The Florida State Defense Under Mark Stoops

As former Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops attempts to resurrect the Florida State defense from its horrendous 2009 campaign, he'll undoubtedly be changing a lot.  But the most noticeable change will be the increased use of zone coverage.  FSU will now be playing zone coverage on a majority of its defensive plays-- a stark departure from its past.  

Stoops is committed to being multiple.  That means multiple fronts and multiple coverages.  Stoops has said he will be precise, accurate, detail-oriented and selectively aggressive.  He said his sacks come more from coverage than from all-out blitzing.  Stoops is a stickler for precise run fits.  He stresses being assignment sound and building everything around the core of the defense.  It's that core that never changes, Stoops says, that must be in place before anything flashy is implemented.  Stoops' influences include his brothers Bob and Mike along with Bo and Carl Pelini.  Editor's Note:  The more I find out about what the Pelini's are doing at Nebraska, the more I think FSU's defense will be heavily influenced by the Pelini brothers, as Mark is close with them and they were at Cardinal Moody HS at the same time.   FSU's defense will look at lot like that of those two (and his brother's).  And of course coach Fisher, having gone against a Nick Saban defense for 7 years, will have a few things of his own he will want to see.  Add to that Greg Hudson, who produced tremendous defenses (relative to the available talent level) at East Carolina.

I'll be taking a look at the different zone coverages, fronts, and blitzes that FSU will likely play.  Luckily, there are much better football guys than myself who have already covered many of these topics.  Many of them are members of our own SB Nation network.  I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here and this piece will require you to follow some links to the quoted pieces.  If there's something you do not understand after working through this piece and the accompanying links, ask in the comment section and we'll see what we can do for you.  Chances are good that others have the same questions as you. 


Here is a great look at fronts.  FSU plays a 4-3 defense (4 down linemen and 3 linebackers.  The Noles will mix both over and under fronts.  Read that to make sure you understand the alignment references throughout the piece.

Cover 3

One such zone coverage is known as cover 3.  It's known by that name because there are three defenders responsible for defending deep zones.  At its core, zone coverage simply means that a defender is responsible for a zone as opposed to covering a pre-determined man.  Got that?  Good. Stoops played a good bit of cover 3 at Arizona and cover 3 is a trademark of the Stoops brothers' defensive philosophy.  Note that some refer to this defense as "3-deep"  For our purposes, that is the same thing. 

The tremendous UCLA blog, Bruins Nation has an excellent series on cover-3 which I'll sample here and which you'll need to visit to grasp all the details (and as a matter of common courtesy please do hit the link so they get the traffic even if you don't plan to read it all.)I like his simplification of defense:

Defense is as simple as:

1.  Coverage (how do you defend the pass)  Coverage determines the defense - a coverage sets the play of the front, tells your guys how you will defend the pass and also tells them how they will defend the run. Below are the three components of a defense.  Deep defenders cannot have run responsibility - they are coverage first. If your safeties are aligning at 15 yards to defend deep halves of the field in Cover 2 Zone, you cannot also ask them to come up hard against the run - it's just too much ground to cover.

2.  Outside Run support (how do you defend the outside run game/screen game and force the ball back inside to the other 10 guys, who will be the outside "force" defender).  The outside underneath defenders are the "force" defenders who cannot be beat outside and are the outside run support - who they are depend on the coverage. If you run Cover 2, you'll need corners who are strong enough to hold that edge and squeeze outside runs back inside, where the help is. However, if you run Cover 3, then your corners will have no run responsibility and it will be a safety and an OLB that will have to be the force defenders.

3.  Interior Run fits (how do you fill each interior gap up front with a defender - if there is an open gap, then the offense has an easy path to the secondary)  The other defenders are left to cover the remaining 6 gaps up front (Center-Guard, Guard-Tackle, and Tackle-TE) on each side and are interior run defenders. You will also need a cutback defender backside - in Cover 2 this will probably be the 7th man in the box, and in Cover 3 this will probably be the backside force defender.

This isn't exactly rocket science, but if you've listened to FSU's players this off-season, you'll know that this stuff was quite new to them.  It's a good example of what was missing last year.

