Chalk Talk

You an armchair QB trying to increase your football vernacular? Look no further, because what better way to learn what coaches are talking about than to hear it from the coaches themselves.

If something doesn't go right, there's a fan out there that thinks they have the answer. We are all fans, of course, and each has played the role of armchair QB more than a few times during any given week of the fall. Why did they do that? Who would call that? Well, instead of just letting those questions languish, we figured we would be the go-between for you the fan and the coaches, so you can get the answers to questions you have to ask.

You notch 50 sacks in a season and bring back most of the defense responsible for those sacks, people are going to expect more. Heck, even the players expected more going into this year, many stating that it would be expecting less of themselves to have a goal of less sacks than they notched the previous season.

Not to say that they won't reach that mark, but at this point last year the Huskers had 39 sacks on the board. Thus far this year they have 17. What's with the drop off? How come guys like Adam Carriker, who had almost double digits last year, got just his third sack in last week's game against Oklahoma State? Where's Barry Turner? What in the heck is going on?

That's what fans wanted to know. So, we asked.

How come the sack total is so small this year versus last year?

Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove:

"We have seen a lot of the play action and quick-game this year. It's probably because we have been showing a lot of blitz when the ball is coming back and the quarterbacks aren't taking sacks."

"When they feel the pressure, the offenses have done a good job of matching up. There's good and bad to that. With the pressure the ball coming out isn't as accurate as you would like it to be sometimes, so the pressures have worked and sometimes they haven't."

"it's a game-to-game thing on whether we use them or not."

"You'd like to have more sacks, but just like we are trying to game plan for them, the teams we play aren't going to do exactly the same thing they did against us last year, if we played them and had a lot of success getting to the quarterback."

"This stuff changes from week-to-week. We study what teams are doing and go by that. Sometimes that means you aren't going to get a lot of sacks, but if we can make them change what they are doing, sometimes that's just as good."

Another questions fans have asked has to do with down and distance, and who in the heck in the right mind would have guys lining 10 yards off the ball on 3rd and 3? Where's the press coverage? Where's the jam at the line? Why are you just giving this guy the first down?

It's never that simple, of course, and defensive back coach Phil Elmassian explained why, but he didn't stop there. In a very informative back and forth, coach Elmassian gets technical about football.

Man coverage vs Zone coverage in the Big 12

Most everybody in this league is playing some form of man (coverage). I'd say most everyone, including us, is playing some form of man and some combination of quarter-quarter-halves. Like Oklahoma against Missouri, they (Oklahoma) played the zone to one half of the field and man to the other half. That's what most everyone is playing.

You can define some teams like K. State - they are more a cover-2-man-free-team to get eight in the box in what we call a "fire zone", which is another form of man coverage.

Some people like Iowa State and Kansas will play quarters, which is a basic form of man for the corners when it's all said and done. Actually, it's the toughest kind of man, because it's no-post-help and only with a four man rush. That's the toughest of all.

Iowa State majors in that. Kansas majors it in it. We major in it. Most everyone in this conference is some form of quarters-coverage.

Is that a by product of the spread offense?

No question about it. You have to do it to still be able to have the accountabilities. You still have to be able to have run accountability and what's tough now is quarterback accountability, because it's 11-on-11.

You really can't just have one high safety in the middle or play cover two or pure zone – three-deep zones.

Like K. State against Missouri, they (Kansas State) came out of the blocks with their fire zones, this, that or whatever, but when it was all said and done, it caught right up to them.

The best thing we have found to do in this league, whether you do it with nickel or regular people or whatever, when you do study teams like Kansas, who was really good last year (defensively) and Iowa State – you can't look at them like you do Texas and Oklahoma. They don't have that talent those teams do. If you look at those two teams the last two years from a non-Texas and Oklahoma-talent standpoint, they did a great job. And Texas Tech as well. Basically, that's what we studied two years ago, to survive in this league, because of the spread, you really are forced into playing corners coverage to have route accountability and still be able to play the run.

It puts a premium on the corners. It's tough on them and that's with any school.

What is unique about Missouri's spread offense?

There are two types of spread. Rich Rodriguez, who I worked with at West Virginia – his spread is to run the ball. Matter of fact, he's gotten to the point where they're not even in four-wides as much they used to be. He's got more tight ends in the game.

Missouri two years ago, it was spread to run the ball. Two years ago when we beat them here, it was almost absurd with what we did, because we played them in a 10-man front the whole game. I think after that they changed, and what they did was that they visited Bowling Green. I know when I was at Marshall and we coached against them, they spread to throw the ball.

What distinguishes Missouri's spread from the other spread offenses in the Big 12?

The no-back – the empties. They have a real commitment to the empty formation and throwing the football, but not just in the quick-game. Some people, they are going to empty out and throw the quick game. They are going to run empty, spread you out and out comes the football.

