This year Wisconsin has switched to a 3-4 defense, and one of the benefits is the benefits it gives verse defenses that try to spread them out horizontally. This can mean how it adapts to spread concepts, but also, how it adapts to many 2-TE personnel groupings that try to gain an advantage by creating more gaps for the defense to fill. The 3-4 puts 5 people on the LOS, it provides outside leverage, it provides strength at the point of attack, and makes it relatively easy for the ILBs to scrape to the ball. Basically, if defenses read their keys, the 3-4 is the perfect defense to handle a 12 personnel offense.
The 3-4 Against Iowa’s 2-TE Set
First, here is how Iowa will want to block this:
Wisconsin’s two DEs (DE and DT) are lined heads up on the OTs in a 4-tech. The ILBs are lined up in a 20 technique, which is heads up on the guards, about 3-4 yards off the LOS. The NT is lined above the center, and both OLBs are lined up in a 9-technique with their inside shoulder just outside of the TEs outside shoulder.
To the playside, the TE is tasked with reaching the OLB and sealing him inside. If he can’t, he will drive him to the sideline. The goal of the OLB is to get up-field about a yard into the backfield, keep his outside arm free, and anchor into that position.
Because the ILBs are lined up directly above the guards, it is unrealistic for the OGs to be able to reach the ILBs on their blocks. Despite having clean releases, the LBs are able to flow to the point of attack before the OGs can get clean blocks on them, meaning that it must come down to the playside OT (PST) and the OC to get out on the ILBs. Well, there are DEs lined up directly above the OTs and the OC, meaning they can’t get free releases. It also means that they have to at least hold the blocks at the point of attack long enough to hold up the DL and allow the OGs to get over and take over those blocks, before finally releasing to the second level.
So now everyone on the interior has a very difficult assignment. The PST must maintain a block on the DE for long enough to allow the OG to come underneath and take over the block on the playside. This must all happen fast enough for the PST to get out onto the ILB before he can scrape across and fill at the point of attack. The same can be said for the OC and backside OG (BSG) getting to the backside ILB.
Now, from these positions, knowing that Iowa is a primarily zone blocking team, Wisconsin will 2 gap with their DL. This means that upon Iowa’s first movement, Wisconsin’s DL will try to get their hat playside of the OL that is blocking them. They will grab and fight and occupy as many offensive linemen as they can to prevent them from reaching the second level. Meanwhile, the ILBs will flow to the ball and fill up, the LB to the primary hole, the backside ILB to the cutback gap. It will look like this:
What you see here is that, no matter what, Wisconsin is getting a free hitter at the point of attack. Either the gaps are filled playside and the RB is forced to cut back into the backside ILB pursuit, or the backside is filled and the free hitter is the playside ILB. Or, better yet for Wisconsin, both ILBs are free hitters because their blockers can’t get out to them in time.
Here’s the video:
How Iowa Adjusted
A common adjustment for zone based run schemes is to switch things up by running a pin and pull scheme. This is still a zone scheme, but it’s a variant.
Here are some ways to block the Pin and Pull variant. Oddly enough, the most similar thing to what Iowa ran was the “Wisconsin Version” that is described in this video.
Here’s how Iowa ran it:
And here’s the video:
Because the playside features down blocks, the playside defenders are trying to get across the hat of the blocker. That means they are slanting away from the play and into a position that makes it easier to block. The down blocks are easy blocks on the heads up DE and NT, then the pulling players take advantage of the LBs that at least partially flow away from the play because of those same down blocks.
If any play is read correctly, if the defenders properly identify their keys, they can blow up a play. The 3-4 provides a way to read those keys in a zone scheme and beat the offense to the point of attack, getting a free hitter. The pin and pull adjustment takes advantage of this aggressiveness. Contrarily, with the pin and pull adjustment, if the OLB properly reads through the TE to the RB, then he should get upfield and squeeze down, getting the initial blocker in the backfield. This makes it nearly impossible for the second puller to get around to the ILB he is supposed to block because he has to not only loop around the whole play, but also gain more depth because the first puller got hit in the backfield.
But at the end of the day, this is easier said than done. The 3-4 puts the defense in a position that it is relatively easy to succeed if they make reads and react quickly. But it still takes reading the keys and acting quickly. It’s easier here than out of other formations, because it fills gaps at the point of attack and allows the LBs to flow freely, but that also means that those same players can just as quickly get out of position and taken advantage of if they fail to read their keys. That’s the thing with football. Every offense can be read correctly, but it still takes quick reactions and reads to successfully execute. And that is why football isn’t played on a chalk board.