Film Room: SMU’s Tampa 2 Defense Handcuffed The Coogs (FREE!)


SMU came out in a defensive set last night that surprised, confused, and scared the Cougar offense and coaches. In our film room study of the SMU game, we look at what SMU did and how UH could have beaten it.

SMU Comes Out In a New Defense

SMU started the game in a 3-2-6 with safety Patrick Nelson (arrow) cheating up at-will. Here’s what D’Eriq King saw as he lined ’em up last night:

First defensive set of the game
First Defensive Set – Click to Expand

That’s quite different than the 4-3 SMU played last week and most of the season. So I can see why we were confused – for a series. Maybe two.
In reality, SMU didn’t play that 3-2-6 last night. Instead they ran the Tampa 2, or a slightly modified version of it, for most of the night.
Immediately after seeing their opening defense, Kendal Briles called for an audible and we checked into a read that got the ball to Patrick Carr up the middle for 6 yards. Great start.
On second down, Carr goes to the left side and gets the first down on a seven-yard gain. We react well to their defense and start fast. And we’re moving the ball – 21 seconds into the game and we’ve picked up 13 quick-yards and a first down.
On the ensuing first down at our 38, we get a look that King has to love. We stack Stevenson behind Corbin with a single defender to beat (the safety is also inching over). This is what you want to see:

1st Down Screen Pass
1st Down Screen Pass – Click to Expand

King gets the ball out to Stevenson but he drops it. He had plenty of room to run and Corbin had the corner locked up. Look at all this wide-open turf:

Wide Open Space – Click to Expand

And that’s what happens in the Tampa 2. The defense gives up short-yardage throws out in the flats. Except we refused to take them against SMU: we threw just 8 passes in the first half and completed only two: a bomb to Stevenson for the only offensive TD of the half and a 6-yarder to Brooker on a 3rd and 16.
Here’s a diagram showing strengths and weaknesses of the Tampa 2. The yellow spaces are vulnerabilities:

Tampa 2 vulnerabilities (in yellow)
Tampa 2 vulnerabilities (in yellow) – click to enlarge

In this defense, the middle linebacker (MIKE) drops into deep-middle coverage when he reads pass. An effective counter to the Tampa 2 is middle-runs, QB draws, passes out-wide near the line of scrimmage, underneath passes, and deep over the middle.
You know…our offense.
That’s why the pass to Stevenson was under-defended. And it’s why a Tampa 2 should be the perfect defense for our offense to face. Look at those vulnerabilities again. And now look at this: after the Tech game, we wrote about D’Eriq King’s spray charts. Look at where the vast majority of those completions are:

D’Eriq King Spray Chart – 1st Three Games

His completions are exactly where the Tampa 2 gives up yardage: near the LOS, both out-wide and over the middle. The axiom is that you take what the defense gives you – and they wanted to give us exactly what we do well. You certainly don’t abandon the pass here. So why did we?
After the game, Major Applewhite said that, against this defense, you can’t throw the football.
“They are basically saying let your offensive line and running backs beat us,” Applewhite said.
Except that’s not accurate. You can throw the football. A lot. To the places we want to throw it.
What happened last night was that instead of playing our game and letting the defense react to us – as we have done in every game this year – we were cowed when they set-up in a defense we hadn’t seen on film. An experienced OC and a savvy head coach would have exploited that defense at-will.
Instead, we slept through the first 16 minutes and woke up when it was 17-0. It proved to be a hole too large for us to climb out of since we couldn’t figure out this 40-year-old defensive concept.
Go deeper: Part 2: Countering SMU’s Tampa 2 Defense

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