BruinsNation references cover 2 and cover 3, so here's the diagram outlining what they mean:


Your force defenders depend on the coverage. Corners may be force in Cover 2, but you cannot ask them to play force in Cover 3 since they are dropping deep. From there you can figure out the gaps you have to fill and which players will fit into each gap. And then you can figure out where and how to line 'em up and put your players in alignments where they will be able to do their job. Doesn't matter if you're in a 4-3 (4 defensive linemen w/ 3 linebackers) or a 3-4 (3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers).  You can call a guy a defensive end or a linebacker, and put him in a 2 or a 3 point stance, but what really matters is what you are doing with him after the snap. If you say you run a 4-3 defense, but base out of Cover 2, it will play differently than if you base out of Cover 3. If you line up in a 3-4 and run Cover 2, it will look pretty similar. It starts with the coverage and ends with the front/alignment, rather than the other way around.

Inside, you'll find a ridiculous amount of information on the defense.

I have some links for cover 2 at the end.  


What Are The Zones In The Cover 3 Defense?

Here's a brief explanation of those zones by Joe Daniel:


The deep pass defenders will divide the field into 3 zones. Deep zones begin at roughly 14 yards from the Line of Scrimmage and extend all the way to the back line of the End Zone. In high school football, it easiest to divide the zones using the hash marks. The right side Cornerback will be responsible for the right side Deep 1/3. The Free Safety is responsible for the Middle 1/3. The left side Cornerback will be responsible for the left Deep 1/3.  Each deep zone is roughly 13 yards wide, as the two outside defenders can ignore a 5-7 yard area from the sideline as QBs will not consistently make that throw and the DB can use the sideline as a defender.

Underneath zones are divided by the types of routes that will be thrown there. Underneath zones typically range from 5 yards away from the Line of Scrimmage to about 14 yards deep, where the Deep 1/3 zones begin.

The outermost zones are known as the Flat area, and extend from the sidelines to about halfway between numbers and the hash on a typical high school field layout. Typical routes here are short out routes and arrow routes by the running back.

The next zone in is the curl area. The Curl area exists from the hash to the edge of the flat zone. Moving in from there, the hash to the middle of the field is known as the Hook zone. Imagine a player, perhaps a Tight End, aligned on the hash mark. If that player runs a route 8 yards off the ball, then turns outside, he is in the curl area. If he were to turn inside, he would be in the hook area. Commonly run routes in the curl area are hitches and slants. Quick routes the Tight End and crossing routes from inside receivers are most common in the Hitch zone.

Also at that link, Joe addresses why teams don't cover the first 5 yards (they react to and anticipate balls thrown there), and offers some finer points on playing cover-3 defense.

The BruinsNation link does an even better job of covering this, but it is more technical and you should read the quoted text first.  Then make sure to read the BruinsNation link, particularly the SCIF portion.

MOFO?  Who you calling MOFO?

"MOFC" is simply an acronym for "Middle Of Field Closed", meaning that there is defender covering the deep middle of the field.  MOFC defenses are Cover 1, or Cover 3. 

On the other hand, MOFO, stands for "Middle Of Field Open", meaning that there is not a defender covering the middle of the field.  These defenses include Cover 2 (2 deep defenders, but neither covering the dead center of the field), and Cover 4 (4 deep defenders but none covering the dead center of the field). 

As I said above, Cover-3 is a MOFC defense.

Cloud or Sky?  Stopping The Run With Cover 3

All this terminology.  Dr. B of (please visit) also has a really nice Cover-3 piece, though some might not make much sense because it addresses things that are exclusive to the Clemson program.  Here's his explanation of "Cloud" and "Sky" calls.  Basically, if Sky is called, the 3-deep coverage will be achieved by 2 corners and 1 safety, meaning the other safety will be in run support.  If Cloud is called, a corner will have run support responsibility, and the 3-deep coverage will be achieved by 2 safeties and 1 corner.

