Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors and 13 starters from the team that went 10-3 last season. The most concerning losses for the Cowboys are those on the defensive side of the ball, as they prepare to face the offensive juggernaut that is the Florida State Seminoles in their opener.
The Cowboys return only four starters on defense after losing standouts such as DT Calvin Barnett, LBs Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey and DBs Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe. While they’ll be outmatched by FSU Saturday night, they’re not going to go out without a fight.
Head coach Mike Gundy has recruited well, and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer always fields a high-energy, physical platoon that is empowered by a solid defensive scheme.
After studying tape of FSU from last season, there was one common denominator schematically among each of the defenses that gave Jameis Winston and his offensive line fits: pre-snap disguise.
Boston College harassed Winston and the Noles a season ago with this tactic. The Eagles recorded four sacks in that contest, and other teams followed suit when they saw the tape. Wake Forest, Syracuse and Auburn each racked up four sacks by using the same method with which BC found success.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means and how Oklahoma State can benefit. If the Cowboys have any shot of upsetting the Seminoles, this is how they’ll do it.
Time to “show” up
Anytime a defensive call starts with the word “show,” it means that a disguise will be used before the snap. The type of disguise can change from week-to-week. A defensive coordinator tells his team which type of disguise will be featured for each coverage in install meetings during the week of practice. Disguises can consist of showing cover 2 before playing cover 3 or vice versa, or showing a zone coverage before playing man-to-man or vice versa. There are many options.
Each of the teams that had success getting pressure on FSU last season used disguises that showed blitz before the snap. Specifically, they disguised by putting a fake blitzer in the “A-gap” over the center.
If this Cowboy defense is going to daze Winston and his offensive line and stun FSU, they’ll do it by unleashing heavy doses of these two coverages: show 2-man and show 1 rover.
In this coverage, the defense shows five rushers, brings four and plays cover 2-man in the secondary.
Here’s an example of show 2-man that was executed perfectly by Auburn in the national title game against FSU last season.
As you can see in the photo above, Auburn showed five rushers before the snap — with the key being the fake blitzer (blue No. 3) over the center — while the secondary is playing cover 2-man behind it.
Cornerbacks are locked up man-to-man on the receivers while there are two safeties deep to provide help over the top.
At the snap of the ball, the fake blitzer – who eventually drops back into coverage – takes two hard steps toward the center to give the illusion that he is rushing the quarterback.
It is just enough to engage the center — creating 1-on-1 matchups for the four defenders who are actually rushing — and make Winston and his route-runners think that there will be a void in the middle of the field.
Now look at the last photo:
The center (highlighted in yellow) was fooled – standing in no-man’s land — while the pocket breaks down behind him. Winston was forced to hold the ball a split-second too long after seeing the fake rusher suddenly drop back underneath the shallow crossing routes. Winston, and the offensive line, got fooled into a sack on this play.
In this coverage, the defense shows six rushers, brings five and plays cover 1 with a low rover behind the rush.
This is the tactic that Boston College used repeatedly to confuse both Winston and his offensive line last season. The disguise philosophy is the same as the one above, but Show 1-rover allows the defense to rush an additional defender and bring even more heat.
Take a look at this photo from the BC game:
As you can see, BC showed six rushers before the snap – again with the key being the fake blitzer over the center (blue No. 3) – while the secondary is playing cover 1 behind it.
The cornerbacks are locked up on the receivers, the strong safety is locked up on the tight end on the line, and the free safety sits in the deep middle.
At the snap of the ball, the fake blitzer – who eventually drops back into the low rover position – takes two hard steps toward the center to give the illusion that he is rushing the quarterback.
The center is unable to help the guard to either side of him, as he is frozen by the fake blitzer, and 1-on-1 matchups were created for the five defenders who are actually rushing. As in the previous scheme, Winston and his receivers think that there is a void in the middle of the field, but there is not.
By the time the center realizes that his supposed responsibility is not actually blitzing, it’s too late for him to help any of his teammates. He’s wasted protection (center circled in yellow).
Winston was smart enough not to try to force a throw, but he is forced to take a sack as the pocket breaks down in a mere 1.53 seconds.
When you watch the game Saturday night, see if Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer saw what I saw on FSU’s film from 2013.
You’ll know that he did if you see Oklahoma State linebackers walking up into the line of scrimmage before the snap.
Of all the success that Winston and the FSU offense had last season, they struggled with these two schemes the most. If the Cowboys execute them well, they’ll give the Seminoles fits and just might have a shot at shocking the nation on opening weekend.
Coy Wire played college football at Stanford before a nine-year NFL career in Buffalo and Atlanta. He’s currently a college football analyst for FOX Sports 1 and writes for FOXsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CoyWire.