Jim Knowles and the search for the ultimate hybrid defense... continues.
Knowles successfully adapted the Buckeyes' 4-3 Cover 1 to his hybrid scheme, leveraging the team's abundance of NFL-ready talent. Notably, he incorporated Tampa concepts from a four-down structure.
Ryan Day made a seismic shift on defense last off-season with the hiring of Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. For as long as Urban Meyer had been the Head Coach, the Ohio State defense was firmly planted in a 4-3 Cover 1 and 3 system. So why the move? First, there was the loss to Alabama in the ‘21 CFP National Championship (24-52), which saw DeVonta Adams scorch the basic Cover 3 of the Buckeyes for 215 yards and 3 TDs. The following year, the Buckeyes would give up 42 points in a loss to Michigan and follow that up with a 48-45 performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Day, an offensive coach, finally concluded that the traditional way the Buckeyes have been running their defense needed to change. Jim Knowles was coming off a ‘21 campaign that saw Oklahoma State lose to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. The DC was also a Bryant Award finalist, which his peers select. During his Signing Day press conference, Day explained why he selected Knowles as his new DC,
“At the end of the day, I was really looking for a head coach of the defense. … You watch the film of the way his team plays, they play hard, they have a system, they have answers and they’ve done a great job developing.”
Like most elite offensive coaches that want to win a championship, they come to the conclusion that they need someone opposite them that can challenge their scheme while also being the “head coach” of their unit. Having a solid counterpart relieves a lot of stress for Day, who is the Head Coach of the Buckeyes and is heavily involved with the offense. Knowles’ background at Duke and Oklahoma State gave him a unique perspective on development. Instead of leaning into the talent already at Ohio State, Knowles would amplify it and maybe even grow it.
In 2016, Oklahoma St. experimented with a unique defensive concept I called the Cowboy Dime, which utilized a 4-2-5 alignment with the Nickel playing from depth in the middle of the field. This meant no overhang coverage on the Slot; the Nickel player was reading the mesh from the middle of the field. The defense was playing Tampa 2 coverage with “hard” CBs to kill the simple Zone Read Bubbles most offenses were running at the time. Below is an example of the Glenn Spencer-led Cowboys running a four-down 3-high version against West Virginia.
Tampa is a simple way to get into a 3-High system because the defense needs a pole-runner. Placing the Ni in the post doesn’t change the spacing within the box. Most Tampa coaches will tell you the Mike is not necessarily “in the fit” or considered a primary fitter. The mechanics of the seven-man spacing can stay the same; the “Mike” is just playing from where he will end up instead of in the box.
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