In the final football edition of X’s and O’s this season, Nick Scoliard looks back at the Gator Bowl and analyzes a pair of crucial defensive plays that helped lead Northwestern to victory.
In Part 2 of my look into the Gator Bowl, we delve into the defensive plays that gave the Wildcats their first bowl win since the Truman administration. As this bitter Patriots fan can attest to, offense gets you to the championship, defense wins championships. That has been true all year, as the revitalized offense propelled the ‘Cats to a 9-win regular season while the defense routinely faltered late in games. In the Gator Bowl, however, the defense was the key of the game, getting 4 interceptions , allowing only 292 yards, and only one 3rd down conversion. Looking back at the game, there were two key plays that brought the Wildcats to victory. The first is Quentin William’s early pick-six.
(Wildcats assignments in purple, Bulldogs assignments in red, Quentin Williams circled in yellow).
On the third play of the game, the Bulldogs have a 3rd and 4 on their 31 yard line. They come out in shotgun formation with two receivers to the right, a tight end to the left of the line, a receiver wide to the left, and Ladarius Perkins on Tyler Russell’s left. The ‘Cats line up in their base 3-4 coverage scheme, in what appears to be Cover 2. At the snap, the outside linebackers blitz, while David Nwabuisi, the middle linebacker, takes Perkins. The top safety covers the tight end, so the Cats’ end up in Cover 1, with 5 blitzers. Quentin Williams, circled in the picture, lines up on top of the left tackle, Eric Olsen. At the snap, when Williams rushes, Olsen dives to push Williams back. This is normally a good way to get the defensive end away for a quick pass, but Olsen does the worst thing imaginable and pushes Williams in front of Perkins’ checkdown route.
Russell had seen Perkins open before Williams was pushed, so he starts his motion. Williams watches Russell, and realizes that the ball is going to Perkins, so he steps in front of the pass. It was not designed for Williams to attack the flat, but he does a great job of reacting to Russell after being pushed back. Once Williams intercepts it, he basically has a wide open 30 yard dash to endzone. While it wasn’t drawn up like this, Williams reads the QB very well, and puts the ‘Cats up early. However, later on, it was another interception that really iced the Bulldogs.
There are two things this picture could be; either the worst drawing ever made in Microsoft paint or a very well designed zone blitz. Both are acceptable answers. The ‘Cats were up 13, but the offense was stalling. Colter had just been picked off, and Denico Autry’s return gave the Bulldogs 1st and 10 at the Northwestern 15 yard line. The last time the Bulldogs were in Northwestern territory, Ibraheim Campbell intercepted Russell’s pass. Now, on their first play, Chi Chi Ariguzo was Russell’s newest target. The Bulldogs line up in shotgun trip left, with a tight end on the right of the line and Perkins to the right of Russell. The Wildcats show a zone look, as the defensive backs are 10 yards from the receivers and when Chad Bumpis goes in motion, no one follows him. However, as the play develops it becomes a zone blitz, one of the hardest plays the offense can face.
There is one principle to the zone blitz that permeates in the whole play design; get pressure with the least amount of rushers. In a normal blitz, the defense would have to play man in order to get that 6th unblocked rusher into the backfield. In a zone blitz, the defense can get pressure with 4, maybe even 3 rushers, which allows the coverage behind it to be in zone, making it harder for the quarterback to throw with the incoming pressure. The way the defense can attack the backfield with fewer rushes is by overloading sides of the offensive line, and allowing rushers into the backfield unblocked. One way to do this is to have a defensive lineman step up initially to look like he’s rushing, and then step back quickly into zone coverage. This makes that side of the offensive line focus on him, and not on the incoming rushers from the other side.
In this play, Nwabuisi rushes from the middle to overload the right side, while Deonte Gibson fakes the rush on the left side, and then drops into the middle of the field. Even better for the ‘Cats is that the left guard, Gabe Jackson, pulls off to pretend to block for Bumpis to really sell the play action. This means 4 rushers are now trying to rush on 3 lineman, which is the perfect situation for the zone blitz. Jackson realizes too late that there is an unblocked rusher, and has to turn around just to get a hand on Nwabuisi. Nwabuisi is able to go past him and collides with Russell as he is throwing. The ball floats to the middle of the field, where Gibson gets a hand on it and floats it in the air. Chi Chi comes in from the left side, and catches the deflected ball. The Wildcats were able to stop the Bulldogs through a very well designed zone blitz, by allowing Nwabuisi to get in unblocked while only rushing 4. Mike Hankwitz draws up a great play here to give the ball back to the offense, and take away at least 3 points from the Bulldogs.
Unfortunately, this is all the football I can squeeze out of the Gator Bowl, so this will be the last football Xs and Os. Next week, look for Tralon Williams to draw up Northwestern basketball plays. Only 220 days until the start of the 2013 Northwestern football season.