Football is a game of conflict, answers, and answers to answers. In order to get the better of your opponent, you have to be able to put them in a situation where they are always wrong. Defenses are always wrong against Georgia.
Georgia has two tight ends who are threats in both the blocking scheme and the route concept. With versatile players like Bowers and Washington, Georgia’s offense can oscillate between being spread out and attacking in the dropback game, and being condensed and attacking with the run and heavy play-action. They can do this without substituting. On defense, you match the opponent’s personnel grouping with your own. When an offense is in 11 (1 back 1 TE 3 WR) personnel, you tend to yell “NICKEL NICKEL NICKEL” on the sideline and get your nickel package onto the field. When a team is in 12 personnel (1 back 2 TE 2 WR), you tend to answer with base personnel, as 12 personnel is a heavy grouping, suited for condensed looks and the run. In response, the defense will often want to make sure it answers with big bodies of its own to make sure it can match up in the run game. The problem is that Georgia’s TEs, particularly Brock Bowers, are extremely skilled in space and can line up at every WR position. As a result, they can be in 12 personnel but create 11 or even 10 personnel looks and route distributions. In short, they will field the personnel grouping of a team trying to get heavy and run the football, while being able to execute a full retinue of spread concepts. It’s too late to substitute once they get to the line, so they can toy with your personnel grouping. If you’re in base, they can spread you out and throw it all over the yard because you’re too heavy and lack coverage bodies, if you’re in nickel to avoid that, you’re too light and lack run-fit bodies, so they can tighten up and run it down your throat. Within this, they’ll use an array of formations to manipulate defensive structures to create the looks and matchups they want. Georgia always makes you wrong.
For LSU, their struggles against the run this year, and desire to get Harold Perkins on the field, required that they answer 12 personnel with their base 3-4-4 grouping. The result was the creation of poor matchups and favorable looks for Georgia’s passing game, and an explosive day for Todd Monken’s unit.
When you only have 4 DBs on the field, there’s a good chance you will have to match a tight end with a linebacker, which is favorable when the tight end is a talented receiver like Darnell Washington.
Here, Georgia comes out with both TEs in the core, creating a heavy, condensed look. LSU has to honor that and load the box, which creates a favorable look for what ends up being a 4 man, spread-out pass concept. The down safety is unable to get depth to match the post from the Z due to his alignment. With the post safety doing a poor job, it’s an easy pitch and catch. It’s very difficult for a defense to honor spread things from condensed alignments.
They’ll also manipulate the location of DBs with alignments. Georgia gets into empty in a 3x2 formation into boundary (FIB) look with both TEs to the boundary. LSU puts the down safety to the passing strength and since they’re in base and don’t have a 5th DB on the field, Harold Perkins ends up on a slot receiver in space to the field. The alternative is having 2 linebackers into the boundary with Bowers and Washington, two skilled pass catchers in space, out wide. Neither option is good.
Condensed, 2 TE alignments will also create really favorable looks for your play-action shot plays, like Kyle Shanahan’s HEAT. Most play-action shots are geared toward punishing loaded boxes and heavy defensive personnel packages, so the use of two tight ends in condensed alignments will give you these looks since teams have to honor the run with 7 big bodies in the core. LSU gives them a single high look (again, in base), which is a very juicy play-action look for an offense.
As an aside from the broader point, HEAT is great because it presents initially like a post/over concept, which defenses will often answer by making an “over” call from the CB. This tells the safety to drive on the deep over, and the CB to the side it comes from to replace him in the deep middle to cut off the post. What heat does is present that look and have the over route sit down or break back out against man, which messes with your rules defensively. LSU does that here, which opens up the Miami route. I think this is the best shot play in football, and everyone should carry it.
Fundamentally, 12 personnel is a run-friendly grouping for the offense, and Georgia will use their big bodies to create extra gaps in these tight bunches, and run duo. Brock Bowers, their best pass catcher (who also weighs 230+ pounds), destroys an All-SEC linebacker at the point of attack. If you want to answer what they do from 12 in the spread passing game with more coverage bodies and get into nickel, they can simply align in or motion into stuff like this and make those coverage bodies match up with bigger bodies in the run fit. LSU doesn’t do that here, they’re still in base, but it’s a great demonstration of why you get into trouble if you want to try to lighten up. Watch Washington (270+) pin down the DE as well, you do not want DBs fitting the run in tight spaces with these guys.
Here is an example of what this can do to you in series, and the diversity of what they make you defend, in sequence, from the same defensive personnel package. On the first play, they’re condensed in alignment and hit a pop pass off of PA. The very next play on this drive, with tempo, and from the same 12 personnel grouping, they take a page from Josh Heupel’s book, get into 4 wide with ultra-spread alignments outside the numbers, and hit a bender in the seam from the slot. Look at how much space Greg Penn, a linebacker, is asked to defend. In addition, he’s asked to relate to the route of a target that is far more skilled in space than any linebacker could be asked to be. Defending a play like this from base is something no DC would want to do, but Georgia forces you into it, again, by using the same personnel grouping they get heavy and run the ball from. Even without tempo, you are prevented from substituting because you don’t know if they’ll be tightened up to run the ball or spread out because THEY don’t have to substitute to go between the two.