Texas Tech Spring Scrimmage Analysis: The Defensive Scheme

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The biggest unknown surrounding the Texas Tech football program is the defensive system that new Defensive Coordinator David Gibbs will implement.

During last Saturday’s scrimmage in Midland, Tech fans got the only glimpse of Gibbs’ defense that anyone outside the program will see until September 5th. Despite the fact that Gibbs’ has not installed his full defensive package, taking a look at footage from the scrimmage can help fans begin to understand how the Tech defense may operate this fall.

Shortly after Gibbs was hired, I did an analysis of the defensive game plan he used for Houston’s bowl game against Pitt. You can read that article here. That game gave fans a look at the full Gibbs defense, but Pittsburgh is a run-first team. Saturday’s scrimmage showed fans what Gibbs might do to combat a pass first, up-tempo offense.

If there is a formula for Gibbs defense is might look like:

(Confusion + Pressure) x Tenacity = Turnovers.

In the video below, Gibbs gives insights about his defensive philosophy.

The first element of Gibbs’ defense is creating confusion for the offense through the use of multiple defensive alignments. In the scrimmage, the defense based out of a 4-3 alignment (four defensive linemen, and three linebackers) for the majority of the plays. Again, this is likely due to the fact that Gibbs has had only eight practices with his new team, and the installation of the basic principals has been his focus thus far. But, Gibbs was still able to cause some confusion by relying on his area of expertise, the secondary.

In the clip below, notice that the defense initially left the inside receiver in the trips right formation uncovered. This was intended to draw the quarterback’s attention to the uncovered player. However, just before the snap, redshirt freshmen Michael Coley, who was playing free safety, dashed across the formation and covered the receiver.

The timing of the Coley’s move was perfect because it didn’t allow the quarterback to make an adjustment. The quarterback had made up his mind that the inside receiver was the open player and he tried to force the ball to him despite the fact that he was covered. The result is a forced pass that falls incomplete.

Tech fans can expect to see Gibbs use his secondary to play games at the line of scrimmage in order to force the quarterback into poor decisions because Gibbs has been a secondary coach his entire career.

Yet, there is a more traditional way of causing the offense to make mistakes: pressuring the quarterback.

Tech has often played a defensive style that is a read-and-react defense, meaning they do not try to influence the offense as much as they try to stay at home and keep the ball in front of them to eliminate the big play. It appears that Gibbs wants to force the issue with blitzes and pressure. This philosophy is put to work on the first play of the scrimmage.

Tech has struggled to consistently pressure the passer with the defensive line. And it appears that Gibbs will blitz linebackers more frequently to make the offense feel rushed. In the play above, notice that Gibbs blitzes the two linebackers that are not in coverage forcing the offensive line to block six rushers with only five blockers. The result is not a sack, but effective quarterback pressure does not always have to result in a sack. The effectiveness of this blitz is that Mahomes must make a quick throw laterally rather than having time to throw the ball downfield. The secondary does a great job swarming to the ball and stopping the receiver for a minimal gain.

Blitzing is a risky move but Gibbs appears to feel that the risk is worth the possible reward. He has acknowledged that in the Big 12, every defense will get burned from time to time. But if Tech’s pressure can cause two or three turnovers a game, the gamble will pay off. Yet, the defense did not cause any official turnovers in the scrimmage.

Despite Gibbs’ reputation for creating turnovers and the team’s new emphasis on taking the ball away, the defense did not take the ball away during the scrimmage. The one take-away the defense forced was nullified by an off sides penalty. However, it is worthwhile to analyze how this turnover was created. In the clip below, Micah Awe intercepts a Mahomes pass across the middle.

On 2nd and 10 on the previous play, Tech brought delayed pressure from the middle linebacker. Though the pressure got nowhere near Mahomes, he saw it and likely assumed that more intense pressure would be coming on the 3rd and 10 play. However, Gibbs brought no blitz. Instead, he dropped middle linebacker Micah Awe into coverage over the middle.

In the mean time, Pete Robertson stunted from his end position and stopped in the middle of the field acting like a spy on Mahomes. When he saw Mahomes set up to throw, Robertson brought late pressure through a chasm in the middle of the offensive line, which had lost track of Robertson and was focusing on the other three rushers. As Mahomes saw Robertson bearing down on him, he felt like he had to get rid of the ball quickly and threw the ball into double coverage where Awe made an easy pick. Again, Gibbs caused confusion for the offense by moving his best athletes into different positions, this time resulting in a would-be turnover.

This scrimmage was only a microcosm of what the defense will do this fall. However, fans can see that Gibbs will bring pressure and use his most athletic and talented players in creative ways to take the offense out of its rhythm and force it to make hurried decisions that hopefully lead to turnovers or easy stops.

Tech fans can expect to see an exciting style of defense this season. Only time will tell how effective it will be. No scheme works unless capable and disciplined athletes run it. And if the defensive staff can develop such players, Tech could see a much improved defense in 2015 and beyond.