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BSB Film Room: IU's Defensive Multiplicity & the BULL Position
To gain familiarity with how Tom Allen and Matt Geurreri want to run the defense, I focused on the defense and the Bull Position vs. Indiana State.
Since I was in attendance for the Indiana game against Indiana State, I wanted to rewatch the broadcast to catch anything I’d missed. I specifically wanted to get a better idea of how the Bull position was being used, so the defense was my focus. What I found I thought was worthy of sharing, so this is a product of that. I don’t plan to do many film studies moving forward.
There weren’t too many passing looks (we will likely see most of those this week against Louisville), but this game provided a good, basic understanding of how this IU defense will work.
Some previous pieces you might find interesting:
First some quick notes I noticed along the way:
Any hurry-up offense could hurt this IU defense. That could be a product of many things but primarily that this defense is still gelling after refilling with transfers, and many of these transfers are fairly inexperienced. It is also crucial in a 4-2-5 defense that the defense is in place before the snap because it relies heavily on instinct rather than reading at the snap. At one point, Aaron Casey ran out to cover an unassigned receiver, and that is not the matchup you want. A better team would have exploited that.
Tom Allen mentioned Marcus Burris being “elite” and potentially having a playing career after college. He was great against Indiana State, taking on several double-teams, as an interior lineman does, but also eating blockers to free up Andre Carter, the Bulls, or the linebackers. He and Philip Blidi are crucial to this defense.
Phillip Dunnam gets a lot of credit for his coverage, rightfully so after his interception against Ohio State, but he was all over the field filling gaps and sealing edges the front seven left uncovered. There’s a reason he is graded as the best defender on the defense by PFF.
Indiana’s ability to expand the Bull position is thanks, largely, to its recruiting focus. Tom Allen has mentioned that he wanted to target the defensive line in the portal, and two of the Bulls — Lanell Carr and Anthony Jones — came from the portal this offseason. Myles Jackson did last offseason. As long as Allen and Guerreri are running the defense, I think what we see here with this position is what they want.
The beautiful thing about a 4-2-5 defense is that it’s very multiple. There’s obviously the nickel set out of base defense that allows for an extra DB, and then introducing the Bull opens the door to freely switch between 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 because of the athleticism of the hybrid DE-LB. But Allen and Matt Guerreri have also introduced the 5-2 formation, which they showed against Indiana State on Friday.
Below is the first play of the game against Indiana State. Indiana is in its base 4-2-5 defense, with Lanell Carr (41) as a Bull on the opposite side of the defensive line from Andre Carter (1). This is the most typical formation.
The Hybrid 5-2 Formation
Here, Indiana lines up with an additional Bull, Anthony Jones (4). How is there room for an additional DL/LB? They subbed out Noah Pierre, the Husky, and left four DBs. The 5-2 is a very common defense for teams looking to stop the run, which Indiana was looking to do against Indiana State, since the Sycamores struggled to pass in Week 1. Indiana ran a hybrid version of this formation (given the hybrid skillsets of the Bulls) against both Indiana State and Ohio State. This is an important wrinkle to have for the Big Ten schedule. We might not see this often against Louisville because of the spread game, unless Indiana has some blitz packages up its sleeve.
Third and Fourth Downs
There weren’t many third-and-shorts against Indiana State, so this could simply be a tactic for third- and fourth-and-longs, but on the first two third-down plays (and the fourth-down INT by Nic Toomer), Indiana subbed out a DT and replaced him with Anthony Jones (4). Jones is in a two-point stance next to Carter for both third downs and then is opposite Carter (likely to seal the weak-side edge) on the fourth down. Sometimes, he’s even flanked by another Bull in a 3-point stance.
This is likely to allow the multiplicity of the defense take shape after the snap. If there is a running situation, Jones could attack the line (4-2-5), and if it’s passing, he could play in coverage (3-3-5). This also allows for some creative blitz packages, as you can see from the image below; Lanell Carr (41) falls back after showing rush, but Jacob Mangume-Farrar (7) blitzes on the other side to represent the fourth rushing defender. This is the disguising the 4-2-5 allows DCs to do, and Guerreri has done a great job so far.