A "Sky" call refers to what the Safety is doing. When this is called, usually upon seeing the strength of the formation by the FS, it is the FS and two CBs who have deep responsibilities. The SS would have primary run support (force) if this is called, and would key the RB in addition to whomever he is assigned based on the formation. He could also be assigned to blitz or cover a free-space in the underneath zone, vacated by a blitzing LB.  A wrinkle that is sometimes added is to give the FS the run key, and have the SS back up in deep zone after the snap [FSU Note:  the 'Noles probably won't do this much with Moody as its Strong] could be read by the QB as a Safety blitz, when he is not even coming. The Sky call is strong against the run but weak against the quick out pass to #2 receiver on that side. This flip of the safeties (it can also be done between a S and a CB) called an inversion, and in some DC's playbooks the "force" is played by the FS instead of the SS.  Here is an adjusted Cover 3 Sky call.


A "Cloud" call refers to one of the Corners. When this is called by the FS, it is the two safeties and one of the CBs who have deep responsibilities. A OLB would shift into the underneath zone vacated by this deep CB, for example. Blitz MIKE from that shifted-OLBs usual spot, and you have a difficult read. The other CB has primary run support (force) and keys the RB in addition to his assignment. Usually the coverage rolls to the CB who has the run key and isn't playing deep, and a S lines up behind him, with the other Safety taking the middle. The Cloud call is strong against the quick out pass to #2 but weak against the run except on wide runs. Anytime the #1 receiver does not align wider than the safety is off the line of scrimmage, the Safety will check to a Cloud call which keeps the defense from being outflanked. Anytime the #1 receiver does align wider than the safety is off the line of scrimmage, the Safety will make the Sky or Cloud call according to the coverage called by the coach. So you see, it all depends on how they line up.

The idea of the force player is particularly important to stopping the run.  Current Note (08.28.10):  safety Nick Moody would have been a good force player but since he is limited with the groin injury, it will be interesting to see what FSU does with the position and the coverages.

Excerpt from Stoops:

4-3 over is our basic call versus any two-back run team. This call will allow our strong safety to be our low safety or eighth man in the box. He is responsible for the Bgap on the inside run game. Behind this call, we will play a three-deep zone coverage. You can also play a man-free concept putting the strong safety on the tight end if he runs vertical or over the linebackers. Sam will drop curl/flat, Mike will drop strong hook and Will will drop weak flat. The free safety will push to the middle of the field. Versus twins or slot formations, we will bring our corners over and play three deep or man free.

The strong safety is six or seven yards deep, head up on the tight end. The free safety is 10 yards deep where a tight end would be. If on the hash, he will line up over the tackle.

The strong safety will key the tight end. When the tight end base blocks, the strong safety will go straight for the B gap on lead strong. The Mike will spill the ball to the strong safety. The Will takes the back side A gap. On lead weak the Will has to spill the ball to Mike who fast flows. The strong safety will take B gap.  


A major influence on Stoops has been the Pelini brothers.  You should check out these informative articles on them and their teachings:

Pelini's defensive philosophy

Defensive Fronts Under Pelini


Variations of Cover 3

more from Dr. B  (again, visit the link)

You might also divide the deep field into quarter-quarter-half, assigning the FS one half of the field, and giving two quarters to the SS and CB to cover. This will all depend on formation and strengths of the opponent.

For example, if a team lines up in an I-formation or 1-back, with two WRs to one side and a TE on the other, the SS would cover deep on the TE side, which might be a full half of the field, while the other S and CB would have deep coverage on the two WR side, which would only be quarters for those two defenders.


For teams which prefer to roll to one side, or have one excellent WR, a DC would call quarter-quarter-half to give added protection on one side, putting a the 1/4s on the side likely getting attacked. Usually this is the strong side of the field, but it may be based on the field side.  I'm not yet sure what Stoops prefers to do.  That's not to say that the strong side won't also be the field side (often is).  

Here's another example of what you might see next season, rotating the 3 over behind the CB blitz:


FSU fans will remember the 2004 FSU @ Miami game in which Miami repeatedly blitzed Antrelle Rolle and FSU didn't adjust. 

(note: you'd never CB blitz from the wide side of the field, only the short side unless its a Nickel)

When the opponent likes to throw fade passes, fly patterns, and sideline routes, "quarter-half-quarter" coverage can force those receivers to come across the middle.  Not may college teams have good enough quarterbacks to consistently threaten a sideline route such that the defense needs to run Q-H-Q.  

