Thanks as well to ATQ’s Tristan Holmes for some of the preliminary charting work on Liberty’s 2023 season.
When Head Coach Chadwell took over the Liberty program this year, he brought with him the schematically fascinating triple option offense from Coastal Carolina. Although Chadwell came up as a flexbone quarterback, this is quite a different variety of the option offense – I would characterize its core as the pistol veer and it’s much more wide open with an emphasis on explosive plays to the outside, quarterback athleticism, and misdirection. It’s been a dominant offense in 2023, ranking 5th in the FBS in F+ advanced statistics.
Rather than grinding opponents down with endless series of three-yard runs by having undersized linemen break their kneecaps (as the reader may recall service academy-type option teams doing a few years ago before NCAA rule changes in 2018 and 2022 significantly limited cut blocking), this offense uses efficiency plays to set up explosive outside rushing and deep passing, which is really how they move the ball. And when they need to run inside, they win such plays the same way any other team would – by having offensive linemen who are bigger, more experienced, and know their assignments.
In most games, Liberty would eventually develop a big enough lead – and detect enough defensive exhaustion – that they’d switch to a punishing rush-only drive to put the game away. This practice drives up both their time of possession and run-to-pass ratio, but prior to that point it’s a much more open offense which actively seeks explosive plays and even employs some situational hurry-up snaps.
Chadwell found an excellent fit for the offense in #7 QB Salter, a former 4-star from the 2021 cycle who’d enrolled at Tennessee but transferred right back out to Liberty after Spring ball that year. On the podcast, Jon relayed that it was a late decision in Fall camp this year to name Salter the starter, which was a surprise for me to learn because he’s such a natural for the offense, with tremendous athletic gifts in terms of speed, improvisation, and ball handling which are essential to operating it properly.
It was interesting to watch Salter get more even more comfortable in the offense as the year went on, as it incorporated more RPO elements in the passing game and more formational variety to use more spread 11-personnel concepts by the conference championship game. The QB whom Salter beat out, Johnathan Bennett, was the only other guy I saw taking even a small number of garbage time snaps this year and he’s now transferred out; Jon said that the bowl game backup will probably be #8 QB Lowe who played three years at Southern Miss in a different offense but hasn’t seen the field for Liberty, and doesn’t have much in the way of rushing stats.
The running back room was completely reconstructed in 2023, with none of this year’s top five backs getting a single carry last year for Liberty. The primary back is Wake Forest transfer #20 RB Cooley, an excellent all-around ballcarrier, and he’s backed up by #0 RB Lucas who was a Jerry Rice finalist at the FCS level. These are the guys who get the dive plays on the initial read most often. Both have the same per-play success rates on my tally sheet, though Cooley gets about 0.8 adjusted YPC more.
In the most common 21-pers formation, the other back either lines up behind the QB or starts in the slot and goes into an orbit motion, and gets the outside plays. To start the year this was #24 RB Blue, but he was injured and missed most of the season so they converted slot man #82 WR Bedgood into playing this role at a very high level. Blue returned for the last two games, though gingerly, and Jon and I had an interesting discussion about what that might mean for the bowl since they could conceivably use both in rotation in the backfield or Blue exclusively and return Bedgood to the slot.
Liberty can certainly be described as a run-first offense. Excluding garbage time, Liberty called designed runs on a 3:2 basis this year, with the run rate being even higher on 1st downs (2:1) and short-yardage situations (4:1). It’s only on 2nd & long (1:1) and 3rd & medium or long (1:4) that they prefer called passing plays.
Their success rates running the ball show decent though not overwhelming efficiency, but excellent short-yardage effectiveness and a high degree of explosiveness – that reflects a relentless rushing attack that baits opponents into making a mistake, then either punishing them for losing discipline or at least getting a fresh set of downs and starting the cycle over. Overall, they have a 56.8% success rate on designed run plays (254 successful rushes vs 193 failed ones, given the down & distance and excluding quarterback sacks and scrambles), which in my experience is a couple points below the 60% championship threshold. However, they average 6.2 adjusted YPC and 18.3% of designed runs gain 10+ yards, which are excellent numbers and demonstrate frequent huge rushing plays. Their short-yardage rushing success rates are phenomenal – over 76% on 2nd & short and over 87% on 3rd & short.
Here’s a representative sample of successful runs:
(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)
- :00 – This isn’t a triple option play but a 22-pers inside give (I suspect the RPO tag is fake) backed up in their own endzone; I selected it because it was the first “wow” play I encountered from Cooley, muscling through multiple tackle attempts to generate a 1st down on his own power. I think the designed pathing calls for an A-gap run but he checks out of it into the opposite C-gap.
