Texas A&M’s overly aggressive defense attacked and confused UCLA star quarterback Josh Rosen throughout the Aggies’ Week 1 overtime victory.
New A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis did an outstanding job of masking blitzes and keeping the pressure on at all times against one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.
For all four quarters Rosen was under heavy fire. A couple of fortunate and special throws allowed UCLA’s quarterback to keep his team in the game.
UCLA’s offensive line is young — just two returning starters — and its coaching staff did a poor job with this unit. As the game progressed, UCLA moved away from a rushing attack that got its linemen moving. Instead, it reverted to throwing the ball 46 times. Chavis called everything in his playbook, testing the Bruins offensive line and sophomore quarterback.
Chavis followed a template set in last year’s UCLA-BYU game, in which BYU tormented UCLA with an onslaught of blitzes from all angles. The Cougars held Rosen to 11 of 23 for 106 yards, 1 touchdown and forced 3 interceptions in what was the worst performance of his college career. BYU utilized a number of exotic blitz packages and disguised coverages to try and simultaneously confuse and pressure Rosen.
The Cougars consistently rushed four or five but sent them from different spots – dropping lineman and bringing linebackers and cornerbacks from different angles.
Rosen is a great talent and he’s able to make throws that few others in the country can match. His hubris gets him into trouble as he forces the ball into areas he shouldn’t or fails to diagnose coverages.
Chavis followed that BYU game plan. He mixed up the Aggies’ blitz packages and looked to confuse Rosen with varying zone coverages.
The results were devastating — Rosen was sacked 5 times, 23 passes hurried and 11 attempts knocked down.
Chavis opened the game by sending a series of five and six-man pressure packages like the one below. Texas A&M calls a safety blitz from an overload look, bluffing that it’s sending both inside linebackers as well, before dropping both to take away Rosen’s underneath receiver. On the backside, the Aggies are playing off-man coverage, but bluffing that they’re in zone coverage (cornerbacks facing in at the quarterback rather than at the receivers in front of them).
Both inside linebackers first move downhill as though they’re also blitzing.
They then drop into coverage and bracket the underneath receiver. Up front, UCLA’s tackle is beaten inside by Myles Garrett. The tackle sets up to pass block, forcing Garrett outside while a running back prepares to pick up the blitzing safety. Garrett winning the battle inside puts the running back out of position. Armani Watts (the blitzing safety) uses Garrett to fake as though he is stunting inside.
The running back bites on Watts’ movement and that gives the safety a free run to sack Rosen, who had nowhere to go with the ball.
This next concept caught Rosen and the offensive line by surprise.
A&M runs a delayed linebacker blitz (possibly an option call for the linebacker) with a tackle-end stunt on the left side of the formation and an overload look on the right side.
The exotic packages and hits kept coming.
Here’s a tackle-end stunt paired with a linebacker-end stunt: The TE stunt gets a free rusher on Rosen and forces him to leave the pocket and creates an incompletion on a crucial third down.
All these different packages had Rosen guessing and second-guessing all day. Here, he is unwilling to pull the trigger on a one-step drop where the ball should be out immediately. The result is his offensive line being overwhelmed and Rosen taking another hit.
Not every pressure was based on Chavis’ creativity. Part of the reason the Aggies’ blitzes were so effective was because of their dominant edge rusher Myles Garrett.
Garrett is everything you could ever wish for in a pass rusher. Power. Speed. Length. He has it all. His presence and dominance allows the Aggies to generate pressure while just rushing four. The Holy Grail for defenses.
He took over Saturday’s game, beating up UCLA’s talented left tackle Conor McDermott. Whenever the Bruins left McDermott on an island vs. Garrett, it ended poorly. On one play, Garrett simply ran over McDermott and sacked Rosen before he could even set to throw.
That dominance has a knock-on effect; UCLA needs to double-team Garrett and that opens up 1-on-1 opportunities for other pass rushers. It also allows Texas A&M to get creative by using Garrett as the point man on stunts and twists.
Below is an example of the Garrett effect: Texas A&M lines up with three down lineman and two on-ball linebackers. One linebacker drops into coverage and the other rushes the passer. UCLA is so concerned with leaving Garrett 1-on-1 that it double-teams him, forgetting to block the rushing linebacker.
Garrett splits the double team — then lights up the chipping running back — and the Aggies get a free rusher to flush Rosen out of the pocket.
UCLA’s offensive line was overwhelmed and Rosen was dropping back to the same spot continuously, whether dropping from under center or in the shotgun. Their coaching staff failed to move the launching point with rollouts or bootlegs. Not moving the launching point gives pass rushers a clear target and they can fire off the ball without even having to think where to target their rush.
In summary, the Aggies coaching staff put together an exceptional game plan. The Aggies continuously attacked and confused one of the best quarterbacks in the nation — a prospect heralded for his intellect and ability to diagnose coverages.
It was a bold strategy. And it resulted in one of the best coaching performances from the opening weekend.