One thing that really caused a lot of problems for the LSU offense last year is the complete ineffectiveness of the run game. Yes, running the ball is inherently less efficient than passing and is hard to do very effectively, but it’s still decently important if you want an effective RPO game (what happens if you get a give read after all?), and want to be able to punish teams for emptier boxes.
One thing defenses have gotten really really good at is slowing down the run while staying flexible and pass-conscious in their personnel allotments. In the past, if teams went to 2-high, that presented an open invitation for offenses to run the football, where they’d lean heavily on inside zone. No longer is it that simple. Recently, a defensive front structure known as the “tite front” has changed the equation. The tite should be familiar to LSU fans, as (deeply missed) former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is basically the President of the front. The basic idea, as you can see below, is to clog the middle and either just stuff the run or force teams to bounce out of structure.
There are two defensive ends and a nose tackle in this structure. The ends are known as 4i techniques, because they align to the inside shoulder of their opposite tackles. The nose tackle is a 0 technique, as he lines dead across from the center.
Inside zone has been the backbone of almost every team’s run game for the past decade plus. It’s easy to run and it’s a great way to account for defenders. Teams have done great work in the run game with it. The tite front, however, is designed to stop it. You can see in the clip above how the three lineman are able to collapse and suffocate the entire middle.
In this clip, you can see how the linebackers are perfectly positioned to handle any bounces or extended cut backs that occur from the back.
There’s one problem here: The LSU run game HEAVILY leans on inside zone.
In recent years, a lot of the more forward thinking, post-spread offenses like Oklahoma, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and company have found a bit of a solution: gap schemes, particularly counter and pin/pull. Counter in particular has enjoyed a massive revivification across college football, and is a go-to method of running on tite front teams. If LSU is going to effectively deal with the tite fronts they will face nearly every week, their run game is going to need a bit of a makeover.
Here is a textbook example of counter, this is known as GH counter, as the pullers are the guard and the H-back. The predominant method is GT, where you pull the guard and the tackle, but using an H-back in the scheme is an easy way a lot of teams are adding an extra blocker. You can see that the three interior D lineman are easily dealt with by the three lineman in GT counter or the four in GH. This allows the two pullers to wrap around and take care of any free defenders who are waiting on the perimeter to take bounces.
Another example of the same thing, if the defense brings a safety down into the run fit, it may behoove you to run GH counter as you may need the extra blocker to account for the +1 added to the fit. (Or you can just run play action off of it to kill them for taking a safety out of their downfield coverage, but this is about the run game).
Here, from the NFL and Patrick Graham’s New York Giant defense, you can see the kind of sequencing I’m trying to convey. In gif one, the Bucs run their normal inside zone while the Giants are in tite. The Giants two 4is and their 0-tech are able to collapse the middle and shut it down. In the second gif, the Bucs respond to the front by calling GT counter. The center blocks down to the backside 4i, the guard blocks down to the 0-tech, the frontside tackle takes the 4i in front of him, and the two pullers take the otherwise free linebackers. They also add Gronk to the frontside to take care of any safeties who may enter the fit, this is another way to deal with fitting safeties.
Having flexibility with your tight end alignment is a big help in GH counter or any concept with the H-back position as a featured blocker, as it can force coverage players into the thick of the run fit as well as forcing run defenders out wide into coverage. A simple motion from either out wide to the H-back spot or vice versa will cover it (Georgia is so galactically stupid to slim down and move Arik Gilbert to receiver full time it’s crazy). It’s a cool, simple way to steal a good matchup.
Counter isn’t the only way to attack these fronts, however, as Dave Aranda found out whenever he played Dan Mullen. Here, Mississippi State runs pin and pull with the running back as one of the “pullers.” Typically, the pullers are the center and a guard, both guards, the center and a tackle, center and an H-back, etc. The idea here is similar to counter, you pin the interior techniques in the interior and your pullers clean up the perimeter spill defenders.
Another way of dealing with this front is a cool scheme known as “dart.” Here, the center takes the 0 tech frontside tackle pins the frontside 4i in the interior (which is easy because that’s where his responsibility is), the frontside guard climbs to the second level to take the interior spill/cutback defender and the backside tackle pulls out front to take the perimeter spill defender.
This is just a minor sampling, there are plenty of gap schemes used to attack the tite front. LSU needs to look at a complete restructuring of their run game, and these are a few good places to start to effectively attack modern, current defensive fronts.