Inside the Playbook - A Look at MSU's Unique Cover 3 Package Part 1

On normal downs and distances, it’s safe to say that MSU isn’t the most creative defense. While they are obviously still very good, they typically do a limited amount of things and do those things extremely well. But once you get behind the chains, well, that’s a different matter. Against Notre Dame, Narduzzi and Co pulled out an interesting formation and scheme. We are going to look at it briefly and how it is supposed to be run and why.


Here, the Spartans clearly line up in a single high look, and with the depth of the defenders in the slot, it’s almost surely going to be a 3 high type of defense. The question for the QB is: “Are the CBs going to drop into deep thirds?” or “Are the seam defenders going to drop into deep thirds?”


Turns out that it is a basic cover 3 zone but with a few tweaks with the way that it looks. And the underneath coverage follows the eyes of the QB.


Concept and Theory
The scenario is third and long. The idea behind running a cover 3 is that it will allow MSU to apply some pressure while protecting the first down marker. It’s relatively safe against a variety of formations and forces a QB to put a ball accurately and on time to defeat it.

However, there is one play that is quite adept at defeating cover 3: 4 verticals. 4 verts will force a deep defender to be wrong, will give the QB an easy read to find an open receiver, and is difficult for the defense to adjust to (who converts the coverage to defend the fourth receiver?).

One thing you see from the video on the replay is that both seam defenders are simply reading the QB's eyes and will rotate based on that,  that the 6 man pressure will not give the QB time to go through a progression on both sides of the field and that it also won't give the routes time to develop against the initial 5 high look something that proved to be the case. But Rees held the seam defenders for long enough with his eyes before turning to his hitch route near the sideline, and the first down was converted.

Despite the fact that it doesn't work (because the seam defender doesn't get his eyes to #1 early enough because he’s worried about 4 verts), this is an interesting set-up that I hadn't seen before. While it does give up the first down, it seems quite a bit safer preventing the truly big play. In the next part we'll look at how MSU can stick with the cover 3 concept, but confuse the QB and offensive line to generate a more complete defensive package.


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