- :07 – Here’s the typical pistol 21-pers triple option configuration, though again this isn’t the standard veer play but rather a QB keeper. The defense thinks it’s got the tailback and offset back accounted for and are using a twist to get to the QB, but the DT is too clever by half here and Salter takes it inside of him then outside the DE and LB who are getting sealed by the line.
- :14 – Salter has their highest conversion rate on 3rd and 4th downs, his tenacity is pretty remarkable.
- :22 – Here’s the full veer play: first the read for the inside give, the defense stays inside so Salter and Bedgood start running outside. The safety comes down on the QB and he holds it till the last second, with the nickel finally losing discipline and going for him too, leaving Bedgood alone for the pitch and a big play up the sideline.
Salter and Cooley are prime examples of the singular challenge in evaluating Liberty’s film – which Jon agreed was a significant issue and we talked about extensively – namely that at almost every position they were simply far more athletically gifted than their counterparts for every opponent that they played. But in my opinion the biggest personnel advantage that Liberty enjoyed was at the offensive line, where the five upperclassmen starters had enormous size advantages against the defensive fronts they faced. They’re assignment sound in a complex run scheme as well – they aren’t just getting what they do in the run game by leaning on opponents – and they have depth with a regular planned rotation of a sixth man at tackle.
I do have some criticism, however, for the line’s technique, when it comes to hat placement and footwork. The most notable disparity on my tally sheet is the difference between inside and outside running – on the dive and other runs between the tackles, they have only a 49.6% success rate and 4.2 YPC, while outside runs are at 59.6% success and 6.9 YPC. It’s also the case that despite the spectacular short-yardage success rates, on 1st & 10 their rushing success is merely average at 50.7%.
It was clear from watching film why that was (confirmed of course with regression analysis) – the line on its own was only modestly successful at opening holes for the backs on inside runs, and the run game works much better when the line is more or less taken out of the equation on outside runs where the defense is out of position due to a mistake or misdirection. Since a midline read is typically the opening of the option, defenses figured out that by simply staying wide and forcing the play inside, they faced the least-bad of Liberty’s rush attacks. Alternately, by tracking the orbit motion, they could just account for both elements of the pitch on the veer without any way for the line to seal them inside. Some examples:
- :00 – The most effective defense of the veer requires accounting for all three options, which requires sussing out the variation but mostly just winning on the interior. Here the dive is from the tailback and the pitch option is to the offset back, but the defense is dealing with it by stepping over the end and the DT beating the C’s down block. That forces a keep then an immediate pitch, and the nickel has stayed wide to get the TFL.
- :14 – The pistol 22-pers variety has a significantly lower success rate than 21-pers, since it frees up more DBs for outside coverage without really helping the OL win the dive. Here they’re not even really trying and just immediately take off on the speed option – the defense simply ignores the back offset back and playside TE as potential release passing targets and beeline for Salter and Bedgood.
- :24 – Now here’s a bit of the bone, and as always the sound defensive principle is to stay wide on the QB to force the inside give, set the edge playside, and cave in the guard. Note how the C and RG don’t give up the combo to move up to the second level – the linebacker is typically free to read and sift through to make the inside play. The defense is also gaining an advantage playing the corner in zone covering two potential targets in the curl/flat with one guy, since the RPO possibility here is effectively nil.
- :31 – Watch the OL technique here – the LT isn’t sinking his hips, the RG has his hat on the wrong side without leverage on the play, and the C is playing high coming out of his pull and can’t get his man turned. Run plays, inside or outside, that are 100% dependent on blocking like this have the lowest success rate on my tally sheet.
The passing offense is much more selective. Except for 2nd & long when it’s a coin flip, there are very strong down & distance based preferences for run vs pass to the playcalling; within the passing offense, field position also has strong correlations for playtype and effectiveness. On Liberty’s side of the field — that is, before they cross the 50 yard line – it’s almost exclusively short efficiency passing to the flats or a short hitch, with play action or RPO lead-in but almost always a quick throw instead of extended pocket progression. There’s almost no screen game, and very little of the timing based throws over the middle – many of the classic staples of a spread offense like mesh-sit or Y-cross are simply missing from the playbook.
