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VTF BYU Football FILM STUDY: Defense stands strong on 4th down

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BYU v West Virginia Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We’ve dedicated our Film Study to the offense the past couple of weeks so this go around we’re going to focus on the defense and how they were able to stuff West Virginia from converting on a key fourth down situation in the 3rd quarter.

First, let’s check this play out in real time.

At this point in the game BYU had just scored a touchdown (and failed on the conversion) to pull within two points of the Mountaineers. The West Virginia offense was once again on the move and were looking to build on their lead as they marched into BYU’s side of the field. After a great pass deflection by Tanner Jacobsen and stuffing Skylar Howard on a QB sneak attempt, West Virginia decided to go for it on fourth down.

In this first shot below we’ll see that West Virginia is lined up in their variation of the full house or diamond formation (three running backs in the backfield) with the quarterback lined up in shotgun and the halfback dropped at pistol depth. At the line of scrimmage they brought in a tight end on the near side of the field and split a receiver out wide on the far side. This seemed to be West Virginia’s go-to set whenever they got into a short yardage situation.

BYU countered with their base 4-3 defense but brought a few players closer to the line of scrimmage seeing that all West Virginia needed was a few inches to convert. While there are only four down lineman, BYU stacks the box with eight players (you could almost say nine with how close cornerback Chris Wilcox is lined up). The linebackers have taken a few steps in from where they are usually lined up and Kai Nacua is basically playing as a fourth linebacker.

At the snap of the ball we start to see that this is going to be a quarterback draw with Howard tucking the ball and hesitating for a moment so the blocking can develop around him. The offensive line is clearly down-blocking (angling down to their right and blocking whoever they find) with the exception of the right guard who is pulling to his left. This blocking scheme leaves the responsibility of blocking BYU defensive end Harvey Langi to one of the up-backs. On a short-yardage situation like this, having a running back block a defensive end isn’t always a great idea, as we will see pretty soon.

The other up-back goes to the right side of the line to fill the gap the pulling guard has left and the deep running back looks to be heading to his left to help block Langi or seal the edge in the event Howard decides to bounce this one outside.

In this next shot it looks like West Virginia has their blocks set and Skyler Howard has an easy path to pick up the conversion. The offensive line has cleared out the way with their down blocks, the up-back tasked with taking on Harvey has good positioning that has forced him outside and the pulling guard is on target to kick out Kai Nacua to clear the way. Even if that doesn’t work, it looks like there is a small lane on the right side of the line that Howard could attack or he could try to stretch it outside to his left where he has another blocker. Linebackers Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u are in position to make a play but they don’t appear to have a direct route to the QB.

So this should be an easy conversion for the Mountaineers right? Not so fast my friend. Turns out those blocks were not as solid as they initially looked.

In this next shot you’re going to see three blue arrows. What are these blue arrows pointing towards? They’re identifying three West Virginia players that have probably been humiliated during the film session this week. The first arrow is pointing towards #57 who tried and failed miserably to block Logan Taele. Previously it looks like he had neutralized the defensive tackle but now Logan has slipped passed the block, eliminating that nice lane that was opening on the right side of the line. This play was designed to go to the left so there is still a chance that they could pull this off.

The second blue arrow is pointing to #62, who is the pulling guard who is in charge of neutralizing Kai Nacua which isn’t an easy task even when you’re a massive offensive lineman. Kai, being the crazy instinctive player that he is, beats the guard to the point of attack. Instead of clearing Kai out of the way #62, he gets a very weak push that’s pretty much useless. Our friend #62 eventually falls to the turf, left to contemplate his life choices.

The third and final arrow points to poor #28 who is trying his best to block Harvey Langi. Before it looked like he had Harvey slightly sealed off but now he’s on the ground (it’s pretty much impossible to see him here) and Harvey is still on his feet. There is another running back who looks like he could make a play on Harvey but he ends up missing.

So based on this image above there are three blown assignments. On any given play you can still have success if one, maybe two, players miss an assignment but when THREE players mess up it’s next to impossible to recover.

In the shot that follows we see that Harvey was able to get a hand on Skyler Howard with Taele and Nacua in pretty close proximity. If for some strange reason they were to all miss, you can see that there is a second line of defense closing quickly in the form of Fred Warner, Butch Pau’u and Chris Wilcox, all of which aren’t being blocked. Why aren’t they blocked? Aside from the fact that there are multiple West Virginia players on the ground, there are two sets of double-teams happening on the far side of the field (see the white circles). When four players are blocking two defenders, that’s not a great sign.

As we all know Skyler Howard was not able to escape six defenders and get the first down. Just because I want to have a nice memory of this game I’m going to show you what it looks like when a single players gets tackled by six players. Looks like fun!

I should reiterate that this wasn’t a massive failure by the West Virginia offense. They were in position to make the play and three BYU players (Taele, Langi and Nacua) won their individual battles to stuff the opposition for a loss. This wasn’t the first time these players made the opposition look silly and it most certainly won’t be the last.