Dave Aranda is a minister of the one-on-one matchup on defense.
The fourth-year LSU defensive coordinator nicknamed "The Professor" repeatedly has preached the importance of creating favorable one-on-one matchups for his defenders against all offensive blockers.
It increases the probability of creating pressure in the backfield, because Aranda believes it's likely that one of his defenders will win his one-on-one matchup.
The nation's highest-paid assistant coach, making $2.5 million per year, started to arrange defenders to create what he called "simulated pressures" for former LSU linebacker Devin White in 2018. White, when he blitzed on a pass play, would often be matched up against a disadvantaged running back on his way to the quarterback.
The simulated pressure often worked on run plays, too. White won the first Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) in LSU history, leading the team with 12 tackles for loss.
Now White is gone — the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and Aranda is tinkering with his defense once again to find mismatches for the 2019 season.
Where might one of the next advantages be?
Aranda said at Monday's coaches caravan stop in Metairie that he discovered how nose tackles could become a weapon on defense last season, when offenses started to change how they were blocking on run plays.
Aranda said offenses previously would often use zone blocking schemes when running the football.
In a zone blocking scheme, offensive linemen move laterally after the snap, and they choose whom to block based on which defenders are nearby, instead of choosing specific defenders to block before the ball is even snapped.
It's a widely used blocking scheme, but it can become problematic when facing quick and powerful defensive linemen. Since the offensive linemen are moving laterally in a zone blocking scheme, they don't have the same kind of momentum as powerful defensive lineman, who, since they're moving vertically, can get past the blockers and cause havoc in the backfield.
Aranda said a trend began last year where opposing offenses stopped using zone blocking schemes and started using the more downhill-style veer blocking scheme.
In a veer blocking scheme, offensive linemen are moving vertically after the snap, and they're blocking defenders based on advantageous angles. Usually, they end up blocking the same defenders as in the zone scheme, but this time, they also have momentum in their favor.
So how does a defense regain the advantage?
"The answer for me there is to put people in shades so that those angles are decreased," Aranda said.
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Let's draw up a play for an example:
There are five offensive linemen. The defense's nose tackle is lined up head-up on the center (called a "zero" technique in coaching circles), and the two defensive ends are lined up head-up on the inside shoulders of each offensive tackle (called a "4i" technique).
What we've just drawn up is Aranda's "Tite" front, which is intended to clog up the middle and force offenses to run laterally instead of vertically. The theory? The less time a ball-carrier spends running up field, the fewer yards he'll end up gaining.
Now, let's snap the ball. It's a run to the left, with the offensive linemen running a veer blocking scheme.
The left tackle and left guard double-team the defensive end. The center and right guard double the nose tackle. The right tackle blocks the other defensive end.
See the offense's numbers advantage to the left?
Now, let's use Aranda's solution.
Same play, but this time, the nose tackle is lined up a shade to the center's left shoulder pad (called a "1" technique).
Snap the ball.
The left tackle and left guard double-team the defensive end. Now, the only blocker with a good angle on the nose tackle is the center. The right guard has no position to block him.
"Now we have a one-on-one right at the point of attack," Aranda said. "If we can have that one-on-one and have that be one of our better players, that's a positive for us."
LSU may have upgraded at nose tackle in 2019. Aranda is confident that he can create mismatches with 6-foot-3, 362-pound sophomore Tyler Shelvin, who Aranda said has "athleticism for a big man" that he hasn't "really seen anything like," and with 6-foot-4, 347-pound true freshman Siaki "Apu" Ika, who Aranda said has "sheer athleticism and savvy."
Ika had what Ed Orgeron called a "dominant performance" in LSU's spring game in April, when Ika recorded five tackles for loss, including two sacks.
Shelvin recorded one tackle and recovered a fumble on the first drive.
Aranda experimented with shades in his "Tite" front with former nose tackle Ed Alexander last season.
When explaining how LSU stopped Georgia's lethal running attack in a 36-16 win in October, Orgeron said with a grin: "Shade to shade, baby."
Georgia ran for 61 yards on nine carries on its second possession of the game, and LSU's White said Georgia was setting up draw plays to where either he or inside linebacker Jacob Phillips overran the play.
"We made the nose tackle go the opposite way," White said, "and we overtook it and made the play."
After the adjustment, LSU held Georgia to 52 yards rushing on 21 attempts (2.5 yards per carry) for the remainder of the game.
Creating the one-on-one matchup for the nose tackle also frees up Aranda to concoct ways to create even more advantages with the remaining players in his defense.
For example, Aranda said, he could blitz an inside linebacker like Michael Divinity off the side of the center opposite the nose tackle, attacking what has become a weak-spot on the line of scrimmage.
If that blitz starts to work, Aranda can start deking the offense by creeping Divinity up to the line of scrimmage, posing the threat of the blitz, then have him drop back in coverage once the ball is snapped.
Plus, with the middle of the field accounted for, Aranda could also start applying additional pressure from the edges with outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson or strong safety Grant Delpit.
"There's exciting things we can do," Aranda said. "But it starts with (the nose tackle) dominating, and we were able to see some of that in (the) spring."