Hurry-Up Defense

I think I heard the on the radio the other morning, that in the College Football Playoff Semifinal game between Oregon and Florida State, the high-speed offense of Oregon averaged around 11 seconds between plays when the game was still competitive. That’s fast. The sports radio talk show hosts then reported when the Ducks built a big lead and went into a slow-down, time-killing mode, they averaged about 20 seconds between plays. That’s faster than most team’s normal speed!

This high-speed mode killed Florida State. They couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game. The Seminole defense looked confused, tired, and made one mistake after another. That is what these uber-speed offenses attempt to do in this age of modern defensive football predicated on match-ups and substitution packages. The high-speed offense does not allow the defense to adjust; it finds a weakness in a certain defense, either schematic or personnel, it pushes the limits.

I had a conversation with one of my coaching offensive mastermind friends, Coach Larry Wallace, about the offensive performance of Oregon. Both of us were impressed with the speed at which the Ducks ran their offense. Being a defensive minded, former football coach, I was intrigued about how a defense can counteract the up-tempo offense.

Me: “It has me thinking about how to develop a hurry-up defense that is proactive instead of reactive.”

Coach Wallace: “Yeah, good luck.”

Me: “Amen, brother!”

Seriously, is there a solid defensive scheme you can think of to consistently shift the power to dictate the game from the hurry-up offense back to where it belongs–in the hands of the defense? If you have any ideas, please share.

I think the key is to play an aggressive, ball-attack defense through a fairly set package of personnel, not one which relies on massive substitutions. We would need to develop athletes physically to play at this speed (See how Oregon approaches this in my Bullets Over Bowling Balls post from 2012.). A very important point to consider with any scheme in any sport is this—one cannot expect to play the game at a certain speed if they do not train and practice to play the game at that certain speed.

Following in the footsteps of Coach Paul Lane, I would first attempt to dictate the flow of the game from the defensive end. The defensive scheme would involve multiple fronts and alignments with a minimal of responsibilities for each position. Basically, each player would have one job on a run play and one job on a pass play, and that job would be the same no matter what the defensive alignment, or front, looked like. I would try to punch the offense in the mouth by hitting harder, hitting more often, and wearing them down one man at a time all game. Every man wins their job on every play.

The spread and speed offenses usually have a run/pass option depending on the number defenders in the box. It’s a numbers game. If they read they have more blockers than defensive linemen and linebackers in the box, they can call a run play. If defense has a numbers advantage in the box, the pass play is chosen. A good defensive scheme could align in such a way to force the offense into one option or the other. The defenders would need to understand this concept to allow for the advantage of what plays to expect.

Oregon Duck Zone Read

Pressure the offense, particularly the QB, from multiple angles and with the goal of corralling the offense into a small space. Face it, if you’ve watch much hurry-up offense, they are designed to get athletes in space and into one-on-one match-ups they think they can win. I think I would try to minimize this offensive advantage by forcing them to beat me by doing things outside their comfort zone.

For secondary coverage schemes, I would develop physical man coverage techniques first and foremost in all our training with these athletes. In game planning, use man coverage schemes and match-up zone schemes as a general rule. The important thing is to realize how an offense with attack each coverage scheme and convey these tendencies to your secondary personnel.

One of the great enjoyments of the game of football is this mental and strategic side of the game. Even though I don’t actively coach football any more, I still love to think about the game. When I watch a game on television or in person, I am constantly watching for blocking schemes, formation tendencies, blitz packages, etc. Watching the Oregon Ducks this past week triggered the defensive coach in me to figure out how I’d develop a hurry-up defense to try and stop this potent offense.

If you have any ideas, feel free to comment below.  There are definitely more than one way to skin a cat. I am pretty sure there will be a Part 2 to this Hurry-Up Defense post, maybe even a :Part 3, 4, or 5.

The “What if we tried this?” is one of my favorite parts of coaching and training athletes.

And in my humble opinion, that is the fun of football!

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