 and the field ‘backer plus an inside ‘backer in Wizard 4. The safeties match the No. 2 receiver if he goes vertical. The inside backers will match whoever becomes the No. 3 receiver after the pass distribution.

Side note: If Aranda only wants to send three rushers, he’ll just call “Tite 5” and only the three down defensive linemen will rush.

This is not an uncommon coverage in college football right now. Michigan State/Mark Dantonio probably the most often-used example of this, as does Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech group. Aranda is often playing to stop the run so the field backer and bench backer will “apex” the No. 2 receivers, this gives you a heavier box but gives the No. 2 receivers free releases right at your safety. It’s philosophical thing.

(apex means to split the difference between the slot receiver and the offensive tackle/tight end)

An interesting concept that Aranda employs in his quarters is what he calls “Fox the post”. As a safety if your No. 2 receiver has no threat to go vertical, you fall back to the opposite side and help your safety buddy over the top.

A great of example of this not happening is against Auburn. Delpit gets beat on a double move to the post while LSU was in Tite 4. If you recall after the game, the coaching staff blamed Eric Monroe for not doing his job.

Full play:

“Fox the post” is a great way to stop exactly this.

Aranda’s other base coverage is his Cover-1, which he calls “Under 1” short for “Man Under-Cover 1”. He played man a ton this past year because if you have the athletes you can play man.

The safeties will often line up showing a two-high, “4” look, before one of them will come down and cover the slot. They will also just line up with one deep man, cover all the receivers and just roll it.

The most interesting concept as part as their “under 1” defense is what Aranda calls “key”. This is how the inside linebackers and safeties will play the backfield receivers. The backers will banjo the deepest back (usually the tailback) and he will be picked up in man coverage. The backer on the right side picks him up if he goes right and vice versa.

Full play:

The safeties key on the upfield back, this is great against h-back offenses. The reason why Aranda leaves his backers on the smaller tailback and his safeties on the bigger h-back/fullback player is become he doesn’t want the safeties to be counted for in the blocking scheme. The safety will read the h-back and then fly up unaccounted for to make a tackle in the run game. Great against teams that run split motion with their h-back or use him as part of their power/counter scheme like Ole Miss.

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2017 marked a slight drop off in production from the defense. Losing a ton of NFL players from the 2016 (plus Key, for intents and purposes) made the drop inevitable. The buzz inside the building from what I’ve read is that this is finally the year where Aranda is going to be able to play all of his stuff because he’s been there for three years. I don’t actually know what that means but whatever: hope springs eternal in March.

Please Coach O don’t ever let Dave Aranda leave Baton Rouge.