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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Using a Mirrored Zone in Goal Line Situations

We all saw the play. The play that will forever live in College Football lore. Six seconds remained on the
clock in the 2017 National Championship Game and the fate of two very good football teams hung in the
balance. Clemson rolled right into a Trey set with a strong back alignment and ran another pick route
combination against Alabama's man-to-man defense and Hunter Renfro, the game's smallest star on the
biggest stage, made an easy catch near the front pylon of the endzone to forever seal history, as well as
Alabama's fate. However, was it really what Clemson did, or what Alabama failed to do. Now, I know
what you're saying, "Duece, if you know so much, then why the hell aren't you on Nick Saban's staff?". I
get it, and yes in some ways you're right. Second guessing, or playing the armchair quarterback (QB) is
easy. Yet in this case, it's so easy, anyone could see what was wrong with Alabama's defense
schematically, and it had even been shown to them earlier in the game. It game with 14 minutes
remaining in the fourth quarter, when Mike Williams caught a four yard touchdown (TD) pass from
Deshaun Watson. The formation was different, as was the play (somewhat), but the results were
similar. Below is a recreation of the TD pass to Renfro followed by the variation used to get Mike
Williams into the endzone.

Yes, different plays, but the same results, and the same methodology to get guys open. "Pick", or "rub"

and while Clemson's slant. and you have serious issues. is that Alabama Defensive Coordinator (DC) Jeremy Pruitt didn't adjust from his first mistake. The other item of interest was that the outside receiver stemmed inside. However. These pick routes take advantage of over aggressive defenses that employ tight man-to-man coverage. sheer spacing. The route combination was also a bit different. The final play. that allowed Williams to come free into the corner of the endzone for an easy touchdown. Both receiver drive off and attempt to get both Alabama defensive backs . looked more like a crack block. It was also run into a Trey set. in that it was run into sprintout action instead of drop back. that featured both outside WR's off the line of scrimmage (LOS). the defender is put at a severe disadvantage to the offensive player in that even though he may recover. inside the ten yard line. Out in the open field they are not as deadly as they are down inside the goalline and the reason is. was a bit different. The first route combination that Clemson ran was a version of Smash. in order to bring the defender assigned to cover him. just reduced in route stem due to location on the field. yet widened. do that on the two yard line. on his hitch route. in order to pick the defender. it was effective nonetheless in fooling the officials that a route was being run instead of a block being thrown. in order to create space for the inside receiver. Again. Mike Williams did not stem vertical.e. Really. the yardage he's giving up is just that much more precious once in this area of the field. into the stem of the outside receiver. What really surprises me. the outside receiver drives into the defender aligned inside of him.routes have been around in football since Moby Dick was a minnow (i. The combination is known to many as slant/arrow. This created a natural "pick" or rub. yet featured the underlying theme of a "pick" route. Out in the open field a defender can recover and a five yard gain by the wide receiver (WR) isn't really that devastating a blow to the defense. a long time).

Number one. when I say Pruitt made a mistake. especially against a QB that can pull it down and run it like Watson from Clemson. that means the pass rush can be largely ineffective. I honestly believe that. because the DB doesn't have time to catch up. All-in-all the two plays were drawn up and executed very well by Clemson. which leads to un-harassed QB's that easily set their feet and make easy throws. the number one receiver creates enough of a "hump". in my opinion. . with the sped up throws down here. even if they press. Inside the ten yard line things happen almost too quickly for defenders to react. does not do this. The safety inside did a good job of cushioning back. Now. The other thing is with Watson rolling to that side. When you're facing a QB who is a threat to run. In my opinion. First the obvious reason that I've written about above. but it's best to have a plan where you can get eyes on him. is that not all 11 eyes are on the ball. there's not enough space to play man down in that end of the field. The reason is. that he simply cannot make up the ground to cover the route. you need as many eyes on him as possible. Going all-out Cover Zero man. So. and keep him contained. I'm not a huge fan of playing man on the goalline for two major reasons. while the corner on the outside actually is the one that gets run into by the outside WR. it reduced the length of the throw and added the impact of perhaps Watson being able to tuck the ball and easily run for the score. The second reason I don't like man on the goalline. that Tony Brown has to run over in order to keep up with Renfro.(DB's) on the same plane (this makes the pick or rub more effective). the WR has a two way go almost automatically down here. However. The DB is always at a disadvantage. I'm not saying you cannot play man-to-man against running QB's.

