I’m a fan of Pete Robertson. I’ve enjoyed watching him play over these past few years. He’s often been a bright spot on an otherwise infirm defense. We’ve heard the praises about his pass rushing abilities; even watched him lead the Big 12 in sacks a year ago. But we’re looking at his rush defense again this week and how he nearly scored for the defense.
If you were paying attention to the commentators (I know many people don’t), they immediately pointed out this formation and alignment from Baylor as a running alignment, based solely on the splits of the wide receivers. Also, remember the past references I’ve made about the splits from the receivers and the articles I’ve linked to from Chris Brown and Grantland.
Look at those WR splits. The camera angle isn’t even wide enough to see the entire body of the receiver at the bottom of the screen. All three of those receivers are lined up a yard or two off of the sideline. And as I mentioned previously, that works to isolate the defensive backs and force de facto man coverages and open up the inside for the run.
EDIT: I’ve decided to draw up this formation on as accurate-to-scale as I can to give you more of an idea about the width of this formation.
I included the field out to the 50 yard line for a reason. From the broadcast camera angles, those distances between players is compressed. I wanted to show you what the formation would look like if you had a bird’s eye view, looking straight down on the field. I used the screenshots in this post to place the players in the formation on the field (I had to essentially guess on that last receiver).
The regulation-sized football field is 53.3 yards wide, wider than most would have guessed. With Baylor lining up with players a yard or two off of the sideline, their formations essentially span 50 yards. Which is insane. It’s also a little difficult to visualize, so I locked the formation and spacing as they were in the diagram above, and rotated just the formation as if the stacked receivers had their feet on the goal line.
That formation is very nearly 50 yards wide! You can see how this puts pressure on the defense and create space inside.
In the screenshot below, you see that Tech has six defenders in the box, seven if you consider Keenon Ward in the box. Baylor has six blockers if this is a straight hand off to Linwood, seven if Russell keeps the ball. All in all, very favorable to Baylor.
At the snap, we see that Robertson is unblocked. First thought is that this is a zone read, but Russell isn’t reading the action of Robertson. Also, the tight end/h-back Gus Penning is picking up Robertson. The left tackle takes on Demetrius Alston as the defensive tackle, and I don’t know what the left guard is doing. It looks like he’s stepping back to pull, but doesn’t actually go anywhere and ends up blocking nobody. Either way, we’re looking at Robertson and how he takes on the block from the tight end, Penning.
Robertson gets into the backfield very quickly and is clogging up running room for Linwood. Penning appears to be in decent position to just push Robertson back towards the goal line and really open up that left side, considering the left guard isn’t engaged with anyone and there’s only one safety to that side of the field. Also, notice that Branden Jackson has beaten the right tackle and is also in the backfield, containing any possible cutbacks to the Linwood’s right.
By this point, Linwood is trying to go outside of Robertson and Penning instead of squeezing between them and the left tackle. Only problem for Linwood is that is where Robertson had the advantage on Penning. As Linwood is getting even with Robertson, Pete disengages Penning and bear hugs Linwood, arms completely engulfing Linwood’s shoulders, and thus controlling his upper body. Penning is continuing to try to block Robertson by pushing him, but by now, he’s really only pushing Robertson into Linwood and assisting Robertson with containing Linwood at the two yardline.
Also take a look at the carnage at the line of scrimmage. Alston defeated the attempted block from the left tackle, who is now on the ground, and forces the left guard to pick him. This frees Keenon Ward to fly in unblocked as additional containment. Finally, notice that the wide receivers are essentially decoys on this play. They hardly move, only maintaining the defensive backs assigned to cover them to the boundaries of the field.
Our final screenshot shows Robertson wrestling Linwood to the ground, this time closer to the goal line. He fought completely off the block from Penning, who’s now standing there watching his running back being manhandled. Ward has flown in and applies some pressure on Linwood and the three of them tumble into the endzone for the tackle. The referees grant Linwood forward progress, nullifying the tackle in the endzone as a safety.
In a game where Baylor took what they wanted, when they wanted it, it was good to see the defensive line not completely giving up. Robertson, known more for his pass rushing abilities, continues to impress in his rush defense by fighting off blocks from bigger linemen and playing with exceptional technique.