Cameron Soran on Dave Aranda's plan for the Baylor defense

Ian Boyd

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If you're not familiar with Cameron Soran and you're an X's and O's junkie that loves to learn the high level details of the game, you're missing out. After doing extensive breakdowns on the fronts and coverages employed by some of college football's most famous defensive coaches, Soran recently dropped this book:


Which has the details and rules on all of the common pattern-matching coverages that everyone in football uses today. As a fan of Dave Aranda's defensive strategies, Soran recently took to youtube to break down what he thinks is in store for Baylor's defense in 2020. First though, he broke down the 3-down, three safety, flyover defensive structure that I've been writing regularly about. Within the video Soran breaks down the tite front version of the defense that Todd Orlando used, the Iowa State version, and then the Gary Patterson version before speculating on what Aranda will do in Waco.


The whole presentation is worth your time if you're interested in Big 12 strategy at a granular level, as is Soran's book. Here's some bullet points though and some of my own takeaways.

Flyover defense often makes life easy for the middle players
The nose often has simpler assignments that involve shooting an A-gap and causing a wreck that encourages ballcarriers to bounce to the perimeter out to speed, the middle linebacker is often free to just run to the ball or predetermined spots because of the aggressiveness of the nose, and the middle safety has a nice life as an over the top free hitter.

But you don't want to waste those spots on weaker players but instead play high level, destructive athletes there that can turn those opportunities into big gains. For instance, Poona Ford was a wrecking ball as a nose in this scheme that could often help Texas control games in the box. On the flip side Anthony Wheeler struggled to make much of the positioning of the mike in this defense.

Using 4i-techniques and other 3-down fronts common to flyover defenses hurts the pass-rush
"No kidding?"
-Charles Omenihu, Breckyn Hager, and Malcolm Roach, probably

A 4i-technique is in a bad spot in the pass-rush since he has to first get wide of the offensive tackle, generally the best athlete and pass protector on the O-line, and then get into his pass rush moves. Todd Orlando didn't even really worry about it but relied on the rover insert blitz and the greater blitz package for pressure.

Iowa State's solution has often been to flip the tradeoffs. Play the end in a 5-technique and ask him to get back inside on running plays rather than making the pass-rush the tougher assignment. That's worked out pretty well for them but a consequence is that their ends have to be big, sturdy guys. There's not an obvious place or role for a bendy athlete like Joe Ossai within their defense.

The increasing prevalence of Iowa State's methods though are why the Big 12 in 2020 has this plethora of big, powerful defensive ends. James Lynch was such a player last year obviously and there's many more for this season like Jalen Redmond (6-3, 277), Dante Stills (6-3, 275), Jaquan Bailey (6-2, 261), Eli Howard (6-4, 275), Wyatt Hubert (6-3, 270), etc.

The Gary Patterson solution and Dave Aranda's plan for Baylor

I broke down some of the details on Gary Patterson's version of the flyover defense last week. Patterson has some smaller athletes on the edge at defensive end and prefers to be able to use them to rush the edge and stunt inside with speed, so he's not really about putting thick guys on the edge like Iowa State. The solution he came up with was what Soran refers to in his video as the "back" front.

You set a jack linebacker opposite the running back to set the edge, but then play a 4i-technique to sit in the cutback lane and clog things up for a zone team. So against a standard inside zone RPO with pass options to either side of the formation...

TCU back front vs inside zone RPO.jpg

The Frogs would have defensive backs in position to sit on the pass options while using speedy, slanting defensive linemen to turn the ball back where their speedy linebackers could close on the football.

Here's the deal though with Gary Patterson's flyover defense. The no. 1 concern is still stopping the run. He can draw up pass-stopping coverages all day from this package that are brutal when combined with his aptitude for teaching pattern-matching coverages to defensive backs, but the pass-rush element here is still up against it. There's only 3-down, one of them is in the difficult 4i-technique alignment, and TCU's linebackers don't tend to be the best pass-rushers as they are mostly comprised of 210 pound converted safeties.

Dave Aranda wants to rush the passer and attack protection schemes. That's his favorite game. His Utah State, Wisconsin, and LSU defenses would field big, dominant pass-rushers at the linebacker positions and bring them from different angles.

The solution? Flip the 4i and the jack.

Baylor flip front.jpg

The run fits get trickier, there's fewer bodies (two) inside to clog interior gaps and eat blocks. The benefit for a guy like Aranda is two-fold. First, it allows the defense to play a jack linebacker rather than one of those thicker defensive ends like James Lynch. There isn't another Lynch on the Baylor roster and those guys aren't always easy to come by, especially for a staff like Aranda's that specializes in finding and developing linebackers.

Secondly, as Soran notes, by playing the jack to the same side of the formation as the running back it's easier to get him in 1-on-1 situations against the running back in pass protection. The defense can always show pressure to the other side to help guarantee that the O-line slides that direction before bringing the jack off the edge as they always intended.

