VA Tech’s longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has continually harnessed a reputation as being one of the best in-game adjusters in football. Last spring, while X&O Labs was conducting research on the Hokies Bear Package, Mike Kuchar sat down with Coach Foster to talk about how his weekly game planning carries over into game day. Leaving nothing to chance, Foster admittedly doesn’t leave the office until 2:30 am on Wednesday night, the last night he finalizes his game prep. As the Hokies prepare to open its 2015 campaign against defending national champions Ohio State next week, Foster is already formulating his plan using the model he provides in this exclusive interview: read it here.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
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Last spring, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar spent three days with Bud Foster and his defensive staff studying the Hokies Bear Package, which the Hokies used on 54 snaps to hand Ohio State University its only loss last season. While the entire Bear study can be found here. Coach Foster also spend some time talking to Kuchar about what many feel is one of his biggest strengths as a defensive coordinator, his in-game adjustment ability.
MK: What is something about first down that has recently changed in tendencies?
BF: Nowadays you’re getting coordinators who are 50/50 (run/pass) in early downs like first and ten. Sometimes you get guys that are 70/30 and then I get excited because it’s a tendency. But if you get 60/40 or 65/35, I consider that to be 50/50.
MK: What is too much information and what is too little information on your game sheet? What are the “must-have” essentials?
BF: I’m pretty basic as noted in the early question. But what I believe you must have is somewhere on your sheet that separates your opponent’s run or pass tendency on third down. It could be third and two, third and three or third and four.
MK: What information do you chart on third downs?
BF: I look at every third down play on Wednesday nights and chart them and then I zero in on what we want to attack based on what they are showing more. If you’re getting them in this certain third and four and by self-scout they could be thinking you’re going to be in a man pressure because they run rub routes, then we may run some zone coverage. Then you have to figure out what coverages you want to be in during those downs based on the routes they are using. Are they running crossers, unders, etc. Do you want to be in your pressures or in your zone coverages where you are going to pass things off a little bit? Anything six or more we are going to come after them. We play a lot of man free or matchup coverage like quarters so we make the quarterback have to make good throws. If it’s third and real long we may play some type of Tampa two or cover three and make them dump it underneath and tackle it. But when it’s first and second down to third and six or less we need to contest all those throws.
MK: What is the most effective balance needed between your own self-scout tendencies and your opponents offensive tendencies?
BF: Outside of Bear, we are a check with me team. 12 personnel now is the new 21 personnel. If they run some 21 personnel, we will combine both those groupings. We call it A.F.C. (Automatic Front and Coverage). If it’s two backs we are playing this. If it’s double width, we are playing this. If it’s single width, we are playing this. If they go to gun, it carries over into 11 personnel. It’s play oriented by formation and backfield sets. Instead of me trying to roll sevens every snap, I’ve kind of already got it build it. Torrian Gray, our defensive backs coach, will study their routes and give me his input. I’ll look a run pressures and blitz pressures. We want to take away their run but must teams are route oriented in their pass game. Some teams that if the back is weak they will bring all their receivers to the back. We study that and matchup the coverage with that but still be sound in the run game.
MK: What information do you want after each series from your spotters?
BF: I want to know the plays and the formations in our terminology. Are they doing something a little bit differently? We are always talking about what his “track” is as an offensive coordinator. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I might be facing a guy that I knew ten years ago and I’m going off those tendencies.
MK: You strike me as a coach who saves every piece of information on the coordinators you face.
BF: Yea, I do. I have to throw some things away at this point because I'm loaded up. I’m a little bit of a pack rat when it comes to my game plan and my information on people.
MK: Why do you choose to be on the field instead of being in the booth like many defensive coordinators?
BF: What it does is take out the middleman in the communication process. The teams that huddle, I can get a feel if the play is a run or pass based on the signal callers. If there is long verbiage in there (either by signal or by words), I know it’s a pass. I’ll wait until they come out of the huddle to see if it’s 3x1 or 2x2 and I may dial in a blitz for that. If I’m upstairs, then I have to talk to a guy and he has to signal it. I was a signal guy when I first started and it was a lot of stress for me to make the right calls while the offensive is getting on the line of scrimmage. I also like to be right there with the kids so we can talk about why they are blocking it and how they are blocking it. I like that part of it so we can make those adjustments.
MK: Describe a situation where you made a crucial in-game adjustment to counter something that the offense was doing.
BF: Last season Duke was running a quarterback counter where they pulled the guard and used the back without brining the sniffer in Y-off formations. We had to adjust to that by having the player that was on the sniffer had to feel the lineman pull. The back would roll back and try to seal. Now you can use your cheat post player to get the feel for the linemen up front while the other plays the dump pass.
(Editor’s Note: This adjustment was detailed with diagram and film in XandOLabs.com study on the Hokies Bear Package).
What Bud Foster Said Next…
Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website and get instant access to the full-length version of this exclusive interview. Plus, you’ll receive up to 4 free books just for joining today. Here’s a quick look at what you’re missing..
- 12 items that Coach Foster has on his call sheet each week.
- The systematic communication that Coach Foster uses with his spotters after each series.
- What he has on his wristband each game.
- How he trains his spotters to see what they need to see during in-game action.
- The protocol Virginia Tech uses at halftime, itemized by the minute.
- Where Coach Foster feels is the best place to stand if you are an on-field defensive coordinator.
This Q and A was part of a larger study on Virginia Tech University’s Bear Package, which can be found in its entirety by going here.