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Grambling State Tigers defense 2015 breakdown: How does the Cal offense match?

Can the Golden Bears make Grambling State play "Honest Defense"?

When I watched the Grambling State vs Southern Texas game I had one of those moments where I asked myself, what are they doing?  Defensive Coordinator Everett Todd has designed a defense that creates havoc for spread offenses.  The Tigers led the FCS in Sacks and in Tackles For Loss.  There are not many articles that have been written about Grambling's 2014 defense but this blog commenter characterizes it perfectly:

Will anyone in the SWAC make Grambling play honest football?

So far from the looks of it no one has been able to do it. That defense lines up & you are defeated before you even snap the ball because Grambling doesn't respect your QB or spread offense. There is no chess match at all. The Pre-Snap read is a no go because Grambling has already beaten you with a defensive formation of 3-3-5 variant

Lets take a look at this 3-3-5 variant.  The numbers stand for 3 Defensive Linemen (DL), 3 Linebackers (LB), and 5 Defensive Backs (DB).  The Grambling defense is in white and the Texas Southern offense in red is in a Spread 22 Left formation.

The Defensive Linemen and Linebackers line up in different places each snap; Grambling has a tendency to place a Linebacker on the line of scrimmage and you can identify which one is the linebacker because the defensive linemen line up with a hand in the turf while the linebacker is standing up.

What made me double take was the alignment of the Defensive Backs: they all line up at seven yards deep nearly every play.  It is madness!  They are giving up the quick short pass.  And with no deep safety they are asking to be burned deep.  Yet, there is brilliance in this madness.

Look at all the pressure Grambling brings.  Three blitzing linebackers with the defensive end at the top of the screen dropping into a shallow zone coverage.  The TSU quarterback is being hit as he makes his throw.

"We understand we're a man team, and that's what we do best," Todd said. "The more of that we do, I think the better we'll play."

The DBs are each in Man-To-Man coverage and their 7 yard cushion allows them to keep the play in front of them limiting big gains.  This frees up two or even all three linebackers to put pressure on the quarterback.  This defense is designed to get sacks, pressures and tackles for a loss.  They bring disruption to force turnovers.  If this comes at the expense of some short passes, so be it.

If Grambling brings all this pressure shouldn't they be vulnerable to screen and zone read plays?  Well with the linebackers responsible for bringing pressure, the defensive ends are able to stay home and squash this zone read.

With four of the defensive backs locked into Man coverage the safety comes up in run support.

Watch what happens when Grambling brings six men on the pass rush...

Two linebackers rush the center and with no running back to block the protection fails.  You can see big #73 in white at the end of the play on the 40 yard line getting into position in case the quarterback is able to scramble up the middle.  The defensive backs are once again in Man Coverage with the Cornerback at the bottom of the screen playing tight to the line of scrimmage and the other DBs 7 yards deep.  When the quarterback completes his drop the receivers are just reaching that 7 yard depth on their routes, even without a linebacker hanging off of him, the quarterback has no where to throw the ball.

The Tigers had the perfect start to this game.  Here was the first play after the opening kickoff:

The fumble was recovered by Grambling.  And the second play?

This is the Basketball on Grass that Head Coach Broderick Fobbs was talking about.  He is saying, we are going to score and we are going to take chances on defense because every stop is going to be one where you don't score.

Has the Grambling State coaching staff discovered the defense which will finally neutralize the Spread Offense and allow smaller programs compete with the Power 5?  Or is this 3-3-5 variant just something that works well in the SWAC and can get exposed by a quarterback who is expected to be an early round draft pick?

The game against TSU we have seen in these GIFs was the best one of the season for the Grambling defense.  In the last two games of the season the SWAC seemed to figure something out as the Tigers allowed 37 and then 52 points. Even so, the Golden Bears better show up ready for a pass rush that will attack from everywhere and a bend but don't break secondary.  If Jared Goff is constantly on his back or if his receivers are getting frustrated with short gains, the game could be a long one for Cal fans.

I think the keys will be good pass protection which will allow some deep passes to exploit the cover zero (no deep safety) and a strong running game to exploit the lack of second level defenders (linebackers) on all those blitzes.