Understanding Cal's "Gold Rush" Defense

EDIT:  This post was taken down by me, edited and then re-posted.  The headings, titles of the videos and diagrams stated these were 3-4 formations, when in fact they included 3-3 AND 3-4 formations.  This has been corrected.  I'm sorry that this action zapped the comments. If this pisses you off, then you can suck my balls.

Our defense sucked ass in 2007 but kicked ass in 2008, with essentially the same players.  In fact, without our defense, this season would’ve been a total failure.  So how did we improve so much over 2007?  Take a look at the pass efficiency stats for opposing QBs, turnover margin, 3rd down efficiency and sack totals below.  The question that comes to mind is..... HOW???


In this post I will try to answer that question and explain how our "Gold Rush" defense works.

For the half of you that can’t read, just watch this video.

1) I’ve never analyzed any defense this extensively, let alone our own.  Keep in mind I'm not an expert and I most likely have made some mistakes.  Let’s open all of this up for discussion, debate and correction. 
2) I don’t know what Bob Gregory calls these plays so I’ve made my own names for them…e.g. "Gold Rush."


  1. Lower pass efficiency of opposing QBs: Bottom line - our success here is due to our line pressuring the QB while only rushing 4 or even 3… thereby allowing us to drop back a lot of people into zone coverage (see our INT total).  Blitzing from different angles forces offensive linemen to make 50/50 guesses at least once per possession (ever wonder how someone like Zack could get free rushes to the backfield?).  Our goal is to compress the pocket on every pass play and hurry the pass, not necessarily to sack the QB.

  2. Bend but don’t break:  Ironically, Bob Gregory still believes in this principal… it’s just been more successful in 2008 due to the pass rush we create through zone blitzing and the use of the ‘Gold Rush’ set (3 DEs).  We play a ton of Nickel, Dime and even Quarter and still rush the passer.  The best of both worlds.

  3. Improvement in 3rd down conversion defense was due to us killing the screen game: by using the Lebeau zone blitzing scheme (dropping one off the line while blitzing another to fill his place) we frequently cover the flat or the screen man during screening down/distance and still rush the passer.  We do this often from the Gold Rush set (3DEs).  The "minus one" almost always covers the screen.

  4. Better rush defense due more to LB talent than the 3-4 system: The success of our rush defense in the 08 season was due simply to the improved play of Derek Hill, his alignment technique and good gap assignments by our LBs.  We did nothing too creative here other than to use one extra LB.  We thus lose a lot with our graduating LB class. 

  5. The MVP of our defense is not Zack Follet: Derek Hill is our MVP.  Because of his resistance to the double/triple team, we were able to use risky blitz schemes without actually risking much.  He held down the fort while our LBs when out to play.


WHAT IS A 3-4?
In the 3-4, there are three defensive linemen (two DEs and one NT).  Because LBs are more mobile than DTs, you can create new angles of attack not possible with 300lbs DTs.  Creativity and speed are the main benefits of the 3-4.  We almost always use a 3-4 defense on run downs.


WHAT IS A 3-3?
In the 3-3 (also called 3-3-5), there are three defensive linemen (two DEs and one NT).   There are also three linebackers and five defensive backs ("nickel").  In our "Gold Rush" formations (when we use 3DEs) we use as many DBs as possible to defend the pass.  In fact, against spread offenses we even move to a 3-2-6 ("Dime") meaning there are only two LBs.




What version of the 3-4 do we run?  It’s a derivative of the Lebeau zone blitzing scheme but not the same.  Just like the Lebeau, we will subtract one off the line but add one back from a "surprise" location… or maybe two.  Offensive linemen get confused because once their assigned D-lineman drops back instead of attacking, they either have the choice of double teaming the nearest enemy or wait for the incoming "plus one."  This is risky because if they decide to double team, the "plus one" can slip past… if they wait, they could end up blocking nobody because the "plus one" might attack a different location.  "Damned if you do, damned if you don’t." 

"Gold Rush": Gregory’s unique contribution is the "Gold Rush" set used mostly on passing downs.  It’s a 3-3 with no NT (3DEs and 3LBs).  Instead of a DT at nose, he’ll insert an extra DE and line him up in the 1 technique (off the shoulder of the Center) or the 3 technique (off the Guard)… thus playing the de-facto NT, but not behaving like one.  This makes everyone on the line a rush specialist.  This 3rd DE is sometimes a "minus one," meaning he will drop back and cover the screen while a "plus one" attacks from a surprise location.

