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Duck Tape: Film Study of DL Coach Tony Tuioti

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A review of Oregon’s new DL coach during his last four seasons at Cal and Nebraska

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Oregon’s new DL coach Tuioti graduated from Hawaii in 2000, and has spent time as a high school head coach, as an assistant DL coach with the Cleveland Browns, and as director of player personnel for Hawaii and Michigan, plus two years as Hawaii’s DL coach and another two in Honolulu at LB. He’s spent the last five seasons in the Power-5, joining HC Wilcox’s new staff at Cal in 2017 as the linebackers coach, moving over to the Bears’ defensive line in 2018, then taking the Nebraska DL job in 2019. This article will review the film on those last four seasons.

The defensive coordinators at both Cal and Nebraska were Oregon coaches at other points in their careers – Tim DeRuyter for the former and Eric Chinander for the latter. Both employed similar schemes that map onto what Oregon has been doing for the last several seasons, including both 2-down and 3-down fronts, and I expect Tuioti’s line for the Ducks to be a bridge between last year’s structure and the new Mint/Tite scheme that HC Lanning, DC Lupoi, and co-DC Powledge have been coaching.

North Carolina v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As discussed in my two previous articles on this defensive staff linked above, I expect the 2022 Ducks defense to go to a variety of 2-3-6 dime looks on obvious 3rd down passing situations, and I saw something pretty similar on Tuioti’s tape throughout the last four seasons. The main difference is that, unlike Alabama and Baylor which stuck with a 3-down Tite front with one Jack OLB and one nickel DB on virtually all remaining downs, Cal and Nebraska would alternate between a 2-4-5 (two OLBs, no nose) and a 3-4 (two OLBs, no nickel) on standard downs. There was also a strong tendency last year at Nebraska to bring out the 3-4 only when the offense had two or more tight ends on the field; such a tendency didn’t exist with the Bears or the 2019-2020 Husker defenses. For a deeper background on how Wilcox and Baylor HC Aranda deploy Tite fronts differently, here’s an excellent primer.

The reason I think Tuioti’s line will bridge the gap is that when they were in a 3-4, his three linemen were always in the 4i-0-4i Tite configuration that DeRuyter has recently adopted (for most of his career he favored a 5-0-5, but with the rise of spread offenses he switched to the B-gap clogging Tite front at some point during his 2012-2016 Fresno St tenure). Chinander used the same structure at Nebraska. The clips in this article will include only those 4i-0-4i fronts, as I expect them to be the primary d-line configuration for Oregon in 2022. As with previous articles, these clips are not representative of Cal and Nebraska’s defense, but illustrative of the schematic choices that I believe will carry over to Oregon, and Tuioti’s development of linemen within that type of front.

Let’s start with execution, because even more than scheme it’s what impressed me the most with Tuioti’s linemen. In this type of 3-down front, the main job of the line isn’t getting penetration or performing stunts, it’s controlling gaps - the DEs stay inside the tackle to clog the B-gap, and the nose gets both A-gaps. They make the backers (and sometimes DBs) shine by letting them do the edge rush or interior penetration to get tackles and negative-yardage plays. I thought Tuioti’s units did great work in that role, especially considering he was mostly working with low-to-mid 3-star talent … and arguably his best performer was Cal’s nose guard in 2018, Chris Palmer, who was unranked out of high school and has been sorely missed at Cal over the last three seasons. Some examples:

(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)

Even though Cal and Nebraska were using two OLBs instead of one OLB plus a nickel as I expect at Oregon, I still consistently observed the same basic principle in rush defense as in all Tite fronts – “spill & kill.” The linemen stay inside the tackles and prevent any interior running, forcing the back to bounce outside and giving the backers and DBs time to come upfield (that is, out of pass coverage) to make the tackle. So while I think these double-eagle fronts will be rare at Oregon, readers of the previous two articles should find what they see here to be pretty familiar by now:

  1. :00 – This run is meant to go through the offense’s right B-gap, but the DE has that completely closed down with a great jump inside, forcing the back to reverse and go outside where the rest of the defense converges on him. Note the nose and other DE keeping their eyes on the play, disengaging and getting to the ballcarrier too.
  2. :10 – Good leverage by the DE here – the RG wants to work him inside but he stays outside to close the B-gap while the nose is closing that A-gap. The back tries the other side of the formation instead, but there’s no one to account for the ILB on that side and he’s playing patiently according to scheme, so he gets an easy tackle.
  3. :19 – Note the pre-snap shading as the TE goes in motion, now both DEs are inside the tackles at the snap against this heavy I-formation run. The defense is playing this properly, with the cornerback and high safety unaccounted-for and in-position to stop this after only two or three yards, but check out the nose and backside DE getting off their blocks to stop it even sooner.
  4. :27 – This is the other way that d-linemen contribute to run stopping without actually tackling themselves – occupying double teams. The RG can’t pry the DE out of the B-gap, and misses the ILB coming through the A-gap. The OLB maintains proper outside leverage so the back runs back into him.

The sacrifice that Tite front linemen make is that they don’t often get to be the heroes on a play – they’re not coming of the edge or penetrating into the backfield based on exotic stunts, and they get basically the same responsibilities during blitzes as with standard pass rushes. So sacks and QB hurries that d-linemen contribute to either take the form of liberating a backer or DB to get to the passer, or just straight-up beating your o-lineman and getting in the backfield yourself. I saw plenty of both for Tuioti’s units:

  1. :00 – Here Cal is dropping an OLB and bringing an ILB on a blitz. The other ILB takes the TE releasing downfield to maintain four over three to the field (and two over one to the boundary, with the back staying in for protection). The OLB beats the RT and gets to the QB but he wriggles free, fortunately the DE has also gotten past the RG to clean up.
  2. :09 – This is still a 3-4, after extensive movement pre-snap the fieldside OLB is now over the slot receiver. Nebraska has adjusted by sliding an ILB over a bit and the DE is now outside the tackle; I suspect Oregon would have adjusted differently. At any rate, the DE in the 4i position on the other side does a great job not getting trapped inside and keeping an outside arm free to collapse on the scrambling QB. The flag at the end is for intentional grounding so this counts as a sack.
  3. :21 – The DB fails pretty spectacularly at this attempt of a jam so the slot is wide open; this is something else I doubt Oregon would try. The OLB has done his job and gotten around the RT which unnerves the QB (who should have just thrown immediately at the top of his drop). The DE is crushing the LG so the QB can’t go that way, and the nose does a great job disengaging the center and keeping the pressure up to cause a bad throw.
  4. :31 – This should look pretty familiar from previous weeks – it looks like a blitz but the OLBs and DBs back out and the ILB comes up the middle instead. Maximum coverage, penetration rushing only four, and the other ILB acting as a spy against a scramble – this is much closer to what I expect to see in 2022.