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Intro to the Will Muschamp Defense

Philosophies and the Buck

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

OK, here's part one of a long overdue preview of the Will Muschamp defense.  Muschamp's defenses are hard to define.  He runs a multiple 4-3 that uses a lot of 3-4 looks and techniques.  This makes sense when you remember that Muschamp's pedigree includes two of the great 3-4 defensive coaches in SEC history, Brother Oliver and Nick Saban and also one of the great 4 man front coaches, Tommy Tuberville.  He's kept the best of everything in a really unique package.

Muschamp wrote his defensive philosophy for a coaching clinic when he was at LSU.  It can be found here.  Read this before watching any Muschamp film.  It helps explain what could otherwise be confused for abstract art.  Muschamp mixes up his fronts to confuse the offense.  His first objective is to defend the middle of the field in both the running or the passing game.  If the offense is going to get a yard, it's going to have to do so by running wide or completing long throws.  The defense will be physical and will not miss tackles.  The defense will try to force the offense to kick field goals in the red zone.  The defense will communicate well.  The defense will force turnovers and play for all sixty minutes.  That's what Muschamp defenses have always done, that's why he's being paid $5.1 million and a sackful of Krystal's to coach at Auburn.

Offenses are getting more complex.  Defenses need to be more flexible to stop the wide variety of formations and personnel packages they see each Saturday.  Most defenses, like Auburn's recent Ellis Johnson defenses, use a hybrid linebacker/defensive back.  Muschamp's flex defender is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker called the Buck.  Assuming he can stay healthy, Auburn's buck is the unblockable Carl Lawson.

The Buck is the wildest card in Muschamp's deck.  He lines the Buck up all over the field.  Sometimes the Buck his hand down like a defensive end.  Sometimes, the Buck is on the line but is standing up like an outside linebacker.  Sometimes he lines up like a middle linebacker.  Let's look at some film to show some of the many ways Muschamp uses the Buck.

The first play comes from last year's Georgia game.  Florida is showing a four man front.  Number 14, Alex McCalister is the Buck.

Four Man Front

The Buck's job here is pretty simple.  He's just one of four defensive linemen.  Engage the blocker, read the play, react, and fight to the football.  Look at all the d-linemen in the following gif.  Their technique is much more like 3-4/5-2 defensive linemen than 4-3.  They're trying to keep their shoulders square and fight across the block and down the line.  The result is a tackle for loss for the Buck,

Here's another look Muschamp seems to like.  The defensive line is overloaded to the boundary/strong side.  Florida is showing four defenders in space where Eastern Michigan has three available blockers.  The Buck is on the outside of the line standing up.

Buck Overload

Florida sends both the Buck and the Will then blitzes the Mike on the same side on a delay blitz.  On third and long, Muschamp doesn't want to give the offense time to let a play develop.  The Buck gets good pressure and the play is functionally busted.

Muschamp likes to mix up how the Buck brings pressure.  Here, Florida is in a four man front and the Buck and defensive end twist.  The end crashes out and the Buck goes around the end to the middle.


This play doesn't end with a great result but it gives the offensive linemen something else to think about.  Here's the gif:

Muschamp likes to play around with the Buck by moving him away from the edge.  Here, the Buck is lined up like a middle linebacker.  Notice that Florida is threatening to send six rushers against a five man line.  FSU can't block all of them.  In the middle, the defensive end and nose tackle are in twin three techniques on the outside eye of the guards.  The Buck and Mike are threatening the A gaps.  The Center can't get them both.  Someone has to come free.

Buck as MLB

It's the Buck who comes free.  He misses the sack because Jameis Winston is strong then but the play is disrupted.

The Buck doesn't always blitz.  Sometimes, he drops into pass coverage.  Here, Vandy has five linemen and Florida is showing a six man blitz.  The Buck is standing up on the line to the boundary.  Muschamp loves to overload lines to force the offensive linemen to make choices about who to block.

Buck Robber

While the defense is showing a six man blitz, Florida drops the Buck into a robber.  A robber defender is basically a defender playing an underneath zone in a man defense.  The idea is that the quarterback will read man and won't be looking for the robber playing zone.  In the gif, you can see the safety come on a delayed blitz when he sees his man coverage responsibility stay home to block.

Here, the Buck is again lined up in the middle of the field showing blitz.  He doesn't blitz right away but goes on a delay.  I think he's likely a spy and when it became obvious the play was a dropback pass, he blitzed.

Buck as Spy

Here's the gif:

These slides are just examples of what Muschamp does with the Buck.  He will line him up all over the field and ask him to wreak havoc.  For Carl Lawson and Jeffery Holland, it's going to be a fun year.

Next time, we'll look in more depth at how Muschamp blitzes and otherwise pressures an offense.