Earlier this year Washington beat Stanfurd , and while I had mentally left that possibility open I had not prepared for UW to accomplish the feat with their defense. The Huskies recognized their defense as a weakness the past couple of years and so they used money they got from the new TV contract or a Superpac or from selling stolen aluminum siding or from Sarkesian's deal with the devil to hire a new defensive coaching staff to replace the guy whose biggest qualification was looking scary on camera (kinda lost that too when he borrowed grandma's reading glasses).
Before I get to how the UW defense stopped the Stanfurd offense I want to pick up where I left off in my previous Big Game Week post. In that post I looked at differences between David Shaw's 2012 running game and Jim Harbaugh's 2009 running game.
Last year I found myself assuming that the Stanford offense under Shaw was the same as the one under Harbaugh. Because Andrew Luck stayed that extra year the playbook may have stayed relatively unchanged. This year I went looking for differences. The skilled personnel are definitely different '09 had Luck, Owusu (WR), Whalen (WR) and Gerhardt; '12 has Josh Nunes, Levine Toilolo (TE), Zach Ertz (TE) and StepfanTaylor and the plays may be different because of that. But I think there is a shift in philosophy too, Shaw lines up 11 players between the hash marks and this condenses the defense.
Below is an example of this, This is the play immediately following that 1st and 10 play I wrote about in the previous post. The formation is superficially similar to the previous one, except on the previous play Ertz (#86) motioned to the right of the formation to balance it (same number of players on the line on each side of the center) this formation is unbalanced with and extra (eligible) offensive tackle lined up on the left side of the formation. A couple other small differences: there is a little more space between Ertz and the right tackle and Taylor (#33) is only one yard behind the fullback instead of two yards. Washington has responded by putting 10 men "in the box" (Hydrotech gives a great explanation for this in the comments of my previous post) but unlike last time they have five guys with their hands in the dirt/bits-o-rubber, a linebacker in a two point stance over Toilolo (#11) and their corners are playing closer to the line. Again this looks like a goal line defense but it is 2nd and 8 on the Furd 20 yard line.
This condensation of the defense means that there is a free safety behind the two linebackers and 80 yards of space. Instead of Harbaugh's "We are running, try to stop us" offensive attitude Shaw is saying "You are going to sell out to stop the run and we are going to make you pay for it". He has called a play action pass.
Ertz, Toilolo and the fullback release into pass patterns while Taylor stays in to block (the alignment difference for Taylor and Ertz allow them to accomplish their tasks easier and may be a tell). Washington's corners have man coverage on Toilolo and the fullback. When Taylor stays to block the backside linebacker comes on a delayed blitz and the play side linebacker drops into zone coverage leaving Ertz for the safety. This zone drop by the linebacker may be a blown coverage because as soon as Nunes looks at Ertz the linebacker starts booking it down field.
Although the defenders trail the fullback and Toilolo closely, they are both open for a pass but Ertz is the primary receiver because if he beats the safety this could be a touchdown. Nunes makes a good throw between two defenders but not good enough for Ertz to catch on the run.
Washington did manage to shut down the Stanfurd offense and looking at how they did it may give us some clues as to why Stanfurd is struggling this season as well as some idea of how Cal could stop them.
In this next play Stanfurd lines up in a more traditional run formation with Taylor and the fullback, #85 Ryan Hewitt, lined up directly behind Nunes, Toilolo lined up next to the right tackle with his hand in the dirt/rubber and a wide receiver lined up tight next to him. Off the screen to the left is another wide receiver with a corner in coverage. Washington has four down linemen, two outside backers in two point stances on the ends, tho inside backers and a safety ten yards deep.
Stanfurd is going to run a play action bootleg. Toilolo sets the edge by blocking the down lineman inside of him. Taylor blocks backside pursuit while the fullback runs at the last defender on the line and then releases into the flat. The Washington defense uses Man coverage on the backside wide receiver, while the backside linebacker and safety bracket that back side receiver in shallow and deep zone coverages. The corner over the receiver #4 sticks on him in man coverage while the play side outside backer covers the fullback in man coverage. When play side inside backer sees Toilolo blocking he goes in pursuit of Nunes.
The coverage is tight and even though Nunes is not under duress, he has no where to throw and no where to run and heads out of bounds.
The defense started out bunched up but Stanfurd was unable to take advantage because UW stuck with their assignments and tight man coverage.
So Washington wasn't falling for that play action pass but the strength of the Stanfurd offense is supposed to be the power run game. David Shaw had taken it to a new level. Here is his version of a wildcat play: since the ball is rarely thrown from this formation Shaw has decided that receivers are not necessary, he has seven (!) offensive linemen, two tight ends lined up on the right and a fullback offset to the right. I think the Big 10 is jealous. This Stanfurd formation is heavy right, so heavy I think the field may be tipping but Washington's defense is almost a base defense. The only concessions to Stanfurd's heavy formation are that the nose tackle is lined up shaded to the weak side (the side away from the overload on the offensive line) of the center and the weak side linebacker is lined up directly behind the nose tackle.
At the snap the left guard pulls around the center to block the weak side middle backer while the fullback goes through the hole to block the strong side middle backer. The center blocks the nose tackle and the right guard blocks the other defensive tackle. The rest of the line seems to have been told to block whoever is lined up across from you because the two tackles on the left double team the defensive end on that side. The left tackle finds an outside backer to block while #96 right of Toilolo (at the right end of the Furd line) who is a Furd D-lineman blocks the poor cornerback on that side. Toilolo runs around looking for someone to block but never finds anyone while the safety and weak side OLB are completely unaccounted for.
It turns out that the poor blocking on the edges does not matter. The nose tackle is a rock that the center is unable to move. The pulling guard is unable to get through the hole and the weak side middle backer takes on the fullback and the pulling guard plugging the hole. The rest of the blocking fails to open a cut back lane and this run is stuffed.
Here is a closer view of the chaos in the middle.
I think this play was doomed by its design. There was a heavy formation to the right but Washington kept its defenders in the middle of the field. The center was unable to win his one on one match up with the nose tackle clogging up the middle and the pulling guard had a bad angle into the hole anyway. A guard pulling around the center usually traps a player on the opposite side of the center giving that pulling guard the element of surprise and the ability to push the defender from the side instead of meeting him head on. Here the guard has no momentum and cannot open a hole for the running back (remember physics F=M(V squared) well, the guard had no velocity while the linebacker had lots - the same is true for the fullback).
This ended up being a long article (and I shortened it by one play) because I was trying to figure out what the heck Stanfurd is doing and i think I found out. They are calling poorly designed run plays where the second level defenders go partially or completely unblocked and they have trouble winning one on one blocking match ups with the defensive line. In their pass plays, tight man coverage is able to negate all the open space that the tight run formations create.
When they had this much trouble moving the Washington D-line I can see how they failed to move the Notre Dame defensive line.
I have one last article planned for this week, a look at how the Arizona offense moved the ball against a Stanfurd defense that did a good job at stopping USC's offense.