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Film Room: Playin’ Chess

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Dave Aranda vs Phil Longo: Round 2

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

In this edition of the film room we continue our trek to the darkside. Years ago, in this space, we put on our rose colored glasses to write meaningfully about the LSU passing attack. The year of our lord and savior Brandon Harris has passed. So to has the year of handsome quarterback Danny Etling. Joe Burrow’s year has started not with a bang but with a whimper.

Times have changed. This is not a safe space anymore. We talk defense here. We talk the darkside.

Ole Miss arrives in Baton Rouge Saturday night way past my bedtime, but I’ll make an exception to stay up to watch the Wizard Dave Aranda play chess with the Modern Man Phil Longo.

This is as exciting a matchup between coordinators as you can have. Longo’s offense brings all the tenets of the modern day spread with gap schemes, RPOs and a ton of deep shots.

Let’s recap last year’s battle of wits:

Aranda decided his best option was to play a lot of man coverage with 1 high safety against Ole Miss. This is your classic way of dealing with RPO’s. Let the linebackers do their thing in the box and the coverage guys deal with all the pass options. Instead of playing his famous “Tite 4” front and coverage, Aranda went to Oxford with his “Under 1” defense.

With Ole Miss running a ton of counter and power schemes with a fullback/h-back/sniffer, the odd “tite” front might not have been the best choice for his defense. The “under” front gives Aranda 4 down lineman.

With the amount of post snap motion by Ole Miss’ fullback, Aranda needed an answer to not get out leveraged to wherever the fullback went. Aranda’s answer is to use a “key” technique by his 2 safeties. Between them, one of them will be the cover 1 post player and the other will screw down and fit into the run game scheme. It’s fascinating.

I’ve diagrammed “key” in this thread here:

In the 2017 game, LSU did a good job limiting the Ole Miss offense to an overall 42% success rate throughout the game. They clamped down on Ole Miss’ passing game but Ole Miss had a little more success on the ground.

Specifically, there were issues against Mississippi's GT counter scheme.

The 2018 version of the Ole Miss offense features a ton of the same concepts and so far, minus one game against Alabama, they have been as explosive as ever. They currently sit 4th in overall Offensive S&P+. They’re 1st in explosiveness, 9th in finishing drives and 23rd in success rate. They are in the business of creating big plays. Where they struggle is on 3rd down. They’re 72nd in 3rd and long success rate and 109th in 3rd and medium success rate. So how do you force them into longer third downs? You make them run the football. They don’t run the ball efficiently at all and they sit 95th in rushing marginal efficiency.

Because of all their post snap and pre snap RPO’s, you can dictate how often Ole Miss runs the football.

The first step is to take away their pre snap “gift” throws.

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu sees the off coverage by the Texas Tech cornerback and throws the easiest completion of his life. Whether Aranda ends up playing his tite 4 or under 1 defense, his cornerbacks take this throw away because they press the sh*t out of you every play. This gets rid of their hitch game and their receiver screen game.

Next, they are going to run their post snap RPOs. On this play, they have a running scheme called with a quick out concept to the 2 receiver side. If the defender inside the out routes commits inside, Ta’amu can throw this.

With the Sam linebacker blitzing, Ta’amu pulls the ball and throws a completion. Texas Tech gave up this play but had an answer later in the game:

Post snap, TTU flips the picture and traps the flat route with the corner. Ta’amu pulls the ball but then has no place to go with it.

The problem is that you can’t take away everything. This RPO slant to the same side of the running scheme is disgusting and unfair.

It’s so incredibly hard for the linebackers to stay in the slant window when they have to fit fast on the frontside of a run, especially a gap scheme run where they have to meet pulling linemen at the line of scrimmage.

They also run the classic slant away from the run scheme. When the backside linebacker triggers for the run, the slant window becomes open

When they run the ball, the GT counter and power plays are back. Luckily for us, if Aranda does wanna go back to his tite front, Texas Tech showed us what that might look like against Ole Miss’ counter scheme:

It seems like this play is their most common run scheme. They’ve added some wrinkles to it like this pretty cool one. Here they read the end and then the fullback who was lined up in pistol arc releases to lead block for the quarterback:

They’ll use the fullback to split across the formation and follow the guard to run different types of counters.

Off their run stuff, they have run a lot of play action. I’d expect some routes over the middle from the fullback like this:

They also run some deeper stuff like they tried on this awful Ta’amu interception:

Ta’amu should be reading this inside out, the seam to the fade, instead it looks like he’s reading the fade to the seam so the safety just reads his eyes and makes an easy play.

This team also throws the ball down the field all the damn time. Seems like they run go routes every other play. They also hit them often.

Both of those, of course, off play action.

This is such a battle of wits between two really good coordinators. Aranda shut down Ole Miss by playing a lot of man coverage so the response will be for Longo to develop some man beating RPOs like picks, rubs and things of that nature. Does LSU switch it up and play more quarters from their tite front to stay ahead of the curve? I think they’ll stay in Under 1 and see how it plays out early. The “key” technique dealt with all the fullback motion but Longo could counter that by keeping the fullback on the backside of runs so LSU fits away from the flow. Last year, Battle and Delpit came down to the side of the run unaccounted for. Longo could also run some return motion to confuse which safety will come down.

This is going to be a fun one. The key is going to be for LSU to hold Ole Miss’ running game in check (something they had a bit more trouble with last year, especially fitting up against their gap schemes) and force Ta’amu to beat them on 3rd down.