Attacking Coverage Schemes

Max Hall threw for 189 yards against Wyoming and 271 yards against UCLA. Numbers wise, Wyoming had a better overall day defensively than UCLA. Both teams played a different style of coverage in an attempt to slow down the Cougar passing attack, but what exactly were those differences?

The Cougars were able to complete 20-of-37 passes against the Cowboys of Wyoming. They averaged 5.4 yards per attempt and 10.1 yards per completion. The Cowboy defense focused their coverage scheme more on slowing down tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught three balls for 27 yards.

"I think Wyoming did a fantastic job and I think their scheme was well set," said BYU quarterback coach Brandon Doman. "They spent a lot of time focusing on Dennis, and when I say that, they either covered him with two backers or a backer and a safety."

The receiving numbers could have been a little higher against the Wyoming defense, but the Cougar offense didn't start out on all cylinders. If it had, the results could have been a little different.

"Wyoming did a good job and we didn't start out as fast as we normally do," said Doman. "I think that dropped the amount of throws, and that also dropped the passing efficiency, because of the way we started, but they picked it up really fast and that helped them to get back into their normal sync."

When the Cougar offense did get back on track, Hall picked apart a zone secondary designed more to cover the distance of the field in quarter increments. On the field side, the Wyoming coaches chose to play BYU's receivers loosely, allowing what the Cougar coaches call "free access" to the receivers, in an attempt to shut down the shorter side of the field by applying more pressure.

"Wyoming was playing aggressive to the boundary," Coach Doman said. "It was kind of a quarters coverage. When I say that, they were playing quarter, quarter, halves, where on the field side they were playing what we call free access where the corner was playing 11-to-12 yards off, and giving free access to the receiver on his release."

On the short side of the field, the Cowboys chose to defend much closer to further pressure the tight end and outside receiver. The scheme is designed in such a way to try and offset any athleticism an offense may have over their defensive players.

"In contrast the boundary cornerback was playing very aggressively, and we see that a lot," Coach Doman said. "I think they went back to more of the traditional coverage that we see most of the time against teams that feel they don't man up with us very well."

UCLA's secondary focused more on man coverage to allow the safeties to try and take away either the tight ends or running backs.

"[Wyoming's coverage] was different than the UCLAs, the Utahs and TCUs, where they feel like they can man up against us," Coach Doman said. "The teams that feel like they can't match up athletically against us play that type of coverage against us and try to isolate us one on one with our wide receiver outside. In this case, Austin Collie happened to be that guy, and we're not scared to give him the ball.

"UCLA played us man coverage. They would play a free safety or a single safety in the middle and the rest of the players were playing man coverage, so in their eyes they figured they had good enough, or better, athletes to play our guys man to man. It also allowed them to drop another safety into the box. There were seven or eight guys in the box to try and stop our run game, because our run game is such a threat. Most teams feel like when we get into our run sets … they have to stack the box against us."

Following UCLA's 59-0 defeat at the hands of the Cougars, Bruin defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker stated that the success of their defense hinged upon shutting down Austin Collie. The Cougar coaches focused on changing their offensive scheme in an attempt to attack such a defensive emphasis, and, as the scoreboard showed, it worked.

"Well, when [Coach Walker] said their success depended on that, they left one guy one-on-one with Austin Collie the whole game," said Coach Doman. "That means they tried to combo Dennis Pitta and combo Harvey Unga, so right now what they're saying is, ‘If Austin Collie has a great game, then we're in trouble, because we are going to take our number one guy Alterraun Verner - who we think can shut down Austin Collie - and in turn we'll use a couple of guys to shut down Dennis Pitta and Harvey Unga, which is a good scheme.

"It's just not good for opposing teams when Austin is playing good, and Austin happened to be playing good that game. It's not to discount or discredit their scheme, because it had worked very successfully in the past for them. In this case we just happened to be on point and Austin was playing well and taking advantage of how UCLA chose to cover him."

Although the secondary coverage philosophy differed between Wyoming and UCLA, Collie still had similar numbers against the two teams. He caught 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA, and eight balls for 122 yards and two touchdowns against Wyoming. The Cougar coaches looked at what both teams do respectively and made schematic adjustments within their own offense to attack those schemes.

"Well yeah, there are certain ways to attack a specific coverage and there's no question about it," Coach Doman said. "In most offenses you're creating triangles, and triangles are suited best for zone coverage. So when teams go into a zone coverage you're now going to create a form of an inside or outside triangle in your offense to attack those zone areas. When teams play a man-on-man, those triangles don't work any more. You have to win it man-on-man.

"When teams drop into a soft zone, now there are softer areas to attack within the zone. [We attack by] recognizing those areas and creating an attacking triangle by creating what Norm Chow used to cal an oblique stretch within the zone. You isolate a defender within a zone so he has to choose between one or another receiver. A player has a particular zone area to cover, but it's being threatened by one or two particular players, and because it's being threatened, the player has to choose between the two players.

"The defender is either going to match this player or that player, and once that key defender opts to cover down on a wide receiver, you throw it to the other receiver. Hopefully you have enough receivers in a particular zoned off area in a triangle that they don't have an extra guy to cover down on one of them, and that's the objective of an offense."

However, for a man-on-man defense like what UCLA utilizes, the Cougar coaches use the formations of their offense to help take away any advantage the opposing coaches feel they have either schematically or athletically.

"When you're playing UCLA, now you're talking about trying to beat them in a mismatch or man situation," said Coach Doman. "Now you have to be smart in the way you use formations and in the way you use your schemes so you can beat man-to-man coverage. Against BYU in years past, teams would not play man-to-man coverage against us. They just wouldn't do it because BYU was too good at execution and finding ways to get their guys open in a man-to-man coverage. The protections were too good. Now you're talking about involving skill players [such as running backs and full backs] to help create difficulties in man-to-man coverage."

It all starts up front with the offensive line and the running backs providing protection.

"When the offensive line and running backs are blocking to help create a nice dish around the quarterback, it's tough for any secondary," said Coach Doman. "They allow the quarterback to deliver the ball. With time it makes it very difficult for a secondary to hold their coverage man-to-man. If the scheme holds up right, teams should not be able to hold up in that coverage. They just should not be able to do it. Schematically, I don't think we did a good job against UCLA last year. We spent a lot of time preparing our scheme for that type of defense and we are much better at it. Our offense is much improved. The comparison between our bowl game and this recent game [against UCLA] now [is] our scheme was advanced and we had to make some adjustments to combat what they were doing. Otherwise, we would have had similar results."

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