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The New Baylor Defense: A Basic Primer

This is a basic schematic breakdown of how Baylor’s defense will look differet schematically next year.

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Boise State vs Baylor Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow hasn’t said much about the new defense, but one point he has emphasized is that the new defense will be “more multiple than the past.”

Phil Bennett was a disciple of the Quarters match scheme. There wasn’t a lot of variance schematically, instead it relied on repetition and consistency. It’s a solid scheme for the Big XII and CFB in general, as Pete Carroll, Charlie Strong and others have found it can be difficult to teach college players (with the constraints of practice time) multiple defensive sets. However, Rhule and Snow’s results at Temple (at least after year one) show that they can be successful with a more complicated and multiple defense.

The New Base Set

I think most Baylor fans know that Baylor is switching to a 3-4 defense. But this is, in and of itself, means little. Here is how Snow likes to line up against 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE/Hback).

In many ways, this looks a lot like what Baylor has done in the past. To the near side of the field (in this case, the “field”) Temple has 3 guys over 2 receivers. Using last year’s Baylor defense, #32 would be the Cover Safety, Chance Waz, while the player over the slot, #6 (listed as a 5-11 200lb LB), would be Nickleback Travon Blanchard. On the other side of the field (the “boundary”) you have two defenders over one receiver. Again, for Baylor this would be the CB Grayland Arnold along with Down Safety Orion Stewart.

An obvious difference is that there is a standup DE, which is called the “Rush-Backer.” The Rush-Backer lines up as a 7 technique DE (meaning on the outside shoulder of the Offensive Tackle), but him standing up gives him more versatility in being able to immediately drop back in coverage. The rest of the DL is somewhat standard, with a 3 technique DE/DT playing over the Offensive Guard next to the Rush Backer, a shaded Nose Tackle playing over the Offensive Center, and a DE playing 7 technique outside the opposing Offensive Tackle.

Furthermore, there are 2 main linebackers, a Will and a Mike, just like Baylor has used with Taylor Young and Aaivion Edwards.

So, What’s New?

The main difference is that while this is the the base set, Rhule and Snow have several other sets that they use frequently throughout the game. Here are the main examples.

Single High Safety vs. 11 Personnel

In the previous example, Temple only had 6 guys in the box. They were having some issues stopping the run, so they turned to this set.

What is happening here is #32, the Field Safety in the previous clip, has spun down in man coverage over the slot receiver. This allows the linebacker (who would be Baylor’s NB, Travon Blanchard) to shift into the box and play as a traditional LB. Because the safety has spun down to the slot, the other safety, which Temple labeled the Free Safety, swings to the deep middle of the field.

Thus, in the Rhule and Snow scheme, the “Free Safety” is more of a free range player who needs to be able to cover a lot of ground and attack the ball in the air, while the “Strong Safety” needs to be able to spin down into man coverage.

Lining up vs. 5 Wide

Every defense needs a plan for how to handle 5 wide. Baylor fans saw a couple years ago what happened when OU didn’t know how to handle Bryce Petty throwing to Corey Coleman and Jay Lee for 7 yards every play.

Rhule and Snow again elect to play single-high safety on this play. The LB lined up to the far side of the screen ends up coming on a blitz, and the safety 5 yards behind him replaces him in coverage. This effectively ends up being man coverage with a single high safety while bringing 5 rushers.

Another option that Rhule and Snow like is this

Temple shows a more traditional two high safety look. After the snap, the Rush-Backer drops into the middle of the field in a shallow zone. It ends up being a 3 man rush with max zone coverage on the backend.

Houston tries to squeeze a throw into the middle of the zone but a hard hit by the LB breaks the pass up. Again, this exemplifies the versatility required of the Rush-Backer (he is the one in this image on the lower left side of the “U”—sorry about the image quality).

Defending 4-Wide

Another basic set the Big XII loves to use is 4 wide receivers with a single RB. Here’s how Temple elects to defend it.

Again what we see is that Temple has elected to “spin down” their Strong Safety to cover a receiver in the slot. Thus, the Free Safety becomes the single high defender in the back end. This is done for several reasons. First, Temple has a ton of confidence in their CBs to cover with limited backup. Second, they want to get an extra defender in the box. They need the extra defender because Houston’s QB (Greg Ward) is such a big running threat. Houston ran QB power on this play and was stuffed for no gain.

So, What Does All of This Mean?

Here are the main things I got from studying Rhule and Snow’s defense against Houston:

  1. The safeties have more responsibilities. At Free Safety, Baylor needs a rangy, fast player who can attack the ball in the air while also being available as the last line of defense against QB draws and the like. At Strong Safety, Baylor needs a guy who is capable of spinning down to the slot playing man coverage, and also strong enough to take on blocks and be a playmaker on screens. I think Davion Hall plays at FS, not sure who plays SS.
  2. The Rush-Backer needs to be dynamic. This position requires a lot, a guy who can take on blocks and compete on rushing downs, who can get after the QB on passing downs, and even drop into coverage frequently when they wish to max defend. I like Brian Nance here.
  3. Need at least one lock-down CB. When you play single high coverage, it means at least one CB is going to be isolated against the WR and needs to be on lock down. Hello, Grayland Arnold.
  4. The “Field LB” (#6 in the very first image) needs to be versatile enough to play in the box as a traditional LB but spread out wide to cover the slot. I think Travon Blanchard stays here.

Hope y’all enjoyed this. Please comment with any opinions, questions, etc.!