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Film Study: Gap Control and Verticality

Football defense, just like offense, is often defined in terms of formations. The simple reason being that it is much simpler for an announcer or an analyist to describe the formation before the snap than what happened after it. This year, like last year, and 9 of the 10 before it, the Bearcats defense will be based in a 4-3. But what happens after the snap will be different.

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This subject comes to mind after reading Paul Dehner's excellent series on player development for this year. More specifically it comes from this quote of Tommy Tuberville's in the Silverberry Mouhon post.

He's grown up. It's time for him. He likes what we are teaching him. Previously, everything was working lateral down the line of scrimmage. We are more gap control and we're vertical. Attack the line of scrimmage. These kids are loving it. We want you that way; we want you to hit the guy in the mouth, play aggressive. Took them about a week to be keying the ball, moving. That fits Silverberry. He's more of an explosive guy instead of the sit back [type].

(emphasis mine)

To discern what Tubs means by the lateral comment you just need to watch cut ups of UC's defensive line from the past few years. Pay particular attention to standard downs.

compare that with Texas Tech in last years contest with Baylor.

Did you spot the difference? More often than not, on standard downs, the first step of a UC defensive lineman was lateral. For Tech the first step was usually vertical. Its a small difference, but it has big implications.

If you go back to the 2010 season one of the biggest problems for that team defensively was the lack of aggression on defense. They played simple coverages, rarely blitzed and just generally reacted to the offense. That was true for every minute of the that season. It continued in 2011 as well, for a couple of games at least. The turning point came when Tyler Bray reduced the UC secondary to a smoldering pile of ruins.

From that moment on Tim Banks started applying the best weapon that the Bearcats had, speed, particularly up front. The Bearcats started to put pressure on offensive lines by attacking laterally. In the abstract the way the Bearcats played defense for the last two seasons of the Butch Jones era had a lot in common with the way an offensive line attacks on the outside zone.

I can't speak to the philosophy of playing defense like that, or even the intentions of Banks in doing so. But there are clearly benefits to playing defense in that manner. For a start if the defense guesses right against the run the play is going no where. The lateral movement of the defensive line serves to overload the blocking scheme at the point of attack, forcing a cut back from the running back where, theoretically, the slow playing linebackers will be in great position to make a stop. It doesn't always work that way, but it should put the defense in position to make plays. After all, all the gaps are covered.

Tuberbille and Art Kaufman will not be playing defense like that. Tuberville's quote above is filled with defensive line buzz words. "Gap control," "vertical," and "attack the line of scrimmage." Those can be empty cliché's, but knowing Tubervile's past, knowing his linage and his philosophy I don't think they are. He is a guy who believes in getting pressure with the front four, and the only way to do that is to attack the offensive line directly.