In last Saturday's 36-31 win over Indiana, the Nittany Lions got a tremendous effort from sophomore defensive end Maurice Evans, who had six tackles, 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles (recovering one and returning it 71 yards). You can see this fumble recovery at the 105-second mark of the video below. How did Evans get free to blow up the play? What vital role did linebacker Sean Lee play?
The general scheme PSU was in was a "Sky" coverage set. In this set the two corners and the safety are in a basic cover-3 shell to cover the deep zones and cut the width of the field into thirds. The defensive linemen (ends and tackles) enter their standard lineup, with the linebackers behind them in the flat. This coverage allows the defense to disguise different schemes; it can stunt or blitz a corner (which PSU rarely does), a safety or a linebacker.
In this particular play, the two cornerbacks (CB) and the safety/hero (H) split the deep route flat into thirds, which serve as their deep coverage zones. The corners play about eight yards off the line of scrimmage to maintain coverage of the split ends.
In the standard set the linebackers and remaining safety cover their intermediate zones with the internal players covering the hitch routes and the outer players covering the curl to flat routes. This takes a lot of communication, instincts and speed to run effectively, since the zones can get crowded quickly with crossing routes and slants the offense may run.
Here are the assignments each major player has in the scheme:
LDE: Zone Coverage Drop
LOLB: Rip Blitz
In this particular play, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and crew toss in a shift in the scheme. They call a blitz, specifically a "Rip" blitz, "Rip" because it is from the right (Rip equals right) side. They can also call a "Liz" blitz, which would send the pressure from the left side. Clever, huh?
Lee is the Rip blitzer in this case. He and Dan Connor actually swap from their standard positions before the snap to give Lee a clear runway to the pocket to apply pressure.
Once the ball is snapped, Lee (OLB) rushes the pocket. However, this leaves a gap in the intermediate zone, so the left defensive end (LDE) drops back into coverage to man the open zone. Lee rushes the pocket at full speed. To slow him down, Indiana's left guard steps over and commits to help the left tackle with Lee, resulting in a double-team (see frame two below — OLB).
This double team gives Evans single-man coverage, to which he drops his shoulder and shifts inside to gain leverage, thus knocking the center outward and allowing him to blow by and penetrate the pocket. Indiana's left guard manages to help the tackle push Lee wide, but realizes that in the process he has failed to help the center contain Evans, at which point it is too late (see frame three below — RDE). At this point Evans is already wrapping up on the Hoosier QB — you can see the ball popping out with the blow Evans lays on Kellen Lewis in frame three below.
Here is a frame by frame look at the play:
After a lucky bounce right back into Evans' hands, he is off to the races, losing a shoe along the way and taking the ball down inside the Penn State 10-yard line.
If Lee doesn't draw the guard over, it's unlikely Evans breaks free to force the fumble, although Lee may have been able to cause something to happen in single coverage. Either way, the two worked masterfully together to make the scheme work and force a key turnover.
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