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Florida State Tutorial Tuesday: Stopping the run game

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An all in approach with the hybrid 4-3.

Syracuse at Florida State: 2019

*This is part of a weekly segment called Tutorial Tuesday/Thursday. These articles are intended to give TN readers a simpler view of the Seminole offense and defense that our Whiteboard Wednesday pieces break down further.

Florida State football in 2020 will start and stop with the run game.

Mike Norvell’s coaching staff will be placing a heavy emphasis on stopping the run (defensively) and being good at running the ball (offensively). A recent Whiteboard Wednesday article by Jon Marchant discussed Norvell’s offense. The most recent Tutorial Thursday by Kevin Little explored ways that Norvell utilizes tight ends in a heavy spread attack. These articles will give you a glimpse from the offensive side of things, but today’s focus will be on the defensive side of the ball.

The Whiteboard Wednesday series began with a look at defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s defensive structure. Fuller has an all in approach to defending the run game and likes to take an offensive approach when designing his defensive gameplan. This leads us to today’s focus for Tutorial Tuesday, stopping the run with a hybrid 4-3 defense. Lets take a look at the base alignment against a twins look with an H-back insert:

The first thing that you should think about when talking run game is the box. The box includes the offensive players from tackle to tackle (if there is a TE you will include them), the H-back, quarterback, and running back. Defensively, the box consists of the defensive linemen and linebackers (or less commonly a walked up defensive back). Lets see what that looks like:

In the box the offense has a clear numbers advantage of eight offensive players against six defensive players. The defense does have all gaps accounted for on the interior. See below:

This gives you a basic idea of what base gap responsibilities are for the box defenders. While the defense has all of the gaps covered, as Kevin spelled out, when the H-back or the running back get inserted as blockers the defense now is out-gapped:

Now the defense has two gaps that it cannot account for. So what do coordinators do? This is where the safeties and hybrids come into play on defense.

The safeties and hybrids are going to play a vital role in fitting on the run game. Whether it be on a run blitz or a base run responsibility these are the players that balance things out for a defense.

For the sake of simplicity we are not going to look at run pass options (RPO) in this tutorial. Let’s take a look at the box when the safeties and hybrids are in play:

Quickly there are more gaps filled and defenders are able to account for the available blockers. It is important to note that different coverages will assign different players to gaps, so this is just a basic concept.

In the photo above we are going to assume that the defense is running quarters coverage. This gives the defense an opportunity to have nine defenders engaged in the run game. Lets take a look at some film and see what it looks like. Some of these plays are successful and others not (I tried to share mostly positive plays).

Check out the Mike LB scrapping over the top and making the play on the QB. The end does a nice job of taking on the puller and setting an edge. See the Bandit safety creep into the box late as the Will LB walks out onto the slot. The safety has to scrape into playside B gap to take away the shovel option. Good disciplined team defense.

See more great run fits and the safeties getting into the box and giving the defense the numbers advantage.

Why are we posting a 15 yard gain? Well it gives us a glimpse of what happens when players don’t fit correctly. The safety is late getting into his fit, the stud LB doesn’t set the edge well enough allowing the RB to get outside of him and the safety having to change his angle, the LB’s are flat footed and do not attack with good angles. The Mike LB should be fitting between the end and the stud LB but he hops and then gets engulfed by the guard.

Back to textbook fits by the defense. The bandit gets into the box late disguising the rotations and he along with the DT eat this play up. Also a better job on this play by the LB’s getting leverage on the ball.


This is a basic glimpse into what goes into defending the run game. Let’s hear about it in the comments. What would you do to stop a teams running game? What front would you run if you knew a team was going to run on you?