To rush the passer, Gregory will use the standard 3-3, 3-4, 3-4 zone blitz, 3-4 Lebeau schemes, 3-4 with stunts, Gold Rush, Gold Rush Lebeau, various shifts, tons of fake blitz angles and a combination of these.  Let’s see some in action.



"Gold Rush 0" Set

This formation is used on long passing downs and we don’t use it often.  The purpose is to compress the pocket and force a hurried throw deep into the Nickel/Dime or short into the flat where the LBs will be waiting in the shallow zone.

1.  4th and 10 -  Notice they double team both Browner and Tyson with Cameron in single around the edge, but Tyson doesn’t rush but instead covers the weak-side option keeper.  Tyson is the "minus one."  Everyone drops back into coverage.  There are five Oregon receivers being covered by NINE defenders in zone.  Even if Masoli wasn’t pressured he would have nowhere to go.

2.  3rd and 8 - We rush all three DEs and drop NINE into coverage.  There are four down receivers being covered by NINE defenders.  We compress the pocket but even if we didn’t, Prichard would have nowhere to throw but his outlet to his left.

3.  3rd and 4 - Again we rush three DEs.  Seven defenders on four down receivers with one lingering LB covering the shallow screen.  By compressing the pocket with three fast DEs, Craft makes a hasty throw into coverage.  Even without the rush, he would be throwing into stacked coverage.



"Gold Rush 1" Set

Our most common formation during passing downs, we use it all the time.  This formation rushes the passer with three DEs and a speed LB coming from a random side.  We also subtract from this formation and add one from a "surprise" angle.  The key to this formation is compressing the pocket with only four rushers… so we can drop as many as possible into zone and one into the flat.

1. 3rd and 8 – all three DEs rush and Zack rushes the strong side…. spilling the QB out of the pocket, forcing him to throw into double coverage.  This was a 3-2 Dime set.

2.  Passing down – same play but we drop seven into coverage and actually get pressure on Rudy due to Jordan’s good play.  Regardless, Rudy would be throwing into coverage.

3.  3rd and 12 – This play forces the center to make a choice.  Zack lines up on the strong side but both Zack and Cameron stunt to the middle… the center picks up Cameron which allows Zack through.  The RB tries to pick up Zack but fails.  Rudy is forced to escape.

4.  3rd and long – We double stunt again and hurry the middle screen pass from Turner.

5.  3rd and 6 – We rush all three DEs and Zack while dropping seven into coverage against four down receivers.  Middle screen is open, but Zack gets to Rudy first.  In this example the Gold Rush 1 failed.

6.  2nd and 10 – This is our season in a nutshell.  We are able to compress the pocket with only four rushers (3DEs and 1LB) while dropping seven into coverage.

7.  Passing down – Rushing four again (3DEs, 1LB), we are able to compress the pocket and force a throw.  Mohamed is actually waiting for the screen but gets a gift from Pritchard.  Again, pressure with only four rushers is the key.

8.  3rd and 15 – We first show 3DEs rushing, but add a "plus one" from the slot… in this case Zack releases his WR and blitzes the weak side.  Worrell picks up his receiver.  However, it’s Browner that truly forces Craft into the hurried throw.



"Gold Rush 2" Set

This formation is often used as a Lebeau zone blitz formation.  It uses 3DEs but 2LBs also line up on the line.  It looks like a full blitz but one is often subtracted.

1.  1st and 10 – Cameron stunts from the strong side confusing the tackle and the RB into covering the B-gap.  Mohamed goes in unblocked.

2.  3rd and 8 – Gold Rush 2, "minus one."  Notice Tyson drop back to cover the RB on the middle screen.  When the pressure comes, Moevao has nowhere to go but deep.

3.  3rd and 7 – Same play.  Pocket pressure with six zone defenders covering four down receivers.  Notice how long the QB holds the ball.  Coverage sack.

4.  3rd and 8 – Same play but Mohamed improvises an alignment and he’s the "minus one" this time.  Notice McKnight stop for the middle screen, but since Mohamed dropped back from the line, he’s covered.  This is the purpose of the "minus one" concept.



Gregory mixes a combination between Gold Rush 0, 1 and 2 along with zone blitzes from all angles.

1.  1st and 10 – Gold Rush 1, minus one, plus one.  Tyson is the "minus one" and Syd is the "plus one."  We still get a pass rush with four AND cover the screen (Tyson).

2.  3rd and 11 – They’re showing balanced split T formation.  We want to overload one side.  Gold Rush 0, minus one, plus two.  Tyson is the "minus one" covering the screen man and Syd and Zack are the "plus two" coming from the same side to overload.   Notice both Rulon and Zack are double teamed while Syd is untouched.  We do this a lot.