Quarter-half-quarter coverage works much better if a team has a stud at free safety, which FSU's Terrance Parks is probably not at this point.

But what is the "seam" you always hear about on TV? When the announcers refer to a "seam route" they mean that the receiver ran a fly route into the cracks of the defense. Each defense has a place to attack it, and Cover 3 has two of them that run from 15 yds from the sideline and are a few yards wide. This would be because your slot receiver/TE runs between a OLB who has Curl responsibilities and a run key (meaning he has to wait and see what the RB does), and a CB who would have flat responsibilities, for example. Like the seam in the standard Cover 2 (not the Tampa 2, which is actually closer to Cover 3) it runs from 15 to 25 yards deep, and the hole between the deep coverage and the underneath LB/CB.


A problem that many zone coverages have is the coverage on the boundary, where a WR might still find the sandwich hole between the deep S/CB and the guy in the flats.

There is a no-cover zone which extends 3-5 yards from the LOS, in which no defender is supposed to pick up a receiver (typically the RB sits out here). The key point of the zone, in general, is that the DB is watching the QB and breaks on the ball at the right time to break the pass up.  They can do that more intelligently by watching the drop of the quarterback, knowing that short drops lead to shorter passes. They watch his eyes, and the position of the shoulders: longer passes require the quarterback to dip his back shoulder. They learn the difference between a passer's pump-fake and his throwing motion, and they look for clues, like patting the ball, that indicate that the quarterback is ready to release.

This is done in the film room and it is the attention to detail that FSU's defenses have lacked for some time. 

Again, please visit the linked article as it is much more in-depth than what I have here for you.  All credit to Dr. B at as he is the scheme master.


Will FSU pattern read or spot drop?  How much of each?  Tango? 

This means that the DBs are coached to expect what route combinations the offense runs. For example, in a Smash play, one reciever runs a deep corner route, while the Flanker runs a quick hitch.


(In the figure, MOFC=middle of field closed=cover 1/3, MOFO=Cover 2)
At first glance, Cornerback has a real problem here, and is forced to pick one guy to cover. Either he backs up, trying to stop the deep corner route (B), or stays in his flat to stop the hitch or in/out (Z). Although the example is primarily meant to attack Cover 2 (where the CB stays in the flat), the same concept applies to any offensive attack.

Against Cover 3, the TE might run a 10 yd Curl route and be sitting next to a SAM in zone. At the same time, a RB flies out in a wheel route, and a WR running a deep post or fly. The deep route takes up the deep coverage, and the LB is forced to pick who to cover if the CB drops back with that deep receiver. Only disciplined and experienced players will stick to their assignments like they are supposed to. A secondary taught in pattern recognition will expect this route combination based on alignment of the WRs/RBs/TE and film study, and that CB would read the WR and TE release, and stay in his flat to pick up the RB, for example.

Spot drops are simply that, a LB drops into his zone and watches the QB. They are easy to teach.  The weakness is that good WRs can find the hole in the zone, and just run to it. Here is a depiction of the different passing zones defenders drop into.


But pattern-reads teach the defenders what to expect, and they essentially matchup onto whomever comes into their zone using man coverage principles. Once he leaves their zone, they release him to someone else. Its also referred to as a Combination coverage and is more difficult for a QB to read pre-snap. In Saban's LSU playbook, he has hundreds of examples of combo routes the offense will run, and the defender is expected to recognize them. Where Saban excels is in how simple he can make all this information and teach it to his whole defense, instead of just a couple DBs. Each defender is essentially looking at only two guys, and he can adjust based on that.

With Fisher having practiced against Saban's defense every day for many years, I would expect him to appreciate the value of having college defenders pattern read.  But how much pattern reading will Stoops do?  Does he believe it?  If so, is he capable of teaching it?  My guess is that FSU will use some modified pattern reading, keying things like the number of steps the quarterback takes (longer routes are thrown off of deeper QB drops that require more steps) and the angle of the quarterback's shoulders.

Now, returning to our basic 3-Matchup defense above:


The responsibilities of each player is indicated in coachspeak on the figure. There are two corners, both aligned 8-9yds off. Their responsiblity is to key off the #2 on their side. For the Weakside, he's watching the near RB, then the QB and the ball. The strongside is keying the TE, then the backs to the ball.

