Attacking 12 pers. Pistol from a Tilt Front
MatchQuarters looks at how Rutgers used a simple pressure to counter Miami's 12 pers. Pistol Zone run scheme in their Pinstripe Bowl matchup.
Football is predictably cyclical in nature. As I wrote in Hybrids back in ‘18, football tends to have cycles. Defensively, coaches are reactionary by nature and must adjust to the offensive norms of the time. Since offenses can dictate play, defensive trends tend to lag behind until, all of a sudden, they catch up.
We are in one of those ‘seasons’ where defenses have established an equal footing at the higher levels. Starting in ‘18 in the NFL, the Spread Revolution took the NFL by storm. Defenses had to adjust, mainly by running split-field coverages.
Currently, we are sitting at right at 55% single-high coverage usage league-wide. For context, the average NFL defense in ‘18 ran Quarters on 6% of their plays. In 2022, that rate more than doubled to ~13%. After this NFL season, the average use of Quarters sits right under 15%.
The ecosystem is now trending towards bigger packages at the college levels, where the Spread has been established as a base way of attacking space. The change is predictable. As defense lightens their personnel, offenses stagnate and have to find other avenues of attacking defenses. One of those is to get ‘big.’
TEs have always been an important part of the NFL game, but their use at the college game is increasing. Teams that once based out of 10 pers. moved to 11 pers. because it forced the defense to predictably counter the extra gap. The move left defenses vulnerable to the Deep Choice routes that took the college game by storm.
I was on the Baylor staff when Art Briles transitioned for a 10 pers. dominant scheme to one that featured a TE on most downs. With Heisman Trophy winner RGIII in ‘11, we finished second in OFEI and won 10 games using mostly 10 pers. The following year, the offense still finished in the top five without an elite QB, and we won a Big 12 Championship in 2013 with another top-five OFEI finish (BCFToys).
On paper, it looks like nothing has changed. If anything, we took a predictably slight dip in efficiency after RGIII. In reality, our offense got more explosive because of the extra gap. Defenses moved to single-high alignments to combat the width and to stack the box against the run. The move opened up ample space downfield. In ‘13, we scored over 40 points 10 times, scoring over 50 in seven of our first nine games!
As defenses have adjusted to the Spreads passing game, the personnel on the field has gotten lighter. The same trend happened in the NFL in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Offenses started to base out of 11 pers. Defenses shifted by playing small hybrid defenders and the Tampa 2. Offenses rolled back the clock and got big, utilizing 21 pers. and a power run game. The old ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ offense was back.
At the college level, where the talent differential is higher, the use of the Spread has always been about getting elite athletes in space. The hash marks at the lower levels allow the offense to manipulate the space to their advantage much more than the NFL. Many defenses at the lower levels have turned to the 3-Safety system, or an ‘evolved’ Odd Stack, to counter the offensive evolution.