Once the offense gets in scoring position, however, they’re far more willing to try for deep throws, and more effective at them as well. Like the rushing offense, the efficiency in the passing game is modest, just 53.6% (157 successes vs 136 failures), but it’s highly explosive with 9.9 adjusted YPA and 22.2% of passes gaining 15+ yards. Some examples:
- :00 – Simple high-low read of #4 WR Daniels and Bedgood here, the pocket’s collapsing but there’s enough time to get it off and Bedgood to pick up a few extra in the flat with his speed against zone.
- :09 – The coverage on Daniels isn’t bad here but Salter is willing to trust him to go up and get the ball over the DB, which he’s been pretty reliable at doing especially in the back half of the season.
- :17 – The other tall outside receiver is #5 WR Frith, Jon expressed some frustration with how much he disappears in a lot of games. Salter will put the ball on him but he seems to wait for clear separation, which is peculiar because he typically has half a foot on the DB covering him.
- :37 – The DB steps down here so Salter pulls the ball on the RPO, but he’s still in the throwing lane. Salter works a bit to the outside and changes his arm angle to thread it to #21 WR Sibley, but it’s given the rest of the defense a chance to clobber him. This was the third time in this game that Salter got away with this on the RPO.
On the podcast, Jon and I discussed a few different factors that potentially limit Liberty’s pass efficiency. One is that Salter has a somewhat unorthodox throwing motion, in which he whips his body rather than releasing smoothly, and that contributes to a lack of touch in the short passing game (Jon compared it to a two-strike fastball). Another is that I think the RPO passing elements of the offense are still somewhat new, and I have a relatively high rate of what I believe to be incorrect RPO reads on my tally sheet (to be perfectly honest I think Salter was lucky not to have more of these intercepted). A third factor which Jon was quick to expand on is that the receiver corps only seems to have one real threat with whom Salter has trust and chemistry, his roommate Daniels, and everybody else has a fraction of the targets and almost always just when they’re wide open due to a coverage problem.
The final factor, about which Jon and I disagreed, is that in my opinion the offensive line does not show very consistent good technique in pass protection, and Salter usually only has time for one read or a scramble. On my tally sheet, there’s a stark disparity for the three tackles in the rotation between their run- and pass-blocking grades, with the weighted cumulative per-play error rate more than seven percentage points worse for them in pass-pro – that’s notable because usually run blocking is harder, not easier, for linemen.
Here’s a representative sample of unsuccessful passing plays:
- :00 – Salter doesn’t really step into his throw here and it comes out hot – he’s generating his power from his upper, not his lower body. He needs to get it off quick because pressure is coming but this is a common enough occurrence that he really should be taking a bigger drop and taking the time to improve his footwork.
- :05 – This is what opposing defenses are trying to do – get Liberty into an passing situation on their own side of the field, attack the QB aggressively, and blanket the short pass. They can bank on pretty good odds of pressure getting through and an inaccurate throw, followed by a punt.
- :13 – There’s a very strange stat that popped out of the correlation analysis, which is that Salter has a much harder time connecting on any throw longer than 10 yards if the ball is snapped on Liberty’s side of the 50, but suddenly becomes far more accurate on deep throws once they cross midfield. The split is quite noticeable, over 1.1 YPA difference. It was the first time Jon heard of the phenomenon and his best guess was it had to do with rhythm and confidence in the drive. It’s as good a theory as any; I can’t explain stuff like this, where they ran the exact same post route twice in a row and missed badly into double coverage both times under no duress.
- :27 – Regardless of field position, this type of throw – no arc, 10 yards to the sideline, opposite hash – is Salter’s least accurate. His unorthodox throwing motion doesn’t really interfere with his redzone rainbows but these bullet passes where he’s got to beat the corner on the comeback or the RPO have a tendency to get away from him.
Liberty’s clear rush vs pass preferences, the nature of their option run scheme and the efficiency vs explosiveness of the passing game, and their their down & distance situational effectiveness, all combine to paint a fairly obvious strategic picture for how they want to operate drives, and how defenses want to stop them. If Liberty wins on 1st down, they’re nearly impossible to stop, because given up to three more chances at mid-to-short yardage rushing they approach a certainty of conversion. However, if Liberty can be stopped on early downs and put into 3rd & long, then they not only become predictable – passing over 80% of the time, and with a limited pattern and outlets – but their success rate collapses to under 35%. Doing so on Liberty’s side of the field is even better for defenses, as their ability to push the ball downfield is constrained further earlier in drives.