The Strong Corner keys #2, and if #2 runs up the seam he's supposed to keep an eye on him as he releases from the LOS, keeping the combinations of the #1 and #2 in his mind. Otherwise, if the TE blocks or runs into the flat, he squeezes the #1 reciever matched on him.

The adjustment, labeled BUMP (in case Cloud is called), is to jam #1 and then play flat/curl. This is a CLOUD adjustment.

The Weakside CB does essentially the same, with an eye on the RB and the combinations he can run with the split end.

The SS aligns, in the basic package, 4x5. That means he's 4yds off the #2 (TE here), and 5 yds deep off the LOS. He drops 10yds down the seam, and plays curl/flat on the TE. All the while, he has to watch #3 on that side, the RB. #2 and #3 will run a pattern, and if the TE runs a seam route the SS picks up the RB in the flats, otherwise he stays in his curl zone. In case BUMP is called, he would pickup the deep 3rd instead of the Strong CB. Another adjustment would be to line him up in front of #1 and jam him.

The FS aligns 12 yds deep off the Weak OT, keying any uncovered linemen to the backs. He essentially backs up straight against the pass and covers his 3rd of the field. He watches for a post route up the seam, particularly by #2 (RB in the figure, remember the SC has the TE if he runs a post, but it could also be a slotman), and tries to read the QBs progression to break on the ball.

The SAM keys the TE, through the linemen to the near RB. His alignment will depend on whether sky or cloud is called and the call of the front. He plays the hook zone. His responsibility on pass is to read the pattern of those two receivers and attack any short dumps from the inside out, meaning he tries to force everything from his zone to the sideline.

The MIKE is watching the RBs, and aligns straight up 4 yds off the Center. In the figure above he is sent into the other hook zone. WILL essentially mirrors the SS, moving at first outside into the flat and backing up into the curl zone.

How much FSU pattern reads will be one of the most interesting storylines for FSU this season.  The problem, however, is it will be difficult to tell what they are doing if they are pattern reading well.

Read More On Pattern Reading (this is really intense stuff that I am not going to get into much.  If you feel you understand the above and want more, these are for you:

Defensive Back Techniques: Cover 3 Pattern Read Examples | Defensive Back Techniques: Cover 2 Pattern Read Examples | Defensive Back Techniques - Terms & Communication/Intro Pattern Reading | Defensive Back Techniques - Pass Concepts for Pattern Reading


More Cover 3 links:  if the above analysis didn't work for you, these four might

Cover 3 Basics | Cover 3 Keys | Cover 3 Technique |  Cover 3 Adjustments & Variations 


Cover 4

FSU is switching to a predominantly zone-coverage scheme.  Look for the 'Noles to run a lot of cover 3, cover 2, and against spread run teams, cover-4.  UF, Georgia Tech, NC State, and Wake Forest before Riley Skinner have exploited FSU's defense more than any other team over the past few years as the 'Noles failed to adjust to the changes in college offenses.  Florida is an option team from the shotgun, and Georgia Tech is an option team from the flex.  You build your team to beat your rivals.  And there's a good chance FSU could match up against Tech in the ACC championship game.  The Noles need to be able to match up with Tech without the luxury of having extra prep time.  Stoops should give FSU a good chance there.  Let's focus on cover-4, a coverage that schools like Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and yes- Mark Stoops Arizona squad have used effectively against spread run teams like Georgia Tech, UF, and Oregon.  

The coverage is known as cover 4 because there are 4 defenders each responsible for a deep zone.  Dividing the field by 4 gives each player 25% of the deep zone to cover, and for this reason it is also known as quarters.  Cover 2 coverage is known as such because it uses 2 deep zone defenders, cover 3 uses 3 deep zone defenders, etc.

Here is how the excellent USC site Trojan Football Analysis describes cover 4 and contrasts with Cover 2:

As the name implies cover 4 employs four deep defensive backs that can be aligned either four across OR aligned in something closer to a Cover 2 Shell. Often it is difficult to tell the difference pre-snap and can only be determined post-snap by the movement of the safeties. In basic Cover 2 coverage the safeties play 12 yards deep and normally step backwards upon the snap of the ball. After back or soft pedaling for two steps they read the offensive line and WR release they determine if the play is run or pass and react accordingly. Extreme emphasis is placed upon not getting beaten deep on the post patterns or corner patterns to their respective area.

