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Defensively Speaking: Washington vs the Air Raid

In a special edition of Defensively Speaking, Kevin Bruce breaks down the Washington defensive look against the Air Raid offense, as the Trojan offense prepares for a very good Husky defense with a chance to move to 3-0 in conference play.

This defensive set from UW vs. WSU last season (2018) should look eerily familiar.

Exhibit #1

This is exactly what BYU ran against us with great success. In this formation (a 10 grouping btw with 1 RB and no TE) note that UW uses a NT (Zero Technique) right over the center and two evenly spaced 5 technique tackles (lined up over the tackles). The two safeties are back apparently playing “halves” (they split the field into halves and play a zone. Corner backs are up tight on both the boundary and wide side likely either in man coverage or a zone-up look. Most notably, look at the four linebackers. Doesn’t matter if they are nickel personnel likely they are technically linebackers in this setup. This UW defense is designed to force a run audible or read (in a RPO) and then the defense will react to the ball and the run play. This defensive alignment is actually strong against the run since 5 defenders are in the box (three DLs and two linebackers plus two linebacker/nickel players that will support run vs. WSU’s five OLs. If pass, then it’s a three man rush plus any blitzing. This defense is built around the critical NT (0 Technique) position. This player must control both A-gaps to each side of the center, fend off double-team blocks (including chip blocks) and pass rush as appropriate. A tall order to pull off. BYU’s NT (Tonga) owned us and provided center pressure the entire game. I expect to see the same from UW’s NT.

In Exhibit #2 below you will notice the linebacker/nickel back moving into the “box” to provide pressure on the QB or confuse the QB’s read and drop back into matchup zone on the slotback or outside receiver slanting into his quick read area.

Exhibit #2

The rest of the defense looks the same as Exhibit #1. Please note that the two inside linebackers are only five yards off the LOS versus our inside linebackers are generally around seven yards. By having thee inside linebackers about five yards they can support run first then to pass coverage most likely an underneath zone while reading slip screens, draws (QB or running back. If slot back motions thru the backfield they will look for fly sweep and widen a bit. This is when a draw play opens up with what seems like a huge running lane. UW will play run first on first downs and down distance will dictate their alignment and second and third downs.

We were unprepared for the UW Air Raid defense when we played BYU despite what coaches were saying after the game. Or worse, if we were prepared that was awful execution and minimally effective adjustments.

So, what is the upshot here? We have to successfully run the football. Not necessarily only on first down but when we choose and in particular, when we have to. We must block the NT and get one or two guys into the second level linebackers/nickel backs to be successful and that means high much higher offensive tempo and energy.

Winning on the road is always more difficult but, in this case, it is a very tall order. But with proper preparation we always have the puncher’s chance of beating UW.

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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