Using an EXIT stunt to combat a zone heavy offense.
MQ takes a look at the Liberty-Arkansas matchup from earlier in '22.
Liberty has been one of the best G5 defenses over the past few years. Their mix of Tite Front and Peso (2-4-5) alignments makes it difficult for offenses to plan cohesive attacks, as the fit structures can morph from odd to even on any given down. The ability to bounce in between structures forces offenses to “vanilla” up their run scheme as they do not know how to approach the defense.
Regarding efficiency (FEI), Liberty’s defense comes in at 45th overall, which is weighted against their schedule. When looking at Points Per Drive, the Flames come in at 27th and come in 25th in yards per play, according to BFC Toys. Diving into EPA, Liberty is slated 15th in EPA/play and in the top 25 in EPA/rush (25th) and pass (14th). The Flames have created a unique defensive culture under former Head Coach Hough Freeze (Auburn), former DC Scott Symons (SMU), and former DC Josh Aldridge (now Auburn’s LB Coach).
The system in place in Lynchburg is not a pressure-heavy scheme. The Flames only blitzed on a third of their plays this past year. As a Tite/Peso-based defense, one would figure that Liberty has a Sim/Creeper-based philosophy, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Liberty ran Sims on ~15% of their snaps.
Looking at PFF’s data from this past season, the Flames brought five defenders on ~66% of their plays, with ~60% of their blitzes using a box ‘backer in the rush. For most hybrid defenses, the snapshot of Liberty’s blitz tendencies is about what you would expect. Keeping your percentages around 33% is an excellent place to hold steady; that is a third Base defense, a third blitz (any kind), and a third movement/stunt.
One trend that started to pop up last year concerning blitzing was using five-man rushes to gain favorable one-on-one matches in the box. As more offenses lean into the analytics of passing more on early downs, it makes sense for a defense to utilize a five-man rush to clog the running lanes while still having numbers to create a pass rush. Forcing the RB to block has always been a philosophy for defenses to maximize numbers in coverage. If you can get the RB to stay in the protection, that is one less man a defense’s coverage has to guard.
Though it may sound counterintuitive to send an extra man on early downs, defenses figure that if the offense uses play-action or RPOs, the RB will not be in the route concept. The math is now in favor of the defense, especially if they can win a one-on-one up front. It is a simple five-versus-four game, a plus one for the defense. The chess match comes in what coverage rotation to use to combat your offensive opponent's favorite early down schemes.
In true hybrid fashion, the Flames run multiple coverages to match their various looks up front. Though single-high (MOFC) dominant, Liberty does run Quarters (17.5%) and other MOFO schemes (~12%). Cover 3 is run ~28% of the time and is paired alongside Cover 1 at ~23%. Most “good” defenses at the major college level use multiple ways of attacking offense while trying to keep the fits and coverages as simple as possible. The Flames are in-step philosophically with the best defensive schools in the country.