What’s kept Liberty out of this strategic hole is Salter’s incredible improvisational ability. Defenses have to account for him at all times, restricting their options for defending receivers and keeping the sack count low by demanding lane discipline and instead producing throwaways. Pocket breakdowns are frequent – I tally 37.5% of dropbacks ending in a sack, scramble, or throwaway, which is an extremely high number – but Liberty still has a 45% success rate on such broken plays due to Salter’s quick change-of-direction and burst, and excluding throwaways they average 9.7 YPP on these plays, meaning they’re nearly as effective as plays from inside the pocket. Some examples:
- :00 – Salter is over 16 percentage points more accurate throwing intermediate-distance passes after breaking the pocket than from in it.
- :16 – The LT whiffs pretty bad here, but Salter dodges that end, and the OLB that the RG lets go, and the cornerback.
- :34 – Nobody’s open on this play and the OL can’t handle the twist up front, but Salter still converts the 3rd & long by running through four tacklers.
- :43 – Neat trick, dipping under both guys the right side of the line is letting through. Reminded me of the other QB in this bowl.
Defenses attempted a wide variety of strategies for containing Salter once he broke the pocket, with varying degrees of success. These were some of the more consistently effective:
- :00 – The backer is taking a calculated risk here to let the H-back go – the receivers are locked up in cover-6 and he’s pretty confident the pressure is getting home, so this is probably going to be a scramble, it’s either run for it or try and get wide and hit #15 TE Hanshaw. The rest of the season bore out the LB’s choice here – it was always a run in this situation, and going right for the QB was the right call.
- :16 – This defense got in the backfield a lot with pretty consistent edge pressure on both sides. Salter went down a couple times but more often he escaped and the spy had to run him down after a short gain – that’s about the best a defense can hope for and why it’s essential to get Liberty in 3rd & long.
- :26 – On designed passing plays they’ll use seven-man protection against the blitz with the orbit motion going out to a checkdown, meaning just two guys in the downfield pattern. Those are favorable numbers for the defense if they can flush him to the weak side, it more or less guarantees a throwaway since he has no outlet and no room to run.
- :34 – This conservative strategy was pretty consistently effective if not very flashy – show blitz but back out a spy, rush four and play man. Locking down these receivers long enough to get home and then keeping Salter from turning the corner should earn a throwaway.
Liberty finished the regular season ranked 62nd in defensive F+ advanced stats. They play primarily out of a 4-2-5 structure, and Jon told us that it’s largely a reconstructed squad this year with only two starters returning from the 2022 team (one of whom has now transferred out).
There are a couple of interesting wrinkles to the defense. First, their heavy package pulls the nickelback and puts in the third linebacker, who’ll usually then play up on the line of scrimmage – that tests what Jon and I both think is their thinnest personnel group, since they appear to only really have three playable backers. Second, they go to a dime package with a sixth DB by pulling one of the defensive linemen on about a quarter of all snaps, but less than half of those snaps are obvious passing downs as most teams reserve dime for, with most of their dime snaps going against standard or even rushing downs (the offense fielding multiple tight ends doesn’t even deter Liberty when they’re set on dime). Third, virtually all of the transfers out of the program after the conference championship game have happened on this side of the ball, though Jon said it’s uncertain what impact that’ll have – only one impact player, the starting nickel, is out for sure, with the handful of other transfers out from the actual two-deep having the potential to play.
The last and most significant wrinkle is the astonishing number of interceptions the defense has gotten this year – 21 of them overall, most in the country, taking away more than 4.5% of all their opponents’ pass attempts which is one of the highest rates I’ve ever seen. I made sure to watch every one of them, and through charting I also saw every non-garbage time pass that was tipped or overthrown but fell to the ground, and talked to Jon about this remarkable statistic. He agreed that a fair amount, quite naturally, came down to luck – just about every interceptable ball was in fact intercepted, which meant this was a luckier than average team – and that the quality of opposing quarterbacks the Liberty faced had a lot to do with it as well, as all but one had an NCAA passer rating a full standard deviation below the FBS median. But I would still say that the lion’s share of interceptions really were earned – the defensive backs showed real athleticism and ballhawking, and the defensive ends were hustling the QBs into making bad decisions.
The defense is stronger against the pass, with a 52.8% success rate against designed passing plays (201 vs 180) and allowing 7.0 adjusted YPA – fairly average numbers in my experience, and not coming against great quarterbacks, but they were under constant attack as opposing offenses passed on a 3:2 basis against them.