Now. due in part. They made the extra point and the rest is history. that was against a very big rival. the safeties will align in hard inside leverage on the number two receivers and the corners will shade the outside receivers ever so slightly. in the direction of the fake. . Being young. Since most of us see a lot of spread offenses. They even ran the routes. we get into overtime and we have the ball first and score. We had run this blitz on their last drive of the game and sacked him for a five yard loss. With no TE's in the game. he followed his running back (RB). I decided to bring the OLB off the edge from the QB's right side. Anyhow. after the long awaited build-up. The defensive line (DL) will align this way when in the goalline package. but we didn't have enough people on that side of the football to stop the QB keeper because we were in man. here's what we installed with great success after man-to-man cost us that game. the defense will align with four down linemen in our traditional "Gap 4" concept. He ran off both my corner and my safety (they even had the tight end that dragged chip my OLB) because they were chasing routes. typically I used to let the amount of tight ends (TE's) dictate the alignment. who was a very good coach came up to me and explained to me about the goalline mirrored zone he'd run at a few schools prior to his stop with us. Well. It was in a district game. then the defense simply slides over to adjust with the extra receiver. This was also from the field. The examples here are from the 4-3. we manned up. but they block our extra point (you know where this is going don't you). Assuming a two-by-two set. Since we are in the short end of the field. I cared nothing about playing zone on the goalline and so when the opponent got inside the ten yard line. but they roared back on big plays. they booted alright. but the concept is the same regardless of the defense. and many of which will even choose to stay in the spread. to the legs of a scrambling QB. Gap 4 is basically two 2I techniques and two 5 techniques. I based out of the 4-2 or the 4-3. one reason this worked. it was a brilliant play call (hell. I was actually burned by something very similar early on in my coaching career. like they were booting to the offense's left. I just knew they were going to boot him out and give him the run/pass option like they had so many times that evening.Last. into the endzone for a TD. low-and-behold. but instead of the QB rolling to his left with them. I'll start with 10 personnel. They liked to run what I call "Ace Double Pro" (seen below) and the route combos they ran off the boot is shown below. he had racked up over 100 yards rushing on us. it could've been improvised for all I know). So they get the ball. For me. We had them on the ropes early in a 21-6 game. If the offense utilizes a three-by-one concept. and we have them at fourth and goal from the seven. So. The Basics-Alignment The basic concept for the mirrored zone lies in what formations you are defending based on personnel groupings. and they were rolling him out to the left every time. and the outside linebackers being in wide 50 techniques. mainly on scrambles. The linebackers will take their traditional alignments with the Mike being in a 00. After that a guy we had on staff. was of course. All game long they had converted third downs at will with the bootleg. We were struggling with keeping him contained as he was such a good athlete. but it was a boot keeper. and NEVER in the 38 years these schools had played had the school I was coaching for beaten them in back-to-back seasons. We had beaten this rival the year before. The opponent's QB was a lefty. By the time the game ended in a 24-24 tie.

or 21 personnel this doesn't change the alignment. whether it be 11 personnel. If it's an open set. .If the offense chooses to add a TE to the mix. The safety to the open side. The remaining LB's slide to the walked up OLB and play a modified version of the Under Front. if he has a receiver. treats it like a standard two-by-two set (see above). Now. The safety to the TE side of the formation must also take this same alignment. the the safety must align in a manner to take away both the slant. and set the edge of the defense. the LB to the TE side will walk up and play a nine technique.

then the MLB will align in a 00 technique over the center with both safeties treating their respective sides like that of a pro set (see above). or 22 personnel. If the number two receiver is in the backfield then the safety will align in the first open gap as a LB. If the number two receiver is the second TE. choosing to use 12. . then both the outside linebackers will walk up on the LOS in nine techniques.If the offense adds another TE to the alignment.

Mirrored zone vs 22 personnel Mirrored zone vs 12 personnel .

no matter the amount of TE's.Against three back sets. both outside linebackers will walk up on the LOS. I won't elaborate on the DL in this article. The term mirrored is not something that is cliche or "catchy" either. The mirrored zones are divided up as shown below. Defenders are to mirror the eyes of the QB on passing downs. . Both corners will base their alignment on the that of the number one receiver. The Basics.Assignments Since we are talking coverage. The safeties will align in the box with outside leverage on the number two receivers (running backs) to their respective side. or align stacked behind the defensive end if there is no definitive number two receiver. Here is a breakdown of each positions assignment within the mirrored zone system.

reroute any vertical stems by a receiver they are aligned over (if this receiver is detached) and will look to break on any inside cut by the number one receiver. The safety and outside linebacker to each side must communicate who is force. have them be conscious of the fade and post corner routes. or if the QB boots to their side. the safeties are responsible for the QB on boot. . They will eye the QB. They are to play the corner aggressively and passively rally to any inside throws. Corners have secondary contain in the run game. They are to protect the corner of the endzone to their respective sides. Against the pass. When coaching the corners. The only time this isn't true is when the safety is aligned inside of an outside linebacker. Should the QB boot at any time when the safety is force.The mirrored zones of each defender Corners Corners are to do what their name says. Safeties Against the run. he is to yell boot and contain the QB. Making this call alerts the other defenders to slide their zones in the direction of the QB's boot. the safeties have their mirrored zone.

