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Film Room: Mizzou’s pass rushing DTs

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With little threat on the outside, Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside have emerged as pass rushers.

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, one of my main concerns was the Missouri pass rush. With no established pass rushing defensive end on the Tiger roster, in my mind the only hope was that a young’un like Trajan Jeffcoat or Jatorian Hansford, or perhaps transfer Sci Martin, would emerge as a feared sack artist. This didn’t happen: Jeffcoat is off the team. Martin hasn’t played a meaningful snap. Hansford hasn’t developed into a difference maker.

Nevertheless, on Saturday the Tiger defense sacked Gator quarterback Kyle Trask four times, all in the first half. While the main job of a defensive tackle is to clog the interior running lanes, the Tiger DTs, especially starters Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside, have filled the pass rush void. The duo combined for three of the four sacks.

Let’s look at the sacks Whiteside and Elliott produced in some detail.

Sack 1

On this snap, both Elliott and Whiteside come free, with Whiteside recording the sack.

As they often have this year, the Tigers are playing Cover 1—man-to-man with a deep free safety. The front’s initial alignment looks like this.

This is the Tight front with a nose tackle over the center and both defensive tackles inside-eye on the offensive tackles. Strong safety Khalil Oliver (#20) is in the box because he is responsible for covering the tight end.

The call is interesting. The three inside linemen—Elliott (#1), Whiteside (#78), and end Chris Turner (#39)—rush Trask, while the edge players—Mike linebacker Devin Nicholson and end Tre Williams—hang at the line of scrimmage.

While they aren’t rushing, Nicholson and Williams step forward to occupy the tackles, isolating Florida’s center and guards on the three interior rushers. Florida’s right tackle doesn’t take the bait, and is able to help his guard by double-teaming Turner.

The tactic works on the right side though: the Gator left tackle slides out to block Williams, and isn’t able to recover to help the left guard with Elliott. And with both guards fanning outside for the B gap rushers, the center is isolated on the noseman, Whiteside.

Elliott and Whiteside both win their one-on-one battles with quick arm-over moves. This is not a swim move where the rusher’s arm sweeps up over the OL’s shoulderpad, exposing the rusher’s chest and side. Both Whiteside and Elliott make a jab to the left, then redirect, pin the blocker’s outside arm with their right hand, then quickly and subtly knock the blocker’s arms off with a downward knifing motion of the left arm.

See them perform their moves simultaneously in the tight shot.

There could be several reasons for the edge players’ techniques. It looks like Williams (#93) is responsible for the back. Williams steps upfield, looking for the RB to release outside, then sinks inside when the back releases inside the center.

Trask has two shallow in-breaking routes in front of him, and the first one is clearly open. It is possible Nicholson (#58) gets in the passing lane when he sinks back away from the line of scrimmage. This causes Trask to hold the ball until the Tiger DTs arrive.

Sack 2

Missouri is in the same defense as the previous play: Tight front, Cover 1.

Even the personnel is the same, save that Tyree Gillespie (#9) rather than Oliver has the TE man-to-man.

This is a playaction pass and Florida employs a playaction rather than dropback protection. The protection is designed to look like a Power blocking scheme with the right guard pulling to the defense’s right.

This is essentially full slide protection to the offense’s right with the pulling guard taking the left edge.

Let’s look at the tight shot.

There are two keys to this play.

Bolton reads the run play and steps up into his run fit, looking to take on the pulling guard. For some reason, this confuses the Gator left tackle, who abandons his gap to get a hand on Bolton. Elliott (#1) charges upfield at Trask.

The second key is a great play by Whiteside. Whiteside feels the downblock of the left guard and, as he is taught, fights the pressure of the block, redirecting and crossing the blocker’s face. He sheds the block, penetrates, and makes the sack as Trask is delivered into his arms by Elliott’s rush.

Great awareness and power by Whiteside, who tosses the guard aside like a ragdoll.

Sack 3

The Tigers are in the same defensive personnel on this third and ten, but align in an even front.

The play looks pretty straightforward: Elliott is isolated on the Florida right guard, beats him, and gets a sack.

And it is that straightforward, but I think there are some interesting things to consider here, so let’s slow down and talk about pass protection against an even front for a moment.

1 Technique and 3 Technique

Usually in an even front, one of the defensive tackles is in the A gap with the other in the opposite B gap. The customary alignment for the A gap tackle is inside-eye of the guard, referred to as a 1 technique. The B gap tackle is normally outside-eye of his guard. This is called a 3 technique.

In this diagram the left defensive tackle (N) is in a 1 technique, and the right tackle (T) is in a 3 technique.

Pass Protection versus Even Front

In pass protection against an even front, the center is initially responsible for one of the A gaps or the other, either the 1 technique side or the 3 technique side. If the center goes to the 3 technique side, the guard with the 1 tech has a threat on his inside shoulder.

Right guard responsible for 1 technique

This can be a difficult block because the defender is already on the guard’s inside edge, the fastest path to the quarterback.

It makes sense, therefore, to set the center to the 1 technique.

Center sets to the 1 technique

Because it is thought to be advantageous to set the center to the 1 tech, it is thought that pass rushing is easiest from a 3 technique. With the center setting away, a 3 technique tackle has the option to rush inside or outside with no one to help the guard to either side.

3 technique tackle isolated on guard

It may seem strange, then, that Walters puts his best interior rusher, Elliott, at the 1 tech in this passing situation.

There are, however, another considerations offensive coaches must account for when deciding how to set a protection. One of them is maximizing the number of rushers they can block with linemen rather than backs. The advantages are obvious: linemen are better blockers than backs, and without blocking assignments backs can become receivers.

In our example, with the center checking to the offense’s right, the back must block on the offense’s left. This puts three blockers on either side of the ball. If both linebackers were to blitz it would look like this.

If only one linebacker blitzed against this protectioin, an offensive coordinator would prefer it to be the Will. The right guard would pick up the blitzer and the back would be free to release.

On the other hand, if the Mike blitzed and the Will didn’t, the right guard would have nothing to do (except help the center with the nose), and the back would have to stay in protection, blocking the Mike.

But in the play we’re analyzing, Missouri only has one linebacker, Nick Bolton (#32), who is lined up over the left guard.

From this alignment, it is very unlikely that Bolton would blitz to the offense’s right side. It makes much more sense, therefore, to set the protection toward Bolton where the center can block him if he rushes the offense’s left A gap. This would put the five offensive linemen on the five Missouri pass rushers.

Getting to the point

The point is that this explains why Walters might align his best pass-rushing tackle at the 1 technique out of this alignment. Inducing the offense to set its protection toward Bolton ensures that Elliott will be isolated on the right guard.

Walters gets the mismatch he wants, and Elliott gets the sack.

The guard must set hard to the inside to take away Elliott’s quickest path to the quarterback. Elliott counters with a shake, then a quick swim to the outside and gets home.

Conclusion

With little firepower on the edge, Elliott and Whiteside have had to carry the Tiger pass rush. They did that well against Florida.

This is an analogy for the team. With the Mizzou offense struggling mightily, the defense will have to do the heavy lifting if this team is going to have any success in these last two games. Elliott and Whiteside will be keys to this pursuit.