In cover 4 however although the alignment may appear the same pre-snap there are some subtle differences. Normally the safeties line up closer to 10 yards deep instead of twelve and play down field toward the line of scrimmage more aggressively at the snap of the ball. Instead of retreating or soft pedaling two steps the safeties play flat foot and come forward at the snap of the ball (see images below). This difference helps to get nine men in the box more quickly versus run plays and yet still enables time to get four defenders deep on pass plays. When multiple WR's release down field past the initial seven or eight yard area cover 4 becomes essentially a man coverage scheme in the deep part of the field.

The other big difference between cover 2 and cover 4 is the role of the corners. In pure zone cover 2 the cornerbacks stay low and defend the flats in their realm of responsibility. In press coverage they bump the WR's as they release and hand them off to the deeper safeties on the play while the corners play the shorter routes and watch for backs releasing into their area. In cover 4 the corners normally have responsibility for the WR's they align with and stay with them on deep routes. There are rules however that govern cover 4 (or any pattern read scheme) for that matter when there are releases by multiple WR's. As the graphic below shows in general form the DB's read the #2 receiver to their side and make adjustments accordingly.


It's perfectly acceptable (and probably preferable) to play 8 men in the box against 2-back sets.  But it's difficult to do so against spread teams who use quick, automatic throws while still creating the extra gap with the QB run threat (think UF).  In this piece for Yahoo Sports, Chris Brown details how Virginia Tech adapted to spread offenses while other 8-man defenses did not (FSU).  The beauty of playing cover-4 is that it puts 8 men in the box for run support (needed against spread-run teams) but without really doing so.  It does this by putting each safety halfway into the box.  Instead of having the strong safety all the way in the box, the free safety plays halfway in and the strong plays halfway in.  0.5 + 0.5 = 1

This excerpt is from the exceptional Ohio State site, BuckeyeFootballAnalysis (now " Along The Oletangy ", a site run by Gahnki.  Please visit our former member). (n At the link, he covers the many ways teams played Oregon's exceptional offense as Ohio State prepared to face Oregon in the Rose Bowl.  Ohio State copied Arizona's game plan and had tremendous success against the electric Oregon offense, holding the ducks to only 260 yards on 53 plays (less than 5 yards per play).

I personally think Arizona had the most interesting gameplan for Oregon and, correspondingly, the most success until the Fourth Quarter and Overtime.  Like Stanford and Oregon St., Arizona mostly played an over look.   What Arizona did different, though, was play almost exclusively cover 4.  Cover 4 is an aggressive run-stopping defense from a secondary standpoint, as the two safeties can play with their eyes in the backfield and react immediately in force run support, but at the same time keeps two deep safeties.

What is interesting is that Tennessess and Monte Kiffin used the same scheme to slow down Florida's offense.  As discussed in the article, the benefit against spread-to-run teams is that it its an inside to out defense that focuses first on stopping the running backs, then the quarterback, and only last on the outside receivers and dropback passing game.  But, as discussed previously, the dropback passing game is precisely what most spread teams do least well.  (Note:  Tennessee, like USC, also ran the Eagle against Florida in running situations).


Arizona was thus able to use this scheme to immediate force support on the outside versus zone plays, as can be seen below:

Interestingly, Tennessee did much the same thing (cover-4) to UF last year.  Yes, Tennessee lost.  But the defense played very well.  The similarities were this:

  • Cover-4 analysis above with emphasis on having as many eyes in the backfield as possible.
  • Force running QBs to accurately make pro-style throws to the outside
  • Stay in base personnel (4 down linemen and 3 'backers) instead of going to Nickel (1 extra defensive back) or Dime (2 extra defensive backs) personnel groupings even against spread sets featuring 4 or even 5 wideouts.  Many react to the spread by using multiple defensive backs, but that is exactly what spread-to-run teams want.  They want to run the ball and make easy throws.  The passing game is there to distract the defense.  By staying in base personnel, Arizona, Ohio State, and Tennessee all forced their spread-run opponent to take everything outside.  And without an inside threat, it's pretty easy to corral plays to the outside because the defender doesn't have to hesitate.

