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By Mike Kuchar, Co-Founder/Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Rose-Hulman Institute (IN) may be a 4-2-5 outfit by personnel, but it chooses to utilize 3-3-5 and Bear spacing to defend the RPO concepts it sees on a weekly basis. It all depends on the formation structure presented by the offense. According to Defensive Coordinator Nick Davis, the sticking point is training all second level defenders to play at or on the line of scrimmage. The Fighting Engineers defense placed in the top 20 nationally in six categories this season by disguising their front structure while keeping the same personnel on the field. Read their answers here...


By Mike Kuchar 
Co-Founder/Senior Research Manager 
X&O Labs 
Twitter: @MikekKuchar 



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Rose-Hulman Institute defensive coordinator Nick Davis believes in playing man coverage. It’s his philosophy. Even with some of the more intelligent student-athletes in the country (Rose-Hulman is an engineering school) Coach Davis believes in the simplicity of lining up man for man and playing ball, particularly against RPO offenses. Although Coach Davis’ players have the ingenuity to paly both man and zone coverages, he just chooses not to. 

“Our kids have trouble playing zone because they play with man eyes because they are so used to it,” he told us. “We’ll see our overhangs that will run with crossers. It’s really been a detriment for us to do something else. Our kids are smart but are lesser athletes that whom we play. So we tell them to stay on the hip of their receiver. And if we tell them to do one thing our kids are going to focus on doing it.” 

Clearly, they have done what’s asked of them. The Fighting Engineers defense produced the following numbers this past season (all national ranks): 

  • #1 Player in the Nation with Sacks (17 sacks) 
  • #2 Team Sacks  
  • #9 TFL 
  • #11 Yards per Carry 
  • #16 Rush Defense 
  • #19 Pass Completion Percentage 
  • #24 3rd Down Defense 
  • #30 Red Zone Defense 

From a base standpoint, each player in the Fighting Engineers defense has a gap or a man. Some defenders will have a man and a gap if there is a tight end involved. According to Coach Davis, he’s seen less and less RPO’s than two-high quarters teams because of there is no leverage placed on overhang players. “ We create match-ups and it doesn’t matter where they are,” he told us. “We get lined up quickly and we just play with the proper leverage- inside or outside. Since we are a box team (and not a spill team) we can change our leverage to cheat inside if we are getting hurt in the slant game. We teach all our defensive backs press man coverage and off man coverage from both the outside and slot positions so we can get the best match-ups.”         


The novelty of the Rose-Hulman defense is that Coach Davis plays a 3-3-5 structure based off four down personnel. He is able to cross train defenders so that he can adjust the front structure depending on the offensive personnel or formation. “We like to be more even fronts against heavy personnel and more odd fronts vs. spread personnel,” said Coach Davis. “We will do both even and odd fronts vs. both personnel types to keep people honest.” For the most part, Coach Davis plays a field/boundary defense. He’ll play with two true defensive ends (one of which that can be a hybrid interior technique), one Nose, one hybrid linebacker (that can play on the line of scrimmage in four down fronts) and two traditional linebackers who will be in the box. “We like this personnel because we do not need to sub personnel to match the offense and we can present multiple looks,” he told us.     

This is the following personnel descriptions that Rose-Hulman uses in its backend: 

Dime: Best cover slot player. Most athlete safety or third best corner  

Rover: Needs to be able to cover second best slot player and match physical Tight Ends. 

Mike: Most physical defender. Does not need to play much.  

Bob: Best athlete of the linebackers. Needs to be able to play on the line of scrimmage. A player that may be able to both rush and cover.  

Will: Mixture of the Mike and Bob linebacker. Needs to be able to cover but also be a physical guy. He plays man on the tailback quite a bit.   

As referenced above, Rose-Hulman will vary its three-down vs. four-down looks depending on the formation structure presented. In one-back looks, the Fighting Engineers will align in odd stack looks. Against two-back structures, they will choose to be in more four-down fronts adjusting with the B linebacker up on the line of scrimmage. “We treat 10 personnel and 00 personnel the same and would like to be in an odd front of some sort,” he said. “We treat 11, 12, 20, 21 personnel the same and would like to be in an even front of some sort.  Our base coverage adjusts to any personnel or formation. We can add cover safeties or corners if we want against 10 personnel and physical safeties or stack linebackers against heavy personnel. Our system allows us to interchange position and not lose a beat.” 

Continue to the full-length version of this report…

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  • How Coach Davis cross-trains second level defenders to play on the line of scrimmage by teaching them the same pre-snap keys.
  • The three Bear Front variables that Coach Davis will use to acquire mismatches at the line of scrimmage to defend RPOs.
  • How Coach Davis trains the Free Safety to be an extra player in the run or pass element of the RPO based on the mesh read of the quarterback.
  • What Coach Davis does by alignment to protect against inside routes in the RPO game in his man free coverage.
  • The four types of Cover 1 Rose-Hulman will use to get add on pressure on the quarterback.
  • Plus, game film on how Coach Davis defends RPOs from the following formations: 3x1 open, 3x1 closed, 2x2 open, 2x2 closed and H/Y off formations.

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In order to play man free coverage against RPO concepts, there must be a minimum of six box defenders. But how those box defenders can be displaced can make all the difference in stopping the option game. Producing different box looks to the offense- by varying between even and odd fronts, can cause a great deal of indecision for the quarterback in the RPO offense.  



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