3.  2nd and 8 – Standard 3-4, minus two, plus one.  This is very confusing to the OL.  Hill and Mohamed are the "minus two."   Johnson (plus one) and Zack blitz at the same time and the Tackle and TE don’t know who to cover so both come in free.



3-4 middle zone blitz

The zone blitz simply is another word for a "partial" blitz.  Usually one or two of the LBs will blitz from any of the four LB placements.  In other situations Safeties and Corners will blitz and the LBs will play zone.  That's what makes it effective, you never know where it's going to come from.

1.  2nd and 8 – Notice Cameron shift while Syd fakes a blitz.  Now the Tackle and Guard don’t know which blitzer to pick up… Syd or Worrell.  The Guard picks up no one and lets Worrell through.

2. 1st and 10 – Delayed zone blitz middle.  The edge blitzers fake then drop back.  It’s hard for the Tackle to know if the blitz is coming inside or outside.

3.   2nd and 15 – Among the four LBs, it’s hard for the OL to know which ones will be blitzing.  This time only one of them does… middle zone blitz.

4.  2nd and 10 – Same play.

5.  1st and 10 – Overloading the strong side with a Safety blitz.  Kallil Bell has a choice to block Zack or Brett… he picks Zack and Brett gets a free rush at Craft.  Tyson finishes.



3-4 Inside Line Backer stunt

Stunts basically are when two defensive positions switch places right after the snap.  Stunts are used to overcome inferior numbers.  The Offensive linemen can get confused and not know who to cover.

1.  3rd and 3 – LB stunt.  Notice the stunt confuses the tackle and he thus misses Worrell rushing in.

2.  3rd and 6 – Double stunt with Hill dropping back to cover the screen.  We don’t make Hill the "minus one" often.

3.  1st and 10 – Same play.  Double stunt, minus one.

4.  Passing down – Tyson stunts around Kane.  Leaving three blockers doing nothing and Tyson with his hands on Pritchard.



3-4 standard gap assignment play against the run

We run some form of Gap play for all the run downs.  The key is for the NT to stand his ground.  The Offensive line wants to push the NT back to create one big lane, rather than two small ones on either side of him.   That's why Derek Hill's performance is essential.  He routinely gets double and triple-teamed, but MUST stand his ground.  If he's blown back, he will not only present a large hole between the LBs for the RB to run through, but also act as a big obstacle between the LBs and the RB.

Here are various Gap assignment / zone / shooting plays.  No explanation needed but keep your eye on the NT position.  We sometimes have our LBs improvise by shooting the gaps if they have a shot at the RB in the backfield.  These are pretty self explanatory and don’t need commentary from me.



This isn’t Scissor shifting (DL and LBs shifting in offsetting alignments).  This is our guys intimidating the QB by showing chaos.  We actually do this a lot.


I love this defense... It allows us to overcome inferior numbers at the line so we can out-number the receivers in the backfield.  THIS is how 'bend-but-don't-break' is supposed to work.  The whole point is to rush only three or four and still get pressure on the QB by using creative blitz angles, schemes, stunts and pre-snap shifts.  It's not complicated... but it is totally unpredictable.

Also, this defense is unique in that we often use 3DEs on passing downs ("Gold Rush").  This means our D-line (averaging about 260lbs) has a significant weight disadvantage, but a superior speed advantage because everyone at the line is a rush specialist.  Bravo, Coach Gregory... bravo.

It's also interesting that this defense is PERFECT for someone like Devon Kennard.  On passing downs we field three DEs... each one takes turns playing the NT position and they even switch between the weak and strong side.  As a DE, you get to play three different positions.  And for someone like Kennard, he can also play the "minus one" zone... AND play the rush LB on the Gold Rush1 formation (Zack's position)... thus putting four DEs on the line at once!  This is how we landed Coleman (he's slated to play strong-side DE).  It's so much fun for the DEs and it's easy to see tons of playing time at different positions.


Appendix - Cal's personnel nomenclature
3-1-7: 3 DLinemen, 1 LBs, 7 DBs... aka "Quarter," aka "3-1"
3-2-6: 3 DLinemen, 2 LBs, 6 DBs... aka "Dime," aka "3-2"
3-3-5: 3 DLinemen, 3 LBs, 5 DBs... aka "Nickel," aka "3-3"
3-4-4: 3 DLinemen, 4 LBs, 4 DBs... aka "standard 3-4"

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