Note: This is likely where Jones will get most of his snaps, as the Bull who can cover with the most athleticism. Carr is great at pass rush, and both Carr and Myles Jackson can seal an edge. But Jones was once thought to be a collegiate TE, so he has the athleticism to cover too.
Against the Spread
The fourth down play above was really the only spread formation IU faced against Indiana State, so I grabbed a couple images from the Ohio State game that could be representative of what we see Indiana do against Louisville.
In this first image, Indiana is in base 4-2-5 against a 4-WR set. Andre Carter (1) and Lanell Carr are down on the edges, and Noah Pierre is covering the slot as Husky. Both LBs are a few yards off the line, and Phillip Dunnam is deep.
In this second image (the play before the above one), Indiana has switched Noah Pierre out for Anthony Jones (lined up on the right side of the line in the box). This is a hybrid 5-2 look, which opens up the possibility for several blitz packages, given that Jones could take the RB man-to-man or blitz and the LBs could do the same or play in zone coverage. Jones blitzes here, and Kyle McCord hits Marvin Harrison Jr. on an out route.
The 4-2-5 is designed to handle nearly any offensive look from base defense, but it’s also designed to apply pressure. Indiana will need to get pressure up front from at least a 4-man rush against Louisville to maximize its effectiveness.
Controlling the Edge
This is a huge responsibility for the Bulls and will likely be where we see them fail the most on any given play. As a hybrid DE/LB opposite Carter, the Bulls will primarily be responsible for sealing the weak-side of the offense. This means many of their tackles will be unassisted, as they’ll be making plays in space. The image below is a good example. The ISU ball carrier runs a counter on a well-blocked scheme that bottles up Aaron Casey inside. Anthony Jones (4) is left alone to control the edge. In this instance, the ISU QB does just enough to prevent Jones from making the tackle, but this is good positioning by Jones.
On the play below, Lanell Carr (41) gets caught overpursuing to the inside, and is stuck, allowing the ISU ball carrier and two stray blockers (44 and 27) to continue. He lost the edge, and this is a first down.
On the play represented by two images below, Myles Jackson (10) is caught trying to seal the edge when dropping in coverage would’ve served better, though this is a really well drawn play by the ISU staff. Jackson sees the QB fake a keeper with two pulling blockers from the other side, so he pursues the ball handler. Aaron Casey (44) pursues hard to take out a blocker, and Nic Toomer (15) is taken to the inside by his receiver. That leaves the ISU RB wide-open just past the flat. The QB overthrows the RB, but this was ISU’s best shot at a TD all game.
Bulls will be caught in these scenarios all season, and while big plays won’t solely be their responsibility to stop, losing the edge nearly always results in a big play, or at least one considered successful. Phillip Dunnam did great job making up for this when it happened against Indiana State.
The Bulls’ Performances Through Two Weeks
The play from the Bulls so far has been fairly inconsistent, which is to be expected in just two weeks and with the nature of the position. But it is a bit concerning moving forward since the three – Lanell Carr (59 snaps), Myles Jackson (54), and Anthony Jones (59) – have individually recorded as many snaps as some starters. They’re each on the field quite often because they’re central to Indiana’s multiplicity. Once they get more of a feel, they will likely be a bit more productive.
Lanell Carr has been the most productive, totaling 7 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and 1 sack. He is also tied for the most QB pressures, with 4. He owns the 2nd-best pass-rush grade of all starters and the 4th-best run-defense grade, but his PFF Defensive Grade is 21st on the team, largely due to his struggles in coverage
Myles Jackson has added 4 tackles and a QB pressure. He has the 26th Defensive Grade on the roster.
Anthony Jones has no tackles, 2 missed tackles, and 2 QB pressures. He owns the second-worst Defensive Grade on the team. He will likely be tested more against Louisville.