Imagining the 2020 Baylor defense

Soran speculates that Baylor may play Terrel Bernard as the jack. The 6-1, 220 pound linebacker was a blur in the pass-rush last season for Baylor but had limited opportunities since they didn't blitz much and he played as the mike. I don't foresee that, they didn't take William Bradley-King as a transfer jack from Arkansas State to play somewhere else, but it's easy to see Bernard having success in that role.

The big key in the Aranda flip front is the middle linebacker. At times he's going to be facing O-linemen coming downhill at him that aren't being held up by the D-line since there's only two of them. You really need a sort of classic, thick, downhill linebacker that excels at reading blocks, firing downhill, and taking on guards in the hole. The sort of dude you would find in the Big 10. Maybe at a school like, I dunno, Iowa?


And there you have it.

Baylor is in a tough spot trying to maintain their defensive momentum from a year ago after losing nine starters on defense and turning over their staff. By all accounts, Aranda has a plan to ease the transition and embrace Big 12-style flyover defense while simultaneously moving the emphasis of the defense from the defensive line to linebacker. Should be fascinating to see how close Soran is to the mark and whether Aranda has some tricks up his sleeve to protect his young new defense from Big 12 offenses.
 
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travisroeder

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Great stuff, Ian. If they utilize this alignment, here's how I think they'd man it. Really fits what Baylor has on the roster.
bAYLOR 2020 DEFENSE PREDICTION CAMERON SORAN.png
 

travisroeder

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Yup. I think I'd switch McVea and Woods and maybe put Pitre at the middle safety spot.
Dont really like Pitre as a MOF safety when they play 3 invert, plus I think the MS spot is perfect for Christian Morgan and Will Williams, both of whom are great athlete safeties who can really hit but you don't want playing much man coverage. Pitre showed some potential as a rusher early, too, and SAM is where he played last year while redshirting.

I don't know enough about the difference between Aranda's boundary and free safeties to have much of an opinion there. But you want Woods where he is more playing over the top and McVea playing more man, so whatever that means.
 

Ian Boyd

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Dont really like Pitre as a MOF safety when they play 3 invert, plus I think the MS spot is perfect for Christian Morgan and Will Williams, both of whom are great athlete safeties who can really hit but you don't want playing much man coverage.
Don't have to invert though, buzz him down and drop the boundary safety to the middle. I forgot about Will Williams, be interested to see him find a role in this, middle safety would make sense.
Pitre showed some potential as a rusher early, too, and SAM is where he played last year while redshirting.
I hear that.
I don't know enough about the difference between Aranda's boundary and free safeties to have much of an opinion there. But you want Woods where he is more playing over the top and McVea playing more man, so whatever that means.
If you're using a sam rather than a nickel corner than the field safety is definitely in man coverage more. Probably is regardless, that's why I'd think McVea over there. Also didn't he back up Grayland Arnold in that role last year?
 

Eric Nahlin

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Dont really like Pitre as a MOF safety when they play 3 invert, plus I think the MS spot is perfect for Christian Morgan and Will Williams, both of whom are great athlete safeties who can really hit but you don't want playing much man coverage. Pitre showed some potential as a rusher early, too, and SAM is where he played last year while redshirting.

I don't know enough about the difference between Aranda's boundary and free safeties to have much of an opinion there. But you want Woods where he is more playing over the top and McVea playing more man, so whatever that means.
Will Williams didn’t become a LB?

Also, while you’re here (and thanks for chiming in) what’s the word on Gabe Hall?
 
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travisroeder

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Will Williams didn’t become a LB?
Seems like he isn't naturally putting on a bunch of weight. Listed at 6-2 205 on most recent roster (and a safety).

Also, while you’re here (and thanks for chiming in) what’s the word on Gabe Hall?
Hall was the true freshman on defense that the staff was most excited about. He played a ton, had one of those 6 week knee injuries but still came back. He was the primary backup for Bravion Roy last year.
 
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Ian Boyd

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On reflection, I flipped the mike and will in the Baylor diagram to a more normal alignment where the will is in the boundary and the mike is in the middle. I had thought, "maybe they'd want to keep Doyle in the box" but in that alignment you actually worry more about that open B-gap than the A-gap. With the jack containing on the edge the guard or tackle could get downhill on the LB there, so that's where you want Doyle.

He's still covered up in space because of the sam and nickel behind him, Iowa taught him well enough to handle that.
 

travisroeder

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If you're using a sam rather than a nickel corner than the field safety is definitely in man coverage more. Probably is regardless, that's why I'd think McVea over there. Also didn't he back up Grayland Arnold in that role last year?
Makes sense, then yeah I'd flip them. And sort of, they were pretty fluid with where they played. Woods was the primary backup if any of the three starters got hurt.
 