The trickiest part of the defense to pin down is the pass rush. I came away from watching film thinking that the two starting defensive ends, #23 DE Bush and #11 DE Bazile, are their best linemen and play smart, technically sound football, which is pretty impressive considering how young they are – a true freshman and sophomore, respectively. There’s also a 30 percentage point differential in defensive success rate against the pass between 3rd & short (45%) and 3rd & long (75%), and that big of a gap in my experience indicates that the rush rather than the coverage is the lynchpin to pass defense effectiveness since they have to hang back and set the edge against the run in short yardage but are free to attack the passer in long yardage.
On the other hand, the havoc rate from this defense is very low, and on my tally sheet they only generate a sack, scramble, or throwaway on 12% of opponent dropbacks. They blitz infrequently, and pretty much have to in order to really cause havoc, but they rush three almost as often as they bring five or more. There’s a clear step down from their starters and the next two guys in the rotation, and one of those backups has transferred out, so Jon said it’ll likely be an inexperienced true freshman #1 DE L. Jones joining the other backup #49 DE Carroll (who’s really more of an edge-setter than a pass rusher).
It’s also tricky to figure out how the secondary is going to be sorted with their transfers. The starting nickel, Preston Hodge, has transferred to Colorado and definitely won’t play. That will likely move #15 DB Green to the starting nickel role – he’s pretty experienced and in fact has the most interceptions with five, but played all over the secondary without really a defined role or starting position. The other transfer is #2 DB Jimmerson, who I’d only ever see on their dime packages, and has already accepted a spot at C-USA rival Sam Houston, but Jon said may still play in the bowl. If he doesn’t, I think they’d only have one other guy to flex in either as a dime player or for relief, which is #29 DB A. Jones (who began the year as a starter but got progressively sidelined as the year went on). Jon mentioned the staff said to look out for a true freshman, #31 DB Bodnar, to perhaps play in the bowl … he’d gotten no play this season and it took both of us by surprise.
I don’t think the two starting deep safeties will be affected, #6 DB Bishop to the field or #16 DB Reese to the boundary. The starting corners seem to be unaffected as well and none of the backups transferred out, though I rarely saw the backups and they didn’t grade out very well when I did. The corners occasioned some debate on the podcast - Jon said that #3 CB Singleton is a fan favorite because of his many interceptions and that some of the fanbase consider him a lockdown corner; I maintain that #26 DB A. Williams is actually the better of the two by far precisely because he doesn’t have any real stats to speak of and opposing QBs elect not to throw against him.
Here’s a representative sample of successful pass defenses:
- :00 – Both Bush and Bazile get home, the QB tries to get rid of it, and Singleton makes an athletic play on the ball.
- :08 – Dime defense, rushing three here, the QB steps up from pressure and airmails it to a wide open receiver down the sideline. I have about three dozen of these on my tally sheet.
- :15 – Nice high angle of the man/zone split field, with Williams on an island to the boundary and the rest of the DBs in matchup. Note how Reese cuts off the No. 3 receiver on the post and Hodge is playing for a pick of the overthrow instead of cloud on the flag.
- :23 – Great PBU by Williams, he wasn’t challenged as often but when he was he showed sharp recovery off the break and could get inside the pass without interference.
While the pass defense is above water in terms of stopping efficiency passes, where they get in trouble is stopping explosive passes – they’ve allowed over 18% of opponents’ attempts to gain 15+ yards. The reasons for this run the typical gamut on my tally sheet – some poor tackling, a few bad angles from the safeties, lack of lateral speed from the linebackers – but there are two big spikes, with the primary one being that, as Jon and I discussed on the podcast, Singleton has a tendency to play more aggressively than he can really back up, and winds up getting burned a lot. Here are some examples of the above:
- :00 – Clean pocket, DBs can’t keep pace with the skinny post out of the slot.
- :09 – The backup corner gets his ankles broken, then the backer and three safeties miss on the tackle. The first question Tristan asked me when I told him I finished the completed charting project after he’d done the preliminary spadework was “so did they ever defend a switch release?”
- :21 – Press man has a fairly low success rate, receivers get the field corner to bite on the inside step and then leave him in the dust to the pylon, and the single high can’t get over in time.
- :33 – This was a true freshman QB’s second snap ever, the ball’s a little underthrown and it gives Reese time to get over, but Williams is beat on the double move and that’s enough.
The other big spike in the data from charting explosive plays surrendered comes from defensive manipulation from play design, which shows a tendency for this squad to bite on the initial look and then run themselves out of it when it turns out to be something else. I picked out a few examples that should look familiar to Oregon fans:
- :00 – Pre-snap motion reveals man coverage, and the double slant on the boundary creates a natural rub against the safety who can’t get to the wheel in time to stop the conversion.
