Henderson State University finished third in the country among Division II schools with 29 interceptions and did so by teaching their secondary to read the eyes of the quarterback even in zone concepts. Read how here...
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report “Defending RPO and Triple Option.”
Quarters/Split Field Coverage Families:
Source 1: Henderson State University (AR)
Co-Defensive Coordinator Jeff McInerney
Henderson State University finished third in the country among Division II schools with 29 interceptions and did so by teaching their secondary to read the eyes of the quarterback even in zone concepts. They play their corners in the off position at eight yards and read the quarterback to determine run or pass. According to co-defensive coordinator Jeff McInerney, it’s a concept he learned from TCU’s head Coach Gary Patterson that has made a world of difference in them breaking to the ball. “Yeah, it can be scary,” he told us. “But if you do it right, you will confuse him and more importantly bait him into making a poor throw.” Henderson State is a 3-4 outfit that will rush an additional fourth defender at times. They play split field, matchup zone coverage structures, but will choose to play with at least two deep safeties to limit the vertical gains. “We will rally and tackle,” said Coach McInerney.
QB Down Elbow Trigger Point:
When Henderson State preps against RPO offenses, they will use the quarterback’s down (or play side) elbow to determine whether it’s give of pull. “We teach our defensive backs to have a visual aiming point of the quarterbacks midsection to down elbow,” co-defensive coordinator Matt Gordon told us. “If he is a right handed quarterback, we are staring at his belly to his left elbow. If that left elbow stays high and up, we will stay with our flat footwork progression. Quarterbacks are not going to pick their arms up after they handoff the ball. They will go through the mesh and the progression, but they are lazy. When the ball is out, the elbow stays high. When the elbow pops back up, we find our pass responsibilities.” While this is apropos for offset situations, Coach Gordon tells us the pistol is harder to read, but the triple option component is not there. “In Pistol for us it’s ‘is his back to me or is his back away?’ Is the quarterback pushing to me or is his back being turned at me?”
We talk a lot about angles of departure. By the receivers third or fourth step, we have a good feel of what he is running. We should know by the third step what he is running.
Constraints Defended: 3x1 Stick Draw Concepts, 3x1 vertical concepts
Deuce coverage is a four down front coverage where the additional rusher will come from the second level. It’s similar to a read two coverage in quarters where the trips side corner will play the out routes of number two while the free safety will play the vertical of number two behind him. The Nickel is the short wall player of number two while the Sam is the short wall player of number three. The safety plays number two only if he’s past linebacker depth. In 3x1 sets, the Nickel is inside number two and the apexed Sam linebacker will play the short game of number three and does so by reading the quarterback for his run/pass demeanor before breaking on the ball. He will be the quarterback player on zone read option. The coaching point is not to get beat inside and rally to the flat.
“The Sam must see the mesh of the quarterback,” said Coach McInerney. “Once the ball is thrown, he has to get here in a hurry.” It’s basically a matchup cover two. To the backside, the weak safety will start at 12 yards and come down to 8 to be on top of number three. He will poach or play anything past five yards on the backside number three. The corner plays man-to-man backside. “You have to match up on number three and number two without playing true man free. We widen our backers vs. trips but we don’t pull them. The Mike has to get under number three if it’s trips. We matchup with the Nickel on number two and the strong safety will carry number three to the backside safety. (Diagram 62).”
According to Coach Gordon, his corners in Deuce are anywhere from 5-8 yards off the receiver. “It’s like cover two, but we have to back up because we have one less defender in coverage,” he told us. “It’s two deep, four under. Some corners don’t want to be physical, so we need to use Deuce. If he’s being overly physical, he’s not reading the release of number two. We read ball to number two with our corners. A lot of teams will read two to number one, but we talk more about levels. I want to see if it’s one-step, three-step, five-step, etc. It’s all about the quarterback’s intent. We even read the quarterback in off man coverage. If the ball is off the line in shotgun, we go through our progression. Are we going to be fast out? Are we going to be slow out? Do we need to weave and cutoff the post? We want to be as physical as possible. We talk about corners hanging and banging which means if we are playing cover two or Deuce. We talk a lot about angles of departure. By the receivers third or fourth step, we have a good feel of what he is running. We should know by the third step what he is running. To quarterbacks, it looks like man coverage because we play our corners in Deuce a lot like we play man. We flatfoot our corners in both coverages.”
For more information on the special report, “Defending RPO and Triple Option” click here.