A Look Inside The Warriors’ Defense

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 27, 2010
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Corey Paredes peers into the Nevada backfield

It’s a saying as old as the game itself: You have to stop the run if you have any hope of winning. UH has tried, and sometimes succeeded, to prove the maxim wrong by winning with superior offense and just enough defense.

That doesn’t always work. Sometimes the defense has to be more than just a complementary piece. Sometimes it has to take the lead, even on a team that considers 300-yard passing days routine.

The Warriors did just that against Nevada by employing a defensive scheme that is a fundamental in one area of the game, yet goes against the basic training of the guys tasked with carrying out the plan.

At its very basic element, defenders are taught to find the ball carrier and tackle him. While this is a simple and sometimes effective method of slowing an offense, it does little good against option or spread-option teams that look to exploit angles and cut back lanes to advance the ball. Fast and aggressive defenses tend to overrun plays, providing open spaces for running backs and mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kapernick to run for big gains. The counter for the defense is to treat every snap as if playing kickoff coverage.

Just like members of the coverage units have specific lanes they must fill while advancing on the ball carrier, playing defense against option teams means staying in your lane, even if the play is going away from you. It’s more complicated than it sounds. Option teams like to flip things around. They take what you would normally do and use it against you.

“You feel weird out there because you see one guy going right, but your job is to go left,” says linebacker Corey Paredes, the nation’s No. 7 tackler. “It messes with your mind. But that’s football. You have to play the scheme, and the only way to win is to execute the scheme. So even if it goes against your natural instincts, you have to do it to win.”

Coming up with a plan is one thing. Getting the players to buy into the system and carry it out is quite another. Against Nevada, the plan worked. The Wolf Pack walked into Aloha Stadium undefeated and averaging 314 yards rushing per game. They left with their first loss and lowest rushing totals (134 yards) since Dec. 30, 2008, when they gained just 114 yards rushing in a 42-35 loss to Maryland in the Humanitarian Bowl.

To UH defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the reason was clear. Everyone played their role:

“You can have eight guys in the box, nine guys in the box, but if they are not fitting correctly, if they are not using their help (not signaling each other) and they are both in the same gap, it doesn’t matter how many guys we have there or how fast or aggressive we play, it ain’t going to work.”

But again, it’s not that simple.

Before filling any gap, a defender may have two or three reads before the ball is snapped. Is the running back slightly offset to one side? Are they setting up for a “horn play” (a leading fullback) or a “load block” (running back shifts sides)? Then there are the post snap reads, which can involve another two or three decisions. With all that going on, one could be excused if the brain gets in the way on occasion.

“That happens plenty of times during a game,” says Paredes. “There is no game I have played perfect and I don’t think there will ever be. Luckily the D-line has been swarming to the ball, so we cover up each other’s mistakes.”

And that is another benefit of playing strict assignment football. Help is always close by. It needs to be. Broken assignments leave defenders on an island that is easy for a good running team to exploit.

“The linebackers have to see it, the secondary has to see it. There were times when the linebackers and the secondary have to understand that, based upon this formation, we will have to see this particular guy. They (Nevada) would shift a wide receiver, a tight end would come in and now we have to see that guy. With all of the motions, the shifts and the trades, they want you to be confused, they want you to go to the wrong spot,” says Aranda.

We’ll know by the time you’re reading this whether or not Paredes and company could remain in their lanes for a third consecutive week, at Utah State.

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