What Bowling Green had done was a combination of the drop back passing game with the quick game, and that is a huge difference. Some people run empty just to spread you out, but these people (Missouri) are committed to it. You are going to see an empty backfield over half the time. And they will put the ball down the field with their vertical routes and stress the defense, not just horizontally, but vertically.

Moist empty sets just stress it horizontally, but they'll stress it vertically.

And if you really watch Bowling Green in the past too, the quarterback would be a running back. They would run the zone sweep out of the empty set, which nobody does. (Chase) Daniel does that, and he's very good at it. He's like a linebacker when he carries the ball. He's just tough. He's like our guy (Zac). He's just a tough son of a gun.

Does down and distance matter with Missouri?

This offense (Missouiri's) is like the old wishbone days. But instead of three backs and running it, they are gunning all over the place. Down and distance is irrelevant. It's an all-down-goal-line-to-goal-line offense.

They may play the drop back game and put it in the first and second down and take the quick game and put it in third down, but for the most part, it's a four-down-goal-line-to-goal-line offense.

Missouri had 1st and goal at the two against Oklahoma. Did they have a running back in the game at that point?

Oh, there's back in the game. There's a tight end in the game. They went in more four wides with Oklahoma, because they were behind. If they are going four wides against us, that's a good thing for us, because it will mean we are ahead. They rarely go four wides when they are just running their offense.

They will do the same passes, the same formations (and) same empties with two tight ends and a back in the game or the one tight end and a back in the game. It's the same offense. There may be different emphasis with certain play action passes, but it's essentially two tight ends.

The biggest thing with them is, is the back in the backfield or not? If the back is in the backfield, you have to have accountability for the gun-runs, which is the zone play or the quarterback coming off the zone play. If it's empty you still need quarterback accountability, because he'll just run the zone sweep on you all day.

It's tough (defending that). It's tough.

How good are Missouri's tight ends?

Really good. 45 (Chase Coffman) reminds me of Jeremy Shockey when I was coaching against Miami. Their whole receiving corps look like tight ends. They are all really good. It's fun to watch them. It's not fun to defend them, but it's fun to watch them.

Dennis Franchione (Texas A&M head coach) talked about how the first 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage was so important in defending them. Is that true?

Yeah, because you have so much space. They are like Texas Tech to a degree. They are using all five receivers and especially with this guy (Daniel), the play is going to last a long time. That's what makes it tough. It's not a four second play. It's going to be a six, seven, eight second play.

Is that because of the checks they do at the line?

No. The checks are overrated. All that stuff is sometimes fluff. They are doing all that stuff and a lot of it's just fluff. I know when I was with coach Rodriguez, they may get into 10 actual checks a game and that's about it. They are just checking for the safeties alignments and the shades of the nose and the tackles. It's not like they are doing this big genie-trick play where they see what you are doing and just say ‘Oh, look at that, let's run this!'."

Generally speaking, regarding down and distance, how do you decide whether to play press coverage or play off the line?

It depends on what you do. What you'd like to do with a normal offense is press coverage on the possession downs. Right now, it's like anything else, there are certain quarterbacks and certain offenses, when you sit there on third and three to third and 12, press coverage is good to play, because you can disrupt timing and sit down on the route.


The quarterback looks up and suddenly he likes his match up, there's no guarantees of the short route anymore. It could be an over-the-top route.

Does down and distance dictate how you play your personnel in that formation?

You bet. Down and distance dictates a lot. First downs and second and six or less, most offensive coordinators – that's their shot downs. So, if it's second and five, they are going to take their shot. Third and three to six yards, they can still operate. Offensive coordinators can be very creative on that down.

When it's third and seven or more, the quarterback now must be accountable for the first down. It's not a happy down for the offensive coordinator. The quarterback must create the first unless the creativity comes with a run, a draw, a screen, an option – something that if you are defending pass, they take a first down offense and put it in there. That's the only creativity they've got.

Does the relevancy to what you do and how you do it depend on the offense you are facing?

Sure. When I was with coach Saban and we faced more conventional offenses, you could play press coverage on those short yardage plays and it worked most of the time. But with offenses like the spread, Kansas State tried playing press on these guys ( Missouri) and you see how that went.
(Note: Missouri was 64% on third down efficiency, scored four touchdowns in the passing game and scored 41 points total as they beat KSU)

It's all relevant to your cube, your receiver and who you've got out there. It's all relevant

How much has the spread offense changed the game?

It changed everything. It's like what the wishbone did 30 years ago. It's like the single-wing concept, because it makes you play 11-on-11. It's a spread with the ability of the quarterback to be a ball carrier. It's been a defensive coordinator's nightmare for the last five years.

I think it's changed the game and it's here to stay.

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