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Purdue Football: What I’m Looking For in a Defensive Coordinator - Part 1

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It’s hard to come up with names, but I know what I’m looking for when it comes to a D.C. at Purdue.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Hey y’all, after a nightmarish three months on a personal level (family stuff outside of my immediate family), I should be back to writing on the regular for Hammer and Rails again. I thought would start by answering the question I’ve been asked the most over the last month.

“Who do you like for a new D.C.?”

I don’t have a magic “short list” of candidates and if you’ve seen a magic short list, it’s almost assuredly wrong. The original lists of Ash, Strong, and Odom etc...where stretches (to say the least). Ash and Odom are already off the market, and Strong (while making the most sense out of the 3 because of his ties to Louisville), if I had to bet, is waiting to see what defensive coordinator positions open up after the coaching carousel settles down, and will end up somewhere in the S.E.C.

For all of Purdue’s investment in football, I just don’t see Purdue forking out a ton of money for a top tier defensive coordinator right now. What I’m looking for is less of a “name” and more of a specific skill set that I feel will succeed at Purdue.

First on my list

Flexibility in Scheme

I don’t want a coach stuck in whatever preferred base defense he likes to run. You can do that at certain places where the talent flow is continual, but Purdue isn’t on that level of recruiting. I’m looking for a coach who can get his best 11 players on the field, regardless of formation, depending on the team Purdue is playing.

In my opinion, this was Holt’s biggest shortcoming as a defensive coordinator. Purdue was going to line up in the same defense, regardless of available personnel or the strength and weakness of an opponent.

Playing a power run team like Wisconsin?

You’re going to get the hybrid 4 man front (2 defensive tackles, 1 defensive end, and we called the stand up end), 3 linebackers, 2 corners, 2 safeties.

Playing a more pass oriented team like Minnesota?

You’re going to get the hybrid 4 man front (2 defensive tackles, 1 defensive end, and we called the stand up end), 2 linebackers, 2 corners, 3 safeties.

Holt’s creativity on defense was limited to playing a nickel package or dime package on occasion. The front rarely changed, even if the opposition was steamrolling it.

I’m looking for a defense coordinator more in the Brent Venables mold (as my Clemson degree requires).

What makes Brent so consistent from year to year is his ability to adapt his system to fit the strengths of his roster.

Last year Clemson had 4 draft picks on the defensive line, including two dominant defensive tackles. Subsequently, you saw Clemson in a 4 man front every game. When you’ve got 4 studs on the line, you play them.

This year, after losing 3 key defensive tackles to the NFL, Venables incorporated a 3 man front into his game plan because his best 11 didn’t include 2 defensive tackles. This season, Clemson is stocked at safety. Pulling a defensive tackle offthe field and adding a safety gives him more flexibility. To help with the run, he essentially plays 2 middle linebackers the he fires into the A gaps to stuff the inside run.

If a team decides they want to commit to the run and hurt Clemson up the middle. Venables doesn’t grit his teeth and hope that his defenders figure it out. Instead, he pulls a safety off the field, puts another defensive tackle on the field and goes back into a more traditional 4-3-4 look. Clemson’s best 11 changes depending on what the opposition is trying to accomplish.

Examples

These clips are all from this seasons Clemson vs Texas A&M game. Out of all the play callers in the nation, Venables has struggled the most against Jimbo Fisher. Jimbo’s ball control offense that exploits the middle of the field in the passing game has been an issue for Clemson over the years. In 2018, Kellen Mond threw for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns against Clemson.

This year, Brent decided to try some new looks to shut down the Aggies.

4-2-5

Green Squares - 4 defensive linemen (2 DE, 2 DT)

Blue Circle - 2 linebackers

Yellow Triangles - 2 corner backs

Blue Triangles - 3 safeties

Safety Spy

Jimbo likes to use Mond in the run game. The interesting thing about using a safety as the spy on this play is that he’s not counted for in the blocking scheme. A&M thinks they’re blocking 6 with 6 and don’t get a hat on the Tigers safety who steps up into a linebacker position at the snap to give Clemson the 1 man advantage.

3-2-6

Green Squares - 3 Defensive linemen (DE, 1 NG)

Blue Circles - 2 Linebackers

Yellow Triangles - 3 corner backs

Blue Triangles - 3 safeties

Corner Blitz

The A&M quarterback had no idea what defense he was looking at on this play. You’ve got a 5 man rush (including 2 linebackers), in conjunction with a corner blitz from the boundary, along with a deep safety taking away the middle of the field.

If you want to see just how confused A&M is on this play, check out the running back.

3-2-6

Green Box - 3 defensive linemen (1 NG, 2 DEs)

Blue Circle - 2 linebackers

Yellow Triangle - 2 corners

Blue Triangle - 4 safeties

Safety Blitz

This is another quarterback mind melting blitz. Brent fires both linebackers, and the backside safety. The dump off on this play is supposed to be the running back, but the defensive end drops off into man coverage. You can see the quarterback look at the covered running back and pull the ball down right before he gets blasted by the backside safety.

How This Works For Purdue

Flexibility is the main trait I’m looking for in Purdue’s defensive coordinator hire. It would be great if Purdue could just line up in the 4-3-4 on every down and dominate, but they can’t.

The Boilermakers need to be able to change their defense on the fly and try to create confusion, because the depth of overall talent isn’t available. Hell, Clemson has the overall talent, but still relies on confusing quarterbacks and playing multiple fronts, because it works (ask Tua).

I’ll get into this more in part 2, but playing multiple defenses also lets you get more players on the field. One of my other big issues with Holt as a defensive coordinator was his habit of picking his best 11 and playing them until they could no longer drag their bodies back into formation.

Purdue is in a much better spot to recruit specialists, as opposed to generalists. You might not get the all around 4 and 5 star talent guys, but you can find some 3* guys with unique, specialized talent and mix and match strengths. Hiring a defensive coordinator willing to employ multiple looks, in my opinion, makes the most sense for Purdue. The Boilermakers run one of the most innovative offenses in college football. I would love to see some of that innovation bleed over to the defensive side of the ball.