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Bend Don’t Break: A Defensive Series, Part One

A close look at a 2019 Tiger defensive series

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Here at Film Room we find ourselves troubled by the prospect of a football-less autumn. A lack of film is, of course, our greatest fear. Nevertheless, we soldier on. Our commitment to analysis will always persist, even were the world to crumble around our film booth!

Welcome, fellow football nerds, to our next Film Room project.

Having looked at fronts, coverages, and blitzes in our seven-part Film Room series, I thought it might be instructive to look at Mizzou defensive coordinator Ryan Walters’ 2019 defense in action. This fifteen-play drive against South Carolina is exemplary, based on its length, the diversity of fronts and coverages it offers, and—since we’re all Tiger fans here—its ultimate success for the Tiger D.

The Drive

A Drive Summary

Here’s a quick summary of the drive to look over before we get to the film.

Today we’ll look at the drive’s first four plays.

Play One

Carolina sets up first-and-ten on its own 25, aligning in a split trips formation.

The Tigers are in their base Over front with strong safety Khalil Oliver (#20) tight to the field-side of the line.

The play is a RB screen to the field.

The play sets up well enough for the Gamecocks, with Mizzou dropping into a deep Cover 2 zone. The saving grace for the Tigers is the line stunt they run, with tackle Jordan Elliott (#1) looping around to the left edge.

Elliott gets his hands up, forcing an inaccurate throw.

The incompletion sets up second-and-ten.

Play Two

With the Gamecocks in a spread 2x2 look, the Tigers again align in their Over front.

This is a cornerback blitz with Jarvis Ware (#8) coming off the boundary edge on the snap. The line slants away from the blitz.

As we saw in our previous series, corner blitz Cover 1 is a popular call for Walters.

Tyree Gillespie (#9) rolls over to cover the boundary #1 that Ware abandoned.

The #1 receiver, standout Bryan Edwards (#89), cuts off his route in response to the blitz. The result is an awkward, too-close spacing with the #2 receiver who is running a Quick Out. Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski misses Edwards.

Hilinski seems a bit rattled at this point. That will change as the drive continues.

Play Three

After a Mizzou timeout it’s third-and-ten, and the Tigers send in the Dime personnel. Since-departed safety Jordan Ulmer (#11) replaces Will linebacker Nick Bolton.

The Gamecocks set a tight trips into the boundary. The Tigers align in one of Walters’ favorite third down sets: Even front with two additional players on the line of scrimmage in the A gaps—linebacker Cale Garrett (#47) and free safety Gillespie. Boundary safety Joshuah Bledose (#18) lines up close to the line’s edge on the field side.

Here’s how the play develops.

At the snap Gillespie screams out to the deep middle. Bledsoe rushes off the field edge.

The coverage is Cover 1. Notice that DE Jatorian Hansford (#28) is responsible for the RB.

Here’s a diagram of the pass rush.

Left end Chris Turner (#39) loops around to the far A gap.

Here’s the tight shot.

Edwards is the lone receiver, split wide to the field. Bledsoe’s rush leaves corner DeMarcus Acy (#2), who is giving a seven-yard cushion on the snap, isolated on Edwards with no underneath help. Edwards runs a Curl at the sticks, breaks a tackle, and picks up eighteen. First down.

As we mentioned in our series, this was a common, and too-often successful way offenses attacked Cover 1 on third downs. In Cover 1 there is no underneath help for the isolated corner, making it difficult to stick with a receiver who has so much space to work with.

Play Four

Both teams change tactics here. Carolina sets up a tight two-back formation, and Missouri switches to their Tite front.


Here’s the play, the first run of the drive.

The coverage is, yet again, Walters’ favorite: Cover 1.

Notice that the H-back’s alignment in the backfield draws Bledsoe into the box, both to cover him, and to account for the extra gap.

This diagram shows that all the gaps are accounted for.

Let’s look at the way the gaps get filled on film.

The key to the play is Jordan Elliott (#1). The center and backside guard are responsible for Elliott, the nose tackle (N), and the Will linebacker, Nick Bolton (#32), who is stacked behind the nose. Elliott is stout at the point of attack, keeping either of the offensive linemen from climbing to Bolton.

Protected by Elliott, Bolton makes the play in the hole.

Our Scheduled Break

When we pick up, Carolina will be facing second-and-eight from their own 45. Until then, take a knee, have a squirt of water, and catch your breath.