Ask coaches around the country where Todd Grantham stands among college footballs defensive coordinators and you'll get a consistent message. He's one of the best in the business.
With the Bulldog defense going up against Alabama and Grantham's former colleague Nick Saban (from their time together at Michigan State days) in the SEC title game tomorrow night, there's no question that Grantham will have his work cut out for him.
During a press conference yesterday, Saban noted that Grantham would rank righ up there among the best assistants that he has ever had on staff. Considering the Saban coaching tree, that's some elite company.
Grantham admits that much of his philosophy and preparation stem from what he learned during his time under Saban, including their vision of "big people beat up little people" when football boils down to its essence, and the best thing about working under Saban is that he allows his assistant to focus on coaching.
"My whole thing is matchups. How can we get the mismatch in the rush. You are trying to get your best player on their weakest link on offense." Grantham explained.
"Little people can't block big people,. When you have big people, you don't have to commit all your defensive backs to the run game. You can play what I call a seven-and-a-half-man box. You got the extra half guy in the secondary because your guys up front can seal off gaps and hold the point."
"Big people beat up little people. It's why there are weight classifications in boxing."
Good point coach.
Like most of the country, we're really looking forward to tomorrow's game between the two close friends and former colleagues. March Richt and the Bulldogs have won numerous close games, and had just one slip this season (a 35-7 loss to South Carolina) so you can expect the Bulldogs to be as prepared for the big stage as they've ever been. It should be a good one.
Preparing for a quality opponent during a short week always provides unique challenges to a coaching staff. So much work to do in such a short window of time...
With that in mind, immediately following their 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora reached out to a few coaches for some advice on how to prepare his guys in a five day span before they kicked off against Virginia last night (which they won 37-13).
"The best advice I got from a majority of guys is just don't wear them out. You're going to think you need to keep getting repitition, and really it's more important that they're fresh." Fedora explained to the Herald Sun yesterday.
Coming off from a loss that looked more like a basketball score, a lot of coaching staffs would have to bite the bullet to take that kind of advice. Conventional coaching wisdom says that the more repititions you take at something (like defense), the better off you'll be. But, as coaches told Fedora, sometimes allowing your guys to play with fresh legs under them is just as (if not more) important.
Last night, the UNC defense came up big on a goal line stand to maintain their seven point lead, and then the offense took things over from there.
That was the story of the night. Both sides of the ball looked fresh for the Tar Heels, and that likely hinged on the decision that Fedora and his staff made to take their foot off the gas during practice this last week and sacrifice some repititions for fresh legs. The decision defintiely paid off as the staff collected their win number seven in their first season in Chapel Hill.
After dropping their last four straight games after a 5-0 start, Dana Holgorsen talked to the media yesterday about their struggles on the defensive side of the ball.
The Mountaineer defense ranks 110th or worse in pass efficiency defense (119th), total defense (110th), scoring defense (117th), and pass defense (120th). The Mountaineers have allowed at least 34 points in seven of their nine games this season.
"You gotta be there 100% of the time if you want to play good defense, it's got to be all the time. You can't say we played good defense with the exception of seven or eight snaps...which they scored on."
"We're having a hard time getting through to our guys, which is coaching, that we have to play like that all the time. That's the challenge." Holgorsen explained.
This weekend they'll have their work cut out for them as they take on an Oklahoma offense that ranks in the top 16 nationally in passing offense (15th ), total offense (16th), and scoring offense (13th).
Including their 70-63 shootout win over Baylor back in week four of the season, West Virginia gave up at least 45 points and 400 yards of total offense in four of their next five games. They've dropped their last three straight, but co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson saw some major improvement against TCU Saturday.
After losing in double overtime on Saturday to Gary Patterson and his TCU staff (39-38) when they decided to go for two and the win instead of kicking the extra point to head into triple OT, Mountaineer co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson noted that they made some changes that allowed them to be more sound defensively throughout the game. At halftime Saturday, they had held the Horned Frogs to just seven yards rushing.
"We tried to get guys on the field that we knew we could trust, and guys that have shown that over the past two weeks." Patterson added that they also cut down on coverages a little bit, and put more emphasis on fundamentals like timing up their blitzes during the week.
Patterson noted that their focus now turns to keeping players spirits up and showing them where they have improved and the importance of playing a full sixty minutes. Their remaining schedule of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Kansas leaves no room to overlook anyone.
"You've got to build on the positive. College football has no time to sit and dwell on this one, you have to figure out a way to win next week." he said.
More and more coaches and programs around the country and finding ways to get their underclassmen more reps in their schemes, even if they are heavily relied on during the week as scout team players.
Down at Vanderbilt, James Franklin and his staff are holding a ten minute skelly and one on one period after practices on Thursday nights so that their young guys get more accustomed to their schemes, terminology and expectations on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. That's just a small part of how they evaluate their freshman class, hear more from Franklin below.
Every level can benefit from doing something like this. Get your freshman and sophomores together after practice on a consistent basis to get them some quality reps running your schemes.
Sacrificing a little bit of post practice time, and getting those young guys some one on one coaching will definitely pay off for your program the road.
To Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, and defensive coaches around the country, giving the ball back to your offense is one of the best feelings you can experience on game day.
In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter whether it's a snap that goes over the quarterback's head and is recovered by the defense, or if a ball is ripped from the running back's hands and recovered by your guys. Obviously, both scenarios result in an extra possession for your offense, which is always a good thing.
But to Snyder, there is a distinct difference, and take aways is an area they have to get better in because teams in the SEC don't turn the ball over very often.
