Coordinating Behind “Big” Offenses

Aug 1, 2016 | Defense, Game Planning

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar



Defending up-tempo offenses can be difficult enough and because many systems have now transitioned into no-huddle operations, defensive coordinators are getting plenty of practice in defending them. After all, they see it in practice every day. But we wanted to research what lasting effect these up-tempo systems are having on their own corresponding defenses. While most coaches will argue a defensive system must match the offense’s system, we were curious to find how these coordinators were now gauging their units. How they assess them? What is considered productive? How are they evaluating themselves as coordinators? Below is the list of contributors to our study and some notes about the offenses they are coordinating behind.


Contributors (In Alphabetical Order)

Phillip Bennett (PB), Baylor University, Defensive Coordinator: Baylor’s offense finished 1st in the FBS with 48.1 points per game and 86 total touchdowns.

Ray DeFrisco (RD), Illinois College, Defensive Coordinator: Illinois College’s offense finished 10th at the Division 3 level, averaging 506 yards per game.

Josh Edwards (JE), Loras College, Defensive Coordinator: Loras College’s offense finished 9th at the Division 3 level, averaging 507 yards per game.

Jeffery Girsch (JG), Angelo State University, Defensive Coordinator: Angelo State’s offense finished 1st at the Division 2 level with 560.4 yards per game.

Nick Holt (NH), Western Kentucky University, Defensive Coordinator: The Hilltoppers offense finished 3rd in the FBS with 44.3 points per game and scored 82 touchdowns.

Mike Stoops (MS), University of Oklahoma, Defensive Coordinator: Oklahoma’s offense finished 4th in the FBS with 43.5 points per game, scoring 73 touchdowns.

Once we rounded up our contributors, we asked them the following questions:

  1. What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in playing behind these offenses? Please be specific.
  2. Have you changed your philosophy on how many sub packages to carry or put a quota on how many players you need to play each game? If so, how?
  3. What is something you’ve done in practice during the week to help your unit prepare for the rigors of playing behind these offenses?
  4. In our opinion, what is the most important defensive stat for your unit each week (points per play, red zone efficiency, etc.)? What is the least important? Explain why.
  5. What protocol do you use to judge your unit after each contest?
  6. How do you help change the mindset of an offensive minded team?

Their responses are below:


What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in playing behind these offenses? Please be specific.

PB: “The number one thing is you’re going to play a ton more possessions than you’ve ever played before. We have played more possessions on defense than any team in the country the last five years. We play around 16-18 possessions each game.” 

RD: “The biggest challenge I have encountered in playing behind up-tempo offenses is the shortness of adjustments between series.  That being said the coaches on the headsets have to be in sync to distribute any and all adjustments.”

JE: “Making adjustments on the sidelines. I don’t see many 6-8 minute drives anymore, so my coaching staff and I have had to adjust how we see things and communicate with each other and with the kids on Saturday. Each of my coaches has a certain thing they are responsible to watch for, either from the opponent or from our kids. This helps make sure that things are not being missed and that we can coach up our kids.” 

JG: “The biggest challenge is the number of plays that you have to be prepared to play each week.  In our case, our offense would score at a very fast rate.  This is obviously a good problem, but will test your conditioning and depth as a defensive unit.”

NH: “One of the big factors is that our possessions on offense are not very long so consequently we end up playing a lot of snaps. They score so quickly but many times there is no ball control and no conscience of clock management. Sometimes the negative is you’re playing a lot of snaps on defense and the offenses that you go up against are trying to be high powered also because they want to keep pace with our offense. Secondly, on defense you have to be conscience that your offense is high scoring so we need to not give up the big play. These offenses have to work hard. I’ve gone full scale. I used to be a very aggressive defensive play caller but when you’re scoring a lot of points on offense just hold back the pressure and play sound defense to eliminate the big play.”