- :17 – The offense is unbalanced to the field, and Liberty blitzes the boundary safety. That causes the boundary backer and the field safety to pursue the drag from the No. 2, while the nickel and the field backer pursue the H-back on the wheel. The running back is left with a lot of grass to run into on the swing pass.
- :25 – The corner doesn’t run with the TE motioning back into the formation, instead just switching to cover-2 while the boundary safety doesn’t buzz down. That’s a misalignment, the offense gets a two over three situation to the field and a big gain by winning their blocks.
- :41 – The spread double stacks have the DBs all out wide, and since the DE has to stay inside the backer has to run laterally with the RB the long way and he can’t keep up. The DBs are then pulled outside in on man coverage assignments and can’t defend the sideline.
By contrast, rush defense has been consistently underwater, although most opponents have been far enough in the hole against Liberty’s highly effective offense that they’ve been forced into passing and haven’t been able to take advantage of it. Liberty is only successful on 39.8% of opponents’ designed runs (105 vs 159), allowing 5.1 adjusted YPC with 17% gaining 10+ yards.
In my opinion the challenge for Liberty in rush defense has been depth on the interior of the defense. At any given time they’ve really only had three playable defensive tackles. They have had four on the roster all year: #92 DT Boti, #9 DT Charles, #99 DT Dixon, and #4 DT Hardy, but as Jon pointed out on the podcast, Boti and Charles both got hurt at different points during the year in such a way that they were basically never available at the same time. Charles and one of the deep backups, #7 DT Galloway, have transferred out; there’s a possibility that either one of them could play but between Charles missing the last three games of the season and Galloway not really ever being part of the rotation, Jon said his expectation is that we’ll just see Boti, Dixon, and Hardy.
On my tally sheet, Charles was the most effective of the tackles, and I think his absence would be significant. I think Dixon graded out the lowest, and I suspect he wouldn’t have gotten as much playing time as he did if it weren’t for the depth situation forcing that to be the case. Beyond the names I’ve mentioned there are only two true freshmen on the roster, and Jon said the staff is highly unlikely to play them.
I think linebacker has had some mixed news, though the balance of it has been good for Liberty by the end of the season. One of their starters is a real tackling machine, #35 LB Dupree, and won all-conference honors. They got a pleasant surprise from the other starter, #25 LB Carter, a former walk-on whom Jon told us was awarded a scholarship during Fall camp and wound up taking the job away from the initial starter, #0 LB Jolly, simply for being better at it. Jolly missed the conference championship game and I was concerned he might be hurt or considering bailing, but when I asked Jon about it he said that Jolly is at 100% and will be good to go for the bowl so they should have access to their heavy configuration.
Here’s a representative sample of successful rush defenses:
- :00 – Bazile and Carter are just faster than the third-string running back here, the play design has the TE ignoring them to go pick up the safety and assumes the back can outrun them but Bazile is pretty quick for an end and Carter diagnoses plays well to get a jump.
- :07 – Dupree gets inside and wrong-arms the puller while Bush gets inside the backside pin, stringing out the run long enough for the rest of the defense to arrive.
- :16 – Good scrape by the Dupree to seal off this outside run, and Carrol wins inside to prevent the cutback.
- :22 – Bush is setting the edge properly — something I often don’t see out of senior ends much less freshmen — and the back can’t get around him, letting Bazile run him down from behind.
Rush defense is where most of the issues that have been discussed en passim catch up to Liberty – depth and fatigue concerns, lateral speed, overrunning plays, vulnerability to manipulation, and the peculiar insistence on playing dime on standard downs. Some examples:
- :00 – It’s a short-yardage obvious run situation, but there’s no safety help in the box and the DTs are getting cleared out. With both of the backers scraping to the edges the middle is open for not just a conversion but a substantial gain.
- :14 – This was the third time this offense ran a cutback for a 10+ yard gain out of this formation, with the entire defense running themselves out of the play and no beef in the middle in dime to stop it.
- :28 – There’s some hesitation caused by the TE and one of the backs heading out on a potential rollout RPO, but mostly this play is made with simple hat-on-hat blocking, which the offense is winning across the board.
- :46 – It takes a moment to recognize it but this is the dime package, with one of the backers up on the line and the fifth guy opposite him actually a DB. With only three actual d-linemen against 11-personnel in a run situation, they get bulldozed, which was very odd to see because they gave up a 25-yard touchdown run out of the same configuration with the same defense on 1st & 10 during the preceding drive.