Outside Linebackers The outside linebackers have a mixed role when it comes to what they are asked to do in the mirrored zone defense. then the OLB must become the force/contain player. or both are on the ball. and he is to protect for the QB draw. This call is communicated from the safety to the linebacker and now the linebacker has no pass responsibility. Their zones. or leaves their traditional 50 technique alignment. will adjust based on the alignment of the outside linebackers. then the MLB will align in a 00 alignment over the center. The MLB's zone is the middle of all the zones created. If the outside linebacker is off the ball. If one LB walks up on the ball. then the MLB will move over in the direction of the OLB that moved (either up or out) to the first open gap he comes to. Middle Linebacker The MLB. but the inside cuts they look to protect are made by the number two receiver. begin inside the safeties' zones and extend to the edge of their alignment. then they are automatically a part of the coverage. Situational Analysis-How would this have helped Alabama? . The assignment is similar to that of the safeties. If both are off the ball. If a safety's alignment puts him inside that of an outside linebacker's.

the defenders have no need to move from the presnap alignment. To the side the QB is throwing to. the defender will relate to the QB's front shoulder. The weak side safety sees the boot. the force/contain player must alert the defense to the boot. If at any time the QB boots. even looked as though they might even be trying to play some sort of banjo technique. the QB. The latter one. and attack the QB outside-in immediately. the coverage players. and has the arm cocks to throw. receivers are only looked at to line up on. Since the defense is at an advantage because it's working with condensed space. not to relate to. If the QB turns. will react to the eyes first. If the QB takes the ball off the LOS in an attempt to pass. and his eyes. but you can see on the snap. then the zone defenders will begin a lateral shuffle in the direction of the upfield shoulder of the QB. alerts the . In the mirrored zone. The QB cannot throw the ball where he's not looking. it will keep defenders in a position to rally to the ball. this will put defenders into throwing windows and away from this shoulder. the defender's eyes must be on their main key. and the QB to make an unimpeded throw. the remaining defenders will turn and work to the middle of the next zone in the direction of the boot. Any hesitation allows for receivers to get open. as the QB drops and his eyes scan. and where is front shoulder is not pointed. They simply wait to break on the ball. the defender's eyes immediately fixate on their respective receivers. will react to the turn of the shoulders. If the QB's shoulders stay looking down the middle of the field. to throw the ball more outside. but also be there if the QB reverse rolls back away to scramble. Therefore.Clemson had already shown that it was willing to run rub routes in the endzone to get their guys open. An example of defending the boot is shown below. As the QB boots out. This was evidenced on the Mike Williams TD catch prior to the Renfro TD. Alabama is caught playing man-to-man (m2m) coverage in both situations.

Renfro's catch was from the two yard line. This is because the defender is up in a press technique. Now. the safety to the side of the sprintout would immediately attack. the play was pretty quick. Upon seeing the QB roll to him. It is much easier to defend and out cut from outside-in than inside-out because everything is coming to you instead of away from you. keeping outside leverage at all times and thinking "throw back". even if the ball is on the one yard line. Mirrored zone vs the bootleg Back to the final play of the National Championship Game (NCG). The LB's will hear the boot call. and sprint to work to the middle of the next zone in the direction of the boot call. this leaves the corner standing there with both the ball and the receiver coming to him. The corner is basically sitting and waiting for the ball to come to him. whereas on the earlier Mike Williams TD pass they dropped back. leaving a . Another key to note here is that Clemson sprinted into this scenario. The backside corner squeezes the dig route. they always play off. Corners in the mirrored zone never press. protects the corner of the endzone. but must always play it with outside leverage. with the safety to the inside having his heels at the goalline. but here's where the goalline zone really wins in this situation. the outside receiver drives off into the defender. As the number one receiver drives off looking to pick the inside DB. but they never press. Even though the corner is taught to protect the corner of the endzone. When the ball is snapped. to the side the boot is on. The corner in the mirrored zone would've been at least five yards off the ball in this case. Inside zone defenders will align with their heels on the goalline once the ball travels inside the five yard line. At the very least the throw would've been much more contested than if the defense were in m2m.defense and attacks the QB now! The corner. He can squeeze this route. The safety opposite of the boot call works in much the same way as the other LB's. they are football players and are taught to break on the ball as well.

the QB has a hot defender coming off his outside. but no. May take me some time to get it all sorted it out. what defense would you have rather been in? Mirrored zone vs Clemson's final play Sorry it's taken me so long to write. I'm in the process of gathering some new information and coaching points on the Two Gap One Gap defensive line play as we speak. Since the election. or block the blitzer. I'm not a teacher). but be patient with me! Duece Posted by Duece at 1:23 PM . Now.receiver looking to set a pick with nowhere to go. the outside receiver would not be open because the linebacker would've sprinted over to replace the safety. Clemson utilized turn back protection so this would mean the running back had to make a choice. I know what you're thinking. either block the DE. either way the defense has a two-for-one scenario here. my business has been soaring (yes. I know he who has the chalk last always wins. but let's be honest.