clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Spread Offense - How Can Nebraska (Or Anyone Else) Defend Against It?

This is part three of a three part series on the spread offense, particuarly as it pertains to Missouri and Texas Tech.

Part three looks at how Nebraska (or anyone for that matter) can defend against the spread offense. Husker Mike had a previous article about defendng the spread, but we'll get much more in depth here. This article was born out of the arguments in the comments section of that article, proof that you can have an online argument and rise to better discourse.

In part one we started with a basic definition of the spread offense, an introduction to the theory behind it, and how it's evolved from the late 90's to today.

Part two looked at why Missouri is so effective with their version of the spread and how the differ from Texas Tech under Mike Leach.

Beergut from the Texas A&M blog I Am The 12th Man provided the expertise for this series. You owe him a visit!

How can Nebraska (or anyone else) best defense against the spread?

The easiest way to beat the spread offense is to "out-athlete" it. The spread is trying to put more athletes on the field than you have on defense; you need to respond in kind.

Schematically, the easiest way I've seen to do this is to align in a  3-4 or 33 Stack defense. R.C. Slocum used his 3-4 to put more speed on the field than the offense had. He would keep his NG in, put OLBs at the DE position, and put CBs or safeties at the OLB position. This meant there was more speed on the DL than the OL could handle. He would keep the MLB on the field to stop the run, and play a nickel package (5 DBs) all over the rest of the field.

He would send blitzes from everywhere, from every position, so the offense never knew where pressure was coming from.


Now, all of this speed on the field meant you were giving something up in size if the offense decided to run the ball, but you were okay with the trade-off. Some teams run the spread because they can't line up and run the ball well, and on defense, you want to force the offense to do what it can't do well.

A 33 Stack defense does two things: it guarantees there are more athletes on the field than the offense possesses, purely by its numbers, and it shows the QB the same look in base, Cover 1, so he needs to make the run-pass decision. The  33 Stack features 3 DL, 3 LBs, and 2 CBs, 1 safety, and 2 safety/LB hybrids. This means you are meeting the threat of their 4 WRs and 1 TB with 3 defensive backs and 2 DB/LB hybrids.

You still have 3 LBs to bring pressure and cover the flats. Assuming your LBs are an athletic match for their RB, you have outnumbered their athletes with your athletes. The 33 Stack also allows you to bring blitzes from all angles, which lets your defense be, to use one of Bo Pellini's favorite words, "Multiple." You can do many different things from many different looks in the 33 Stack, which is one of the reasons I favor this defense against the spread.


Using a tradition 4-3 alignment against the spread is usually asking for trouble, unless you have some standout DL and LBs. If your DL can get pressure on the QB every play, and your LBs are athletic enough to cover their slot receivers in the flats, you can use a 4-3 all day long. Oklahoma used to kill Texas Tech's "Air Raid" with their 4-3 (and 4-2-5) simply  because they brought pressure from their front 4.

Now, as for Nebraska against Missouri, well, I'm not sure you have the athletes in your secondary to match up with Missouri's WRs, specifically against Jeremy Maclin (no shame there, if you find a CB who can match-up with Maclin heads-up, there are a lot of Big 12 coaches who'd like to talk to you right now). I think Nebraska's best bet is to try to keep Missouri's offense off the field with their offense. You need to run the ball and eat clock. You need to slow the game down and try to  prevent a shootout. You aren't going to win a shootout with Missouri; that how they LIKE to play.

On defense, you need to tempt them to run the ball as much as possible. You want to show them 5 in the box as often as you can. then you need to play run defense. This accomplishes two things: It forces them to do what you want them to do, so you can stop it. It also keeps the clock moving, which shortens the game.

Nebraska needs to stay in a multiple Cover 2 look as much as possible, so they can keep Missouri away from the deep stuff, keep the game in front of them, and tackle well. Yards after catch can be deadly, so pursuit to the ball and tackling on first contact are paramount.

Against spread offenses, I am also in favor of shifting the paradigm. Spread offenses put a lot of pressure on defenses because their alignments stretch the defense all over the field. If I knew I was going to play a spread team in the pre-season, I would put in a package on offense that I would save especially for them.

I'd run something from the single-wing or from a full house T offense, something that would put some stress on their defense, and see if their DC knows how to effectively defend something he may not have seen in several decades, if at all. See if the opposing defense knows how to effectively run a wide-tackle 6 scheme. This also falls into the running the ball to keep the clock moving point I made earlier.

Well, that's all.