WTFL;DR: Narduzzi coaches an aggressive take on the now en vogue Quarters defense that's still formidable even if State isn't quite what it was last year.
Pat Narduzzi's defense for the last season and a half has been a bitch to deal with. Yeah, maybe it's not as good as last year what with Jerel Worthy being a legitimately/literally huge absence to compensate for. Still, the remaining football players are talented and they play Narduzzi's 4-3 Over Cover 4 scheme with the kind of savvy you wouldn't expect from a squad diligently adhering to a strict regimen of crass goonery, per Mark Dantonio's demands. They diagnose ably, are patient and pair that with surprising athleticism. The first two are perhaps unsurprising as State has drawn much of their talent from Ohio, presumably from the bigger schools where the coaching and competition are first rate. The athleticism I have no quip for. It sure is annoying.
Cover 4 or Quarters coverage is en vogue at the moment in both the pros and college for a variety of reasons. Smart Football has run 2 articles over the last few years that are absolutely worth reading on the subject. Some of this will end up rehashing that, with the end game being how State will use their Quarters D to attack our base run game, particularly inverted veer.
In the college game, its use stems largely from the ability to solve the numbers disadvantages more traditional 1-Gap Cover 2 or Cover 3 base defenses have to deal with thanks to the rise of the spread. As SF mentions, it's really difficult to stop 4 Verts when your defense has fewer than 4 deep defenders. There's very often an easy throw depending on whether you went with 2 or 3 deep defenders. Here's how Nick Saban put it:
We got to the point where, this is the reason that we do this, when everybody started going spread we couldn’t play 3 deep zone. This started with the Cleveland Browns, I was the defensive coordinator in the early 90s and Pittsburgh would run 'Seattle' on us , four streaks. Then they would run two streaks and two out routes, what I call ‘pole’ route from 2x2. So we got to where could NOT play 3-deep zone because we rerouted the seams and played zone, and what I call “Country Cover 3” [drop to your spot reroute the seams, break on the ball]. Well , when Marino is throwing it, that old break on the ball shit don’t work.So because we could not defend this, we could not play 3 deep, so when you can’t play zone, what do you do next? You play Man [cover 1], but if their mens are better than your mens, you can’t play cover 1 .We got to where we couldn’t run cover 1 - So now we can’t play an 8 man front. The 1994 Browns went 13-5 , we lost to Steelers 3 times, lost 5 games total [twice in the regular season, once in the playoffs]. We gave up the 5th fewest points in the history of the NFL, and lost to Steelers because we could not play 8-man fronts to stop the run because they would wear us out throwing it
Saban solved this at first by revamping his C3 rules. Eventually though he and many others found that Quarters and similar such coverages could solve the same problem as well or better. Why? In part, the running quarterback means that 8 man fronts may still not be enough. Coaches generally play run defense thinking about the free hitter. That is, the best an offense can do is line up 10 blockers and 1 ball carrier. The defense has 11 would-be tacklers. 11 tacklers minus 10 blockers is 1 free hitter, the ball carrier's counterpart.
In modern football, often enough your free hitter is playing deep coverage because the passing game is a huge threat and isn't near the line of scrimmage. In standard Cover 3, this can mean leaving the free safety standing in the middle of the field doing jack while the QB takes a direct snap and shoots past the line and backers busy getting swallowed by blockers. Quarters makes sure there's never a safety doing jack.
Here's Chris from SF:
For example, if the offense splits out two wide receivers to the same side of the field, and both run straight up the field on deep routes, the safety plays man on the inside guy and the cornerback plays man on the outside guy. If, however, the inside receiver were to run immediately to the flat -- say, on a bubble screen -- while the outside receiver ran upfield, the corner and the safety would actually double team the deep man, defending him from both the inside and the outside. This type of read-and-react is great against the spread's multiplicity, as it can allow some very short completions but lead to lots of interceptions and few downfield passing windows.
And what if that inside receiver ducked inside to run block? The safety responds by adding himself to the run fit. If the inside receiver is a TE, it's the same thing. If there is no inside receiver near the line of scrimmage and he's in the backfield or some such, he reads run first and then looks for something else to do. Both safeties are responding to the keys they receive and are adjusting the numbers back in favor of the defense.
But that's a pretty standard Quarters set up. State does a few things differently. Let's check out some pretty pictures.
[ED: after the jump.]