Analyzing how UGA's fabricated pressure can have Bama's QB seeing ghosts
It’s finally here, Southeastern Conference fans.
When the University of Alabama travels to the Classic City to take on the University of Georgia, we’ll finally get quarters five, six, seven and eight (maybe more) of that epic showdown from the 2012 SEC Championship Game where the Tide held on for dear life in a 32-28 victory over the Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome.
While the majority of the casts have changed, these two squads are virtually mirror images of each other in everything from scheme, personnel and coaching staffs.
Both enter the tilt sporting big-arm quarterbacks who transferred back home from the Atlantic Coast Conference — 6’5″, 232-pound Jacob Coker (Florida State) and 6’5″, 220-pound Greyson Lambert (Virginia) — and are merely asked to be the bus drivers of, potentially, two of the most explosive offenses in the country.
They’ve both been given keys to high-powered vehicles; it’s their job to bring them back without dents in them.
Both outfits are equipped with Lamborghini-like running backs that are capable of putting their teams on their shoulder when provided the chance. UGA’s commitment to the run is virtually unmatched as sophomore Nick Chubb is on pace to leave Athens with quite a few records under his belt, while Alabama’s Derrick Henry, all 6’3″, 242 pounds of him, is consistently in a battle with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and his propensity for deploying a pass-happy, finesse scheme.
But when Kiffin is right in the head, Henry is an explosive play waiting to happen. The receiving targets are pretty much equal in talent with a slew of players that are able to navigate the quick game as well as vertical concepts.
But it may be the offensive line that differentiates both squads.
While Bama has the two most talented linemen in left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly, UGA’s unit is better as a whole, and it isn’t even really close. John Theus (LT), Isaiah Wynn (left guard), Brandon Kublanow (C), Greg Pyke (right guard) and Kolton Houston (right tackle) are the best in the business — with LSU’s unit having the most talent — and can oscillate between gap- and zone-blocking principles with ease, and they are equally adept in pass-protection.
While Bama’s line is more than capable of competing against anyone, it has been inconsistent over the last couple of seasons with this particular incarnation being, perhaps, the least talented of the bunch. And if them ‘Dawgs are able to dampen Bama’s run game, which has been an Achilles’ heel for its front seven in the past, it has the ability to dial it up and completely have Coker seeing ghosts.
As a former defensive player who played on a host of teams with multiple approaches, I absolutely love fabricated-pressure schemes. Two of my all-time favorite coaches, Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick, are known for pre- and post-snap confusion. Ryan, who I consider to be the best at scheming it up, has confused some of the best QBs in world despite never really having the type of pass-rushers one might associate with a top-flight defense — especially during his tenure with the New York Jets.
His sub-package overload blitzes are beautiful enough to make you cry, and his “Zombie” package, which consists of the front seven standing up and walking around before the snap, will confuse even the best of signal-callers (more on that in a minute). As it pertains to UGA, the pass-rush trio of Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd would each have double-digit sacks playing under Ryan.
Luckily, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who cut his teeth under Alabama head coach Nick Saban who was the DC for Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, knows how to dial it up, too. And this may be his best chance to empty his playbook on a national stage.
Coker struggles when the game is sped up, so what better way to accelerate his decision-making process than to threaten with interior pressure right in his face? Additionally, Bama’s interior line showed they could struggle with quickness along the interior in its loss to the University of Mississippi.
Check out how the Rebels brought an extra defender on this simulated-pressure package; Coker hurried the throw. While he is an underrated athlete, he struggles to reset his feet and throw when forced off his spot; edge-pressure allows him to step up into the pocket — which is still not his strong point as he lacks innate pocket feel — where as up-the-gut pressure just speeds up the clock in his mind.
Coker is not a savvy enough QB to ad lib, but if he’s provided a clean pocket, he can get streaky and make your defensive unit look foolish. But even the greatest of QBs have struggled with in-your-face pressure — including the most talented QB on the planet, Indianapolis Colts’ QB Andrew Luck.
In the Bills’ season-opening win over the Colts, Ryan threw the kitchen sink at a player who’s been know to eat blitzes for breakfast. But even future Hall-of-Famers aren’t immune to pre- and post-snap chaos.
The thing about showing A-gap pressure is it elicits a call and response from the interior portion of the line and backs for immediate inside-out pass-pro. Here, Ryan sent his strong safety on a delay up the same A-gap on the weak side; the back attacked the A-gap on the strong side. And even though it was technically seven on seven, the chaos forced Luck to eat the ball and the turf.
Here you can see Ole Miss applying the same technique; the Rebels didn’t bring pressure through the interior gaps every time they showed this look, but sometimes the thought of pressure is enough to have the QB rushing through his duties.
With the abundance of lengthy edge-players UGA has at its disposal — Jenkins (6’3″, 253 lbs), Carter (6’6″, 242 lbs), Floyd (6’4″, 231 lbs) and Davin Bellamy (6’5″, 241 lbs) — having a couple of them press the interior gaps could come in handy with, at the very least, having Coker have to adjust his sight lines as they will be standing in a motorcycle stance. (Look at how wicked UGA is with this particular scheme in the sequence above.)
The Bulldogs are the very best when it comes to fabricated pressure, they have a plethora of hand-in-the-dirt linemen who can control the gaps to either side of them and an overabundance of edge-players that can line up all around a formation. They also have aggressive defensive backs that fly around and are threats to be sent in zone-blitz packages, too.
The ‘Dawgs haven’t had the chance to unfurl some of these schemes as they have yet to face a team that’s a viable threat to win the game through the air. Whether Bama is or isn’t a threat in that manner (I lean toward the former), Kiffin has been known to force the issue as his team is loaded with receiving targets and passing is in his blood — sort of like Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his spread-to-pass scheme.
But how has that worked out for him against Georgia?
Not very well…
This should be a very exciting game, Dawg Nation!