Yesterday, Florida hired Geoff Collins to be their new defensive coordinator. Jim McElwain was able to grab him away from Mississippi State, where he quietly employed one of the fiercest defenses in the country.
In order to get to know him better, I’ve watched some film of his defense at Mississippi State, and I’ll be honest- I was very excited in what I saw. So I’ll introduce you to Collins’s defense by breaking down a defensive series that exhibits both the strengths and the weaknesses of his unit, but one that impresses overall. The following is a drive by LSU late in their game against Mississippi State in Death Valley.
1st and 10
It’s 1st down and 10 for LSU at their own 9. The Tigers are down 34-16 late in the game, so Mississippi State knows that they could take a shot downfield. Hence the four man front that Collins has thrown out there. The other seven defensive players will drop back into coverage.
Make that eight. Christian Holmes, the OLB, backs off and drops back at the last second, making it a three man front. You’d think that down by so much so late in the game, LSU would be taking deep shots. That’s certainly what Collins is thinking with the way he’s positioning his defense. But instead, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calls a screen pass to Leonard Fournette. Watch how the defense reacts to it.
Meet Richie Brown, a second string middle linebacker for the Maroon and White. Before LSU QB Anthony Jennings has even begun to roll out to dump it off to Fournette, Brown reads the play and knows exactly where the ball is going. So before Jennings has even thrown the ball, Brown is on his way to meet Fournette.
Brown has read the play right. That’s good teaching by Collins. But now there’s the matter of tackling Fournette, the first piece of which is catching him. Brown runs about a 4.5 40, which is tremendous for a linebacker, but he still might need help.
It turns out that Brown does catch Fournette. But check out the next frame to see what would have happened if he hadn’t.
The outside linebacker I’ve highlighted is Christian Holmes, who also plays some tight end for the Bulldogs. You saw him in the first frame as he threatened a blitz, and then in the second as he backed off to play some coverage. The ESPN cameras didn’t do a great job of following him, but he was never more than ~12 yards past the line of scrimmage. He, too, recognizes that it’s a screen, and puts himself right in the perfect position should his teammate, Brown, miss the tackle on Fournette. The result of the play is a measly one yard gain. Fournette is the better athlete, but Collins out coached LSU on this play and sniffed it out.
2nd and 9
That first play was really detrimental to the Tigers. It didn’t get much and it killed a lot of clock. So now it makes sense for them to throw it again, says Collins.
Thus, Collins again plays with a three man front, and drops eight back into coverage. But this time, there’s no tricks. It’s just SEC football. The receiver highlighted in yellow, John Diarse, is going to run a fairly simple comeback pattern, but one of the weaknesses of the Mississippi State defense- the secondary- is going to show up here by busting a coverage.
It’s a fairly harmless busted assignment- look at the score, the spot on the field and the game clock- but it’s a busted assignment nonetheless. That’s exactly the type of pass LSU is expecting to complete time and again during what’s basically a low stakes two minute drill. However, the two defensive backs, Tolando Cleveland (DB 1) and Jamerson Love (DB 2) give Jennings a decent window to complete the pass (that’s really bigger when you watch the play through as opposed to frame by frame). Luckily for MSU, Diarse drops the pass.
3rd and 9
Again, it’s desperation time for LSU on 3rd and 9, so the obvious call for Cameron is a pass.
Collins decides to add a fourth man in the box for this play. So LSU’s offensive line is thinking it’s five on four. The two interior linemen (2 and 3) are heading straight up the middle, while the fourth- Richie Brown- is going to make a push from the left, which is Jennings’ blind side while the DB, Tolando Cleveland, appears to be busy with a coverage assignment, so Collins ignores him. In any case, it’s the responsibility of the left tackle, La’El Collins, to protect his blind side. Just like we all saw in the movie about Michael Oher. Right?
Surprise! Cleveland does a great job of not tipping his hand, and once the ball is snapped, rockets out of his stance and makes a beeline straight for Jennings. Collins, the lineman, doesn’t even notice this, as his focus is on Brown, who Collins, the defensive coordinator, drew up to be a decoy on this play.
Not that there was any doubt about Cleveland’s intentions on the play in the previous frame, but this is the point where La’El Collins finally notices Cleveland, and faces the classic prisoner’s dilemma- who do I block, and what are the potential pros and cons of blocking each guy? The problem is, there’s no time to weight the options, as Cleveland, who runs a 4.48 40 yard dash, now has Jennings dead in his sights.
The fact of the matter is, Cam Cameron’s offensive line has been beat. Geoff Collins has out coached Cameron, and Cleveland has executed his nasty little trick to perfection. He’s past La’El Collins now, and has a free shot at Jennings.
Which he gleefully takes.
The result is an Anthony Jennings sack lunch, and a three and out by the Mississippi State defense late in the game.