Toledo's EXIT Stunt
Toledo demonstrates how EXIT stunts can be a great way to attack Zone schemes.
The past two years have seen a drastic change in the defensive culture at Toledo. After the 2019 campaign, the Rocket defense was ranked 117th in Defensive Efficiency (DFEI) according to Brian Fremeau’s (Football Outsiders) BCFToys. Last, in most categories in the MAC, Head Coach Jason Candle needed to make a change and looked to a familiar face in Vince Kehres.
Candle and Kehres had worked together as coordinators at D3 power Mount Union. The Purple Raiders defense was constantly one of the best in the nation, only placing out of the Top 10 once while Kehres was the DC. Candle would leave to take the WRs position at Toledo after the ‘08 Championship campaign, while Kehres would stay, eventually ascending to the Head Coaching role in ‘13. Overall, the Purple Raiders would win four titles while Kehres was the DC and another two as the Head Coach. So when Candle needed to make a change, it’s not hard to see why he reached out to his Purple Raider brother.
In addition to Kerhes, Craig Kuligowski was added as the Assistant Head Coach/co-DC. Coach “Kool” is no stranger to the Toledo sideline as a long-time assistant of Gary Pinkel, with who he worked from ‘92 until his retirement in ‘15. With stops at Miami (FL) and Alabama, Coach Kool has a long resume in developing D-line talent (five 1st Rounders under his tutelage). With the addition of Kehres and Kool, the Rockets’ defense has grown leaps and bounds in the past two seasons.
After the ‘21 campaign, the Rockets ranked 6th in total Defensive EPA at -11.59 according to CFBGraphs.com. However, top 10 in Pass EPA (#6 at -.185), #7 in DTD (ranks how many opponents’ drives end in TDs), and #14 in DPD (Points Per Drive), the ‘21 season was another step in the right direction for the Rockets. The defense is typical of most hybrid schemes at the collegiate level. Depending on the call, they feature a four-down front that can jump from even to odd spacing.
The ability to change looks in the front and secondary is central to the modern defense. A decade ago, a defense was either Odd or Even, Quarters based (MOFO), or single-high dominant (MOFC). However, as football has progressed, defenses find that they need to change down to down, week to week, which is necessary to keep up with the ever-changing offensive onslaughts. As a result, Toledo and other defenses around the country are finding ways to be more multiple without making the defense too complex for their players.
In this year’s Nike Coach of the Year Clinic, Head Coach of National Champion Georgia, Kirby Smart, stated they had become a movement defense to try and create tackles for loss (TFLs). Smart explained that movements are a way to engage players and a great way to attack offenses without sacrificing coverage ability. Moving anchor points (DL) post-snap has always been a great way to bring the fight to the offense. I remember as a GA, Phil Bennett (current DC for N. Texas) talking about the advice given to him by Hall of Fame Coach Bill Snyder (Kansas St.) about the post-snap movement, expressing that there was nothing harder to combat.
Stunting the front has become a way to change the fits post-snap and counter the fact that offenses favor stagnant fronts. Toledo matches this philosophy by using different line movements to combat run schemes on early downs. In his NCOY Clinic, Smart stated that most O-line coaches don’t want to defend multiple fronts. Moving in and out of even and odd spacing forces the O-line to switch rules, generating confusion and leading to free players (TFLs!).
One particular stunt that is popular when attacking Zone/Duo offenses is the KNIFE read-stunt or a TEX stunt away from the RB. The offense's zone action will work away from the RB in most cases. In a KIFE stunt (below), the defense will set the 3 technique away from the RB, and the DE away from the RB will read the Tackle. As the OT works to the DE (flash numbers/hands), the DE will loop inside to the nearest gap. An example is shown below.
Regardless of a Tite/Mint base or even spacing (Over 4-2-5), a defense can use the Zone blocking against the offense. In their match-up with Northern Illinois, Toledo used an EXIT stunt to the RB’s side to cause issues against the Huskies’ run game. Similar to the TEX stunt that is run at the point of attack, the EXIT stunt uses the Zone action and “feeds” it, meaning the stunt goes with the Zone action (TEX “forces” the zone action). As the blockers move away from the DE, he will rush down the heel-line (Dive), and the Tackle will hold and then loop outside for contain (QB). The pressure gives the QB a “pull” read, only to find a large body in front of him.