I'm extremely encouraged that Mark Stoops had that gameplan against Oregon, even if Arizona didn't have the players to win in overtime.  You'll definitely see some Cover 4, but as I mentioned you'll also see another MOFO defense:

Cover 2

Here's a diagram:



Cover 2 is relatively simple. Starting with the Linebackers. OLB will drop to the curl unless there is a number 2 wide receiver. (Tight Ends do not count.) If there is a number 2 wide receiver, the OLB will wall the number 2 receiver to the outside. Mike Backer will wall the Tight End toward the outside. Basically, all linebackers want to play a "trail technique" . They have to play run first. This means they will be almost chasing the receivers. This will put them between the QB and Receiver. This is good because the QB will have to throw over the linebackers. By throwing over the LB, the ball has to stay in the air longer which will allow the safety to make a play on the ball. The corners are doing the opposite, they want to keep everybody to their inside. They squat and keep outside leverage. They are looking inside at the QB. If the ball is not in the air on the QB's third step, they immediately open and run to the deep out squeezing the passing lane. As you can tell the philosophy of cover 2 is to funnel everybody to the safetys who are aligned up on the hash. You want to keep all the receivers outside the hash. Also do not worry about the short stuff. The defense must rally to the ball and punish the receiver so he will think twice about catching the ball underneath.  Source

I don't have much to add on this.  Follow this link for more than you would ever want to know.  


FSU will play some man still, but will play far less man than before.  

Zone Pressures

As we looked at back in March, Mark Stoops' defenses get after the quarterback but they don't do so by bringing large numbers of rushers on the blitz.  

ShakinTheSouthland again has an excellent look at what is known as the zone blitz.  A blitz is when a team uses more than 4 pass-rushers (5, 6, 7, or perhaps 8).  A zone blitz is when a team does that but plays zone coverage behind it instead of man coverage (think FSU).  Sometimes this will involve blitzing two linebackers and dropping a defensive lineman into a short zone coverage.  

The purpose of this is to confuse the offensive line's pass-protection scheme and make the quarterback hesitate.  "Cause a pause."  Stoops is big on making the quarterback think too much.  Stoops wants to create uncertainty with who is coming.  Changes rush angles.  reduce risk of big plays. 

Here are two classic examples I pulled from Bob Stoop's Oklahoma playbook:


Above, you see the nose guard and defensive end drop into coverage while the middle and strong-side linebacker blitz.


Cover-3 is the most popular zone coverage to play behind a zone blitz.  It makes sense.  

If you really like this stuff I highly recommend reading all 13 articles in this zone blitz series:

No matter the pressure, FSU must blitz as a team and not as individuals.  Blitzing is a team concept and a team endeavor.  Certain players are not asked to the quarterback but rather to occupy a blocker so that the blocker cannot reach the blitzing player and the player gets an unobstructed running start at the quarterback.  FSU did not do that last year as the coaching was not there.  


Credit to ShakinTheSouthland.comBruinsNation.comBrophy Football, and Smart Football

Final Thought

If I could summarize Stoops defensive philosophy, it would be to be extremely assignment sound by virtue of stressing fundamentals and details.  The defense will concede short passing gains on early downs and will endeavor not to allow the big play.  Stoops wants to force teams to consistently execute with precision down the field over and over again (not allowing the big play).  Stopping the run is the focus on early downs.  The goal is to play with great leverage and force the offense into unfavorable leverage situations.  On "passing downs" expect to see some form of pressure with zone coverage behind it, forcing the quarterback to think instead of react.  

I realize this was quite long and I hope that it hit the basics without jumping into too much detail.  I fear that it might be lost on many of our readers.  If you have questions about any of this stuff, please do not hesitate to ask.  There are many members here with playing or coaching experience.  After a while this stuff is not that tough.  

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Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

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If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

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We have our own Community Guidelines at Tomahawk Nation. You should read them.

Join Tomahawk Nation

You must be a member of Tomahawk Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Tomahawk Nation. You should read them.




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In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.