Michigan State has become one of the top defensive programs in the country year in and year out under head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. 2013 was no exception as the Spartans finished #4 in the country in total defense en route to winning the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl.
The Spartans are primarily a base football team on defense and play a majority of snaps out of their 4-3 over quarters coverage scheme
In addition to the base defense, Narduzzi also has an extensive blitz package to go along with his quarters scheme. I’m going to highlight some of Narduzzi’s favorite blitzes. First I’ll show some of the blitzes versus the run game.
Quarters is the base coverage but versus a closed formation the Spartans will play Cover 2.
What Narduzzi will do frequently against this type of formation is bring the corner on a blitz from the boundary and use the safety to play the tight end man to man.
Next is a “Bear Front” blitz. A bear front is a defensive alignment where the defense covers the center and both guards. This was the primary front of the famed “46” defense of the 85 Bears and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. It forces one on one matchups in pass protection and creates problems with a lot of run blocking schemes.
Notre Dame runs a gap scheme that is known as an influence trap or double trap. Notre Dame attempts to trap the left defensive tackle and sam linebacker but are simply outnumbered in the box. The play results in another tackle for a loss.
Next we’ll look at some of the Narduzzi blitz package in obvious passing situations. While Michigan State favors split safety coverages, their blitzes tend to be 6 man pressures with 3 deep coverage behind it. Very rarely do you see a straight upfield rush with Michigan State’s blitz scheme. There are a lot of games and stunts up front that keep the blitzes unpredictable and helps maximize the disruption of the 6 rushers. This makes it very difficult for QB’s and offensive lines to get comfortable setting the protection pre-snap, and to carry out their assignments after the snap. Another tendency you will see is late movement by the front & secondary. The blitzes are well disguised and Michigan State times their movement by the front as late in the QB’s cadence as possible. The secondary often will not rotate until post-snap
Here is a diagram of a 3 deep blitz from last year’s game versus Michigan in a 3rd & long situation. The defensive personnel is nickel. The rotation brings the safeties down to play the hook zones. The corners bail to play deep 1/3’s and the Mike drops to play the middle deep 1/3. Up front, the interior movement combined with a hard edge rush make this blitz tough to pick up with a 6 man protection scheme.
After the distribution of the rush post snap, you end up with a 250 pound defensive tackle coming through the B gap untouched versus the running back.
This is a matchup the favors the defense and the tackle defeats the block of the running back, forcing the QB to step up into the collapsing pocket, resulting in a 3rd down sack.
The next blitz is in a 2nd & long situation. It’s a very similar blitz in that it’s another 6 man rush with 3 deep coverage. There are some differences though. The blitz comes from the base personnel package with different rotation in the secondary. This just goes back to a previous point about how Narduzzi likes to keep the offense off-balance. While the structure of the blitz is the same, the difference in rotation gives the blitz a different look. You see the inside stunts with the defensive ends and tackles once again, a staple of the Narduzzi pressure scheme.
The nose guard is able to occupy the right guard and right tackle on his slant into the B gap. With the Center sliding to the left, the left defensive end gets a free run through the A gap. With the back matched up with the Sam linebacker and a free runner on the inside, the Spartans get another sack.
The last blitz that I’ll show is an overload fire zone. The situation is 3rd and 6 early in last year’s Big Ten Championship game versus Ohio State. This fire zone features 3 deep/3 under coverage with 5 rushers. With it being 3rd and medium, Narduzzi drops an extra player into coverage and uses an overload rush scheme in order to maximize the pressure from the 5 man rush. Narduzzi aligns the corners in press-man position to show their traditional quarters look pre-snap.
Ohio State is running a common split safety coverage beater with a smash concept to the right. But Michigan State is playing single high coverage and matches the patterns perfectly. The Cornerback playing a deep 1/3 picks up #2 on the corner route, and the seam defender to that side covers the hitch.
By the time the QB comes off the smash read the rush has hit home. The left guard and tackle both bite on the inside rush of the defensive end into the A Gap. The mike linebacker comes untouched and once again you see what a mismatch it usually is with a running back on a linebacker.
Michigan State and Narduzzi will always hang their hat on being a base defensive football team. But you can see why Narduzzi is such a great defensive coordinator. While creating visual complexity for the offense with multiple alignments, disguises and rotations, the blitz schemes for his players are very similar in their overall concept. Usually by the time the opposing QB has figured out the coverage, he’s scraping himself off the ground.