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travisroeder

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On reflection, I flipped the mike and will in the Baylor diagram to a more normal alignment where the will is in the boundary and the mike is in the middle. I had thought, "maybe they'd want to keep Doyle in the box" but in that alignment you actually worry more about that open B-gap than the A-gap. With the jack containing on the edge the guard or tackle could get downhill on the LB there, so that's where you want Doyle.

He's still covered up in space because of the sam and nickel behind him, Iowa taught him well enough to handle that.
He looked pretty good being apexed out last year from what I saw. He's pretty much Clay Johnston.
 

genericbufan

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On reflection, I flipped the mike and will in the Baylor diagram to a more normal alignment where the will is in the boundary and the mike is in the middle. I had thought, "maybe they'd want to keep Doyle in the box" but in that alignment you actually worry more about that open B-gap than the A-gap. With the jack containing on the edge the guard or tackle could get downhill on the LB there, so that's where you want Doyle.

He's still covered up in space because of the sam and nickel behind him, Iowa taught him well enough to handle that.
Matt Jones staying at MIKE supports this theory, right? (From what I've read, it sounds like you were previously pretty high on him at EDGE. Still seems crazy--to me--to move him away from EDGE, but whatever.) But if Jones is staying at MIKE with Doyle, those are two big bodies that can theoretically come downhill and stack OGs.

Also, depending on the offensive formation, we could go with someone like Randolph or Landry at "Jack" and have them play it with a heavy/fist technique if we're really concerned about that B gap. (Thinking about playing against 11 or 12 personnel here. Maybe put Randolph at the heavy Jack and replace Pitre at Star with WBK as a more traditional overhang OLB?)
 

Ian Boyd

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Matt Jones staying at MIKE supports this theory, right? (From what I've read, it sounds like you were previously pretty high on him at EDGE. Still seems crazy--to me--to move him away from EDGE, but whatever.) But if Jones is staying at MIKE with Doyle, those are two big bodies that can theoretically come downhill and stack OGs.

Also, depending on the offensive formation, we could go with someone like Randolph or Landry at "Jack" and have them play it with a heavy/fist technique if we're really concerned about that B gap. (Thinking about playing against 11 or 12 personnel here. Maybe put Randolph at the heavy Jack and replace Pitre at Star with WBK as a more traditional overhang OLB?)
Is Jones staying at mike?

Sounds like Aranda likes having someone that’s truly on the edge and not having to worry about the B-gap unless he’s bringing a DB or LB off the same edge.
 
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genericbufan

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Is Jones staying at mike?

Sounds like Aranda likes having someone that’s truly on the edge and not having to worry about the B-gap unless he’s bringing a DB or LB off the same edge.
Yes. He's staying at mike for now. Sounds like they've been really pleased with the other edge guys, too. So I don't see that changing this year.

Agree with your point on having a true edge. That's why in the scenario I mentioned above I had WBK replace Pitre on the outside. Randolph is saddled with run responsibilities and WBK is a true EDGE on the other side. (This is much more conventional, I know, but it is similar to what he did in 2016 with Neal as a DE and Key as the EDGE. Except I'm replacing Neal with someone who's much more mobile and at least capable of acting like a pseudo EDGE instead of a true DE.)
 

Ian Boyd

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Yes. He's staying at mike for now. Sounds like they've been really pleased with the other edge guys, too. So I don't see that changing this year.
Oh interesting, that’s useful to know.
Agree with your point on having a true edge. That's why in the scenario I mentioned above I had WBK replace Pitre on the outside. Randolph is saddled with run responsibilities and WBK is a true EDGE on the other side. (This is much more conventional, I know, but it is similar to what he did in 2016 with Neal as a DE and Key as the EDGE. Except I'm replacing Neal with someone who's much more mobile and at least capable of acting like a pseudo EDGE instead of a true DE.)
So 4-down? But then you lose having 3-deep safeties at the snap. It’s not really worth it.
 

travisroeder

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Agreed. And it's not what Aranda did at LSU in his first season there. And we didn't have a spring. But...I think it's happening.
I think so too. In Joey McGuire's interview yesterday (outside linebacker coach) he mentioned his OLB guys and at one point said the usual bit about needing to be able to both play DL and drop into coverage but then said [paraphrasing], "When we get in our three down stuff they have a lot more coverage responsibilities."

I was hoping that "3 down front" meant his OLB guy is playing the JACK in the flip front. But it sure sounds like basic Aranda tite front stuff with a bench backer and field backer both on the line of scrimmage, especially in concert with what Safeties coach Matt Powledge said about Pitre.

I know they'll have that tite front, just hope they play with plenty of 3 safety looks as well.
 

bHero

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I've been baking on this for a few days now.. can't get it out of my brain.

So much so that I saw when UTEP tried to imitate ISU's back front and rolled into a drop 8. Result was Sam scramble for first down.

1583332234921.png
 
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