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Defending the Flexbone: Pittsburgh Edition

The Panthers gave a lot of different looks, but maintained one basic strategy

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In my last article, about Tennessee and Jacksonville State, I gave pictures to show what formations they were using to defend the option. That is hard for Pitt, because they did nearly everything formation-wise. I didn’t notice them use the 3-4 for much of the game like Jacksonville State did, but otherwise they tried a lot. They played a 4-3, but tried a wrinkle that we really haven’t seen much of this season. They played all three linebackers back instead of having the outside linebackers nearly on the line like we have seen so far.

Two other things to take note of in this snapshot. The first is the position of the safeties. These safeties are playing a little farther in than your average safety, but there were plenty of plays where one or both safeties were creeping way up, especially on short yardage downs. This should have led to improved passing, but the team struggled through the air in this game. The other thing to note is that the defensive ends are standing up. We’ve talked about this before, but this helps them stay in the way of offensive linemen as they try to get to the second level.

Georgia Tech ran a lot of the classic veer option today, but it might have been hard to tell because so many of those times it resulted in the B-back dive. Pitt really had their defensive end set to jam the offensive line, but the defensive end is the read on the B-back dive. If they don’t pinch inside, the quarterback is supposed to hand it off.

This also explains why they had all three linebackers playing back. The middle linebacker was a little farther in than normal to help on the dive in lieu of the defensive ends. Since he is farther in, he doesn’t have a good angle to get outside, so the OLBs need to play farther back so they can get outside. I really don’t think this is a very good strategy because then the only way to avoid a numbers advantage is to bring the safeties way up. That is playing with fire. You might be able to pull it off if you trust your defensive tackles to hold the line and the linebackers to make plays. Instead, GT pounded the middle very effectively with all three B-backs (although all three did fumble).

This play is a perfect example of the defense jamming the line leading to . It’s a third and short and GT is running a classic veer (triple) option to the left side of the field. On this play, the left tackle Jahaziel Lee is going to try to get to the outside of the defensive end who is lined up across from him, so he can block the outside linebacker should Taquon choose to keep the ball. Instead, the defensive end drifts outside and engages Lee to free up the outside linebacker. Marshall correctly makes the read that the defensive end stays outside and hands off the ball to Benson. Good blocking gives Kirvonte a seam and the middle linebacker is too slow to fill up the hole. This gives Tech a six yard gain and an easy first down. This happened all day.