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Film Room: 4th Down Defense

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How the 2018 Tiger defense dominated on fourth down.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou made some memorable 4th down stops in 2018. The fourth quarter goal line stuff against Vanderbilt. The three times they shut the door on Benny Snell and his Kentucky teammates. While these instances came easily to mind, I wasn’t aware that last year’s Tigers were second in the nation in 4th down conversion percent defense—and first among Power 5 teams— making stops at a rate of 72% (18 of 25). Well, not until I looked it up.

In this installment of Film Room we analyze Mizzou’s 4th down defensive dominance, taking a careful look at several of the big stops the Tigers made against SEC opponents.

4th and 1 vs. Georgia

Georgia doesn’t hide their intentions to plow straight through the Mizzou defense, rolling out eight—eight!—offensive linemen in a power formation. Walters counters with some beef of his own in the form of three defensive tackles: Terry Beckner Jr (#5), Walter Palmore (#99), and Jordan Elliott (#95).

Sure enough, the Bulldogs run straight ahead, trying to isolate their massive lineman-turned-fullback on middle linebacker, Cale Garrett (#47).

Here’s the play diagrammed.

Key to the stop is Walter Palmore (#99). Palmore aligns head-up on the center and drives him into the backfield. Beckner Jr slips past an attempted double team and is the first to make contact with the back. Linebacker Terez Hall knifes off the edge and wraps up the ball carrier.

See Beckner Jr and Hall converge on the RB in the tight shots.

4th and Goal from the 1 vs. Vanderbilt

Before I revisited the film, I’m not sure I remembered how narrow the win over Vanderbilt was. This huge goal line stop kept the Tigers from going down by two scores in a game that came down to the final play.

The formation and play are almost identical to the Georgia play above.

Once again, Walters subs in an extra defensive tackle. (I can’t make out who joins Beckner Jr and Elliott on the inside. I’ve labelled him T in the diagram.)

This was truly a team effort. The left side of the Commodore line gets movement, but the rest of the Tiger defense squeezes the hole.

Jordan Elliott, lined up on the center, stands up his man and is able to catch the back in the hole. Hall reacts immediately to the scheme, jetting upfield and meeting the fullback at the line of scrimmage, constricting the RB’s path to the endzone.

The tight shot shows Elliott disengaging from the block to stop the Commodore RB’s momentum just short of the goal line.

4th and 1 vs. Alabama

The Crimson Tide set a Pro formation and offset fullback to the right. Walters keeps his base nickel personnel on the field. Ronnell Perkins (#3) is the nickelback, aligning on the TE’s outside shoulder.

The play is Inside Zone with the FB arcing around the edge, hunting for #18, safety Joshuah Bledsoe.

With the FB going outside, there is no one to block safety Tyree Gillespie (#9), who has cheated into the box at linebacker depth.

Garrett is cut-blocked to the ground by the center, but watch him scramble to his feet in time to sandwich the ball carrier with Gillespie at the line of scrimmage.

In the tight shot, notice the great effort by Palmore, ripping into his gap and bowling over the right guard in the process.

4th and 2 vs. Kentucky

In last year’s Kentucky game, Wildcat coach Mark Stoops was extremely aggressive on fourth down, rolling the dice three times. With the rugged Snell, who would be the school’s career rushing leader by season’s end at his disposal, Stoops’ hard-charging attitude seems justified. But Mizzou stuffed the Wildcats on all three fourth down chances.

The first attempt came on a 4th and 2 late in the first quarter. With quarterback Terry Wilson split to the right, Snell aligns in the Wildcat.

The play is a Power scheme, with the right guard pulling around for playside linebacker Cale Garrett.

Defensive tackle Rashad Brandon (#13) doesn’t make the tackle, but he makes the play. Brandon fights over the top of the right tackle’s block and into the path of the pulling guard. With no blocker to deal with, Garrett shoots into the backfield and tackles Snell short of the marker.

4th and 1 vs. Kentucky

Kentucky’s second 4th down attempt comes out of a more conventional set with Wilson in the backfield.

The blocking scheme, however, is again Power. And again, the backside guard is unable to find Garrett.

Palmore shoots his gap, preventing a cutback and forcing the guard to pull deeper than he intended. Garrett finds himself free and meets the back in the hole, followed shortly by his counterpart, Hall.

We can best see the subtle yet impactful effect Palmore has on the pulling guard in the tight shot.

4th and 1 vs. Kentucky (again)

Kentucky’s final 4th down attempt came with the Tigers backed up on their three yard line. Stoops goes back to the Wildcat. Curiously, this time it isn’t Snell receiving the snap.

Having learned that the Tiger short-yardage defense will punish the Power scheme, the Wildcats instead run Inside Zone. They push the blocking all the way to the playside linebacker, Brandon Lee (#4). This makes blocking the backside difficult. The backside tackle must search inside for Garrett, and the H back must cut off Beckner Jr, who is aligned inside the tackle.

Beckner Jr’s quick swim leaves the Wildcat tackle on his knees, and Garrett rushes forward unabated, stopping the back cold.

Conclusion

Will the 2019 Tigers continue to dominate on 4th and short? Walters seems to have a good plan for this phase, and we should expect that to carry over. Cale Garrett was at the center of many of the above plays, and he returns for his senior campaign. These factors should inspire confidence.

On the other hand, most of the others we’ve highlighted here have departed: Beckner Jr, Hall, Palmore, Brandon. Our analysis suggests the importance of the defensive line absorbing blockers and freeing up the sure-tackling Garrett to make the play. If Mizzou is to own 4th down again in 2019, Walters will have to reload his short-yardage unit with a new group of playmakers at defensive tackle.