"We talk to our guys about taking the football away. If a team isn't going to turn the football over, we've got to take it away. So we talk about takeaways on defense."
"Turnovers are something that the offense gives to you." Snyder notes in the clip.
There you have it defensive coaches. Focus on takeaways, not turnovers.
Heading into this weekend's game with Auburn, the Aggies are coming off back to back weeks (against Louisiana Tech and LSU) that the defense has failed to come up with a turnover (or takeaway for that matter). They currently rank 103rd nationally in turnover margin (-1), and have only gained 7 turnovers on the year (110th nationally).
Snyder says that needs to change in the coming weeks with road games against quality opponents like Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0) and Alabama (7-0, 4-0) in the next few weeks.
Nebraska and offensive coordinator Tim Beck come into this weekend's match up with Michigan leading the league in rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense. But they don't expect to run into a Wolverine defense with a basic game plan.
“They know how people are trying to attack them. Their defensive package has grown," Beck has noticed this season. "They’re doing more things out of it. And they’re veteran players. They seem to have found a gear.”
Last season, Michigan's defense (which had improved over a hundred spots under Greg Mattison since 2010) held the Cornhuskers to just 9 completions on 23 attempts for 122 yards, and 260 total yards of offense when it was all said and done. Beck credited their offensive struggles against the Wolverines to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's creative looks and alignments.
To remedy that, during the offseason Beck and the staff prepared some creative looks for the offense to run against, often imitating schemes and alignments that teams, like Michigan, did throughout the 2011 season that gave them trouble.
The extra preparation seems to have helped. Compared to 2011, Nebraska has played three common conference opponents at this point through the season (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), and have eclipsed last season's point total in two of those three contests, while also putting up more yardage against each of those opponents than they had in 2011.
Against Wisconsin last season they put up 335 yards of total offense in a 31 point loss. This year Nebraska put up over 100 more total yards (440 yards of total offense) and earned a close 30-27 victory.
Against Michigan at 8pm ET on Saturday night (on ESPN2), Beck and the offensive staff will have their guys better equipped to handle the knuckleball.
According to Greg Mattison, one thing that Brady Hoke has always done as a head coach is split reps between the first and second string during practice, so that when the second string is called on during the game, they know that the expectations don't change.
"The way that we practice is that the first and second units get equal reps throughout the practice." Mattison said yesterday.
"You're always measured by the expectations for the position. It doesn't matter if your a freshman or a guy that's third team...all of a sudden your second team, all of a sudden your first team." Mattison explained.
That approach has helped ensure that there is not a huge drop off when a starter has to come off the field.
"I think that's something that Brady has always implemented and it's unbelievable how it keeps coming through. By getting all these reps for the second unit, equal to the first, that whenever the time comes, they're closer to being ready."
This approach may be one that is looked at even closer by staffs (if they haven't already) with this season's helmet rule that states that players helmet comes off they have to leave the game for a play. As coordinators, many of us will dial up a play that goes right at the substituted player, challenging him to a make or break type play.
With their approach at Michigan, you can bet that the guy that comes on the field after that type of situation will be prepared.
How many other schools out there are splitting their reps right down the middle? It seems that most coaches go with an 80/20 or 70/30 split for their starters. Let us know your thoughts.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by the end of Saturday's game against Kansas State, 30 different West Virginia players had seen the field on defense.
A third of those players didn't even have a year of game experience under their belt, as six true freshman, and four additional redshirt freshman saw the field.
Kansas State came into the game ranking 108th in passing offense with 179 yards per game and lit it up through the air with 333 yards passing against a Mountaineer pass defense that ranked dead last in pass defense when the final buzzer sounded.
The Mountaineers have given up at least 45 points in the past four straight games, and are allowing opponents to complete nearly 69% of their pass attempts.
"We've tried everything. Maybe that's our fault as a staff. We've tried to cover up our deficiencies. Then we tried to do other things to give them the ability to mix it up."
The variety of different offenses that they've seen in the first seven games (Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech just to name a few), have provided the staff a unique challenge to prepare for each week. Kansas State is pretty multiple and will utilize designed quarterback runs, while Texas Tech is going to spread you out and try to shred you from the pocket.
"We're searching right now. We're searching, but every week is different. One week it's Kansas State, next week it's Texas Tech. You're running across different problems every week."
This bye week will be important to get things sorted out, as the offenses that they'll see moving forward will continue to present some problems. Next weekend they'll get TCU at home, followed by Oklahoma State on the road and then Oklahoma at home.
And as coaches, we all know how hesitation can be a recipe for disaster on the defensive side of the ball.
Coming off of their bye week, Johnson wants to see less emphasis on the play call and more focus put on the effort with secondary coach Charles Kelly in charge of the defense on Saturday.
“We don’t need 80 calls. You don’t need a buzzword on everything. We need guys to learn how to play and play hard.” Johnson explained during his press conference yesterday.
Another area that Johnson said that they need to improve in is their scheme when the offense shifts or goes in motion, stating that their communication needs to get better, and that they need to think less and just react more.
“There’s got to be some communication, but when one guy goes in motion, it doesn’t have to change seven people. I’m not saying that the other way was that complicated, but the way it was, it wasn’t working. I got tired of hearing, ‘Well, I didn’t get a call.’ ‘Well, yeah, you did.’ ‘Well, no, I didn’t.’”
“I think you’ve got to learn how to play defense and you put your eyes on a guy and they’ll tell you where the ball’s going, as opposed to trying to recognize 82 different plays. That’s just me.” Johnson explained.
This weekend Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3) will take on Boston College (1-5, 0-3) at 3pm ET.