When looking at Michigan State's defense, there are two things that will be seen on almost every single play: 4-3 over front and cover 4 behind it. Unlike the coverage portion of the defense, the front 7 plays fairly similar to most of their 4-3 over counterparts. In this part of the series, I want to look at what a 4-3 over defense is, what some of the weaknesses to the front are, and how MSU adjusts in an attempt to mask the inherent weakness of the front 7 scheme.
For reference, here's the gap scheme:
|Side||Align Tech||Key||Run To||Run Away||Pass|
|Strong||9 tech||TE||D Gap||C Gap - Chase||Left Outside Contain|
|Strong||3 tech||OG||B Gap||B Gap - Squeeze A Gap||B Gap|
|Weak||1 tech||C||A Gap||A Gap||A Gap|
|Weak||5 tech||OT||C Gap||C Gap - Chase||C Gap|
|Strong||60 tech||OG to RBs||C Gap||A Gap - Slow Pursuit*|
|Strong||Strong 00||C to RBs||A Gap||B Gap|
|Weak||40 tech||OG to RBs||C Gap||Slow Pursuit*|
* EDIT: MSU does not teach slow pursuit. Their cover 4 scheme allows for the backside safety to clean up any bounce back or reverse field type angles. Instead, MSU teaches to sprint over top of the play to prevent any cutback playside, or to attack "clear" (vs running over the top vs. "cloudy") to meet the pulling lineman or ball carrier in the backfield.
You can see above that this is a fairly simple defense to run out of its base. Each D-linemen is responsible for a single gap. The LBs are essentially two gapping, playing inside out.
So if it's such a weak rush defense, why has MSU been so good at rush defense? There's many reasons for that, including the backend coverage. But what we're going to focus on today is what the front 7 does to defend the run, namely defensive line adjustments and aggressive LB play.
More after the jump
Defensive Line Adjustments
I'll start off with a video directly from MSU Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi (found thanks to our SB Nation Brethren "The Only Colors")
Base 4-3 Over
Other plays that work well: weakside inside zone; weakside power with a pulling center (if you have a center that can do that sort of thing). Mostly, it's the ISO though.
So what did MSU do when they played a team that loves to run weakside ISO, Boise State?
One of the front adjustments Narduzzi mentioned was the Over G.
Here's some video:
Unfortunately for MSU, this really opens up the fold draw and the trap play (which teams inexplicably don't run nearly enough anymore). Here's a look at the fold draw.
Also, the power
This is why it's not just run all the time.
The weakness here is now ISO to either side or any sort of weakside run.
In the film I watched I didn't see a lot of Jam or Cage, but the concept was still used quite a bit, so here are diagrams.
The same can be said for Cage coverage. It allows the WILL to have C gap responsibility and get out into the flat.
Here's video of MSU running a DE pinch type front.
Here's video of them not.
What this type of thing is used more often for is to set up the blitz. By pinching the DE, the DE is able to get into the inside shoulder of his blocker (TE for SDE, OT for WDE) and turn him. One the blocker is turned, it is nearly impossible for the blocker to react and pick up the corner blitz.
So while the 4-3 over has some weaknesses, MSU makes up for it in a variety of ways. This includes very small but significant alignment changes on the D-line. It also involves blitzing from the secondary and LB level. One thing that wasn't mentioned much, if at all, also deals with the fact that MSU runs a cover 4. That is, the cover 4 allows the LBs to be very aggressive and downhill. While the weaknesses and strengths of this coverage will be discussed next time, the combination of the front seven and back end coverage is a big reason why MSU defense has been so successful.