Jim Knowles and the search for the ultimate hybrid defense.
The new Ohio State DC has created a blueprint for an elite hybrid defense.
Something strange happened in 2016 to the Big 12. With over half the league in the top 40 in Offensive Efficiency, according to Brian Fremeau’s BCF Toys, defenses in the Big 12 had become a laughing stock around the nation. Lincoln Riley would ascend to the Head Coach role at Oklahoma the following year; Kliff Kingsbury was four years into creating an offensive juggernaut that he would parlay into the Head Coach title for the Cardinals. Gundy was still Gundy, and Briles was gone at Baylor.
Though nothing of major offensive significance happened in the Big 12 (Oklahoma did lead the nation in DEFI with 1.57), it was the beginning of a significant shift in college football on the defensive side that started in the Big 12. I remember vividly sitting in the College Station Hilton attending the 2018 Lone Star clinic, where I first heard of what Iowa State was doing.
Dan Hammerschmidt, a long-time assistant at Oklahoma St., was set to present about the Cowboys’ defense. It was awkward because Glenn Spencer had recently been fired, and Jim Knowles (Duke) had been hired to replace him. The talk was over tackling and a little about defensive philosophy, but Coach Hammerschmidt commented on what was going on in Ames. Mainly, it was something special; an Air Raid killer.
In 2016, Oklahoma St. had experimented with what I called at the time the Cowboy Dime. The concept featured your typical 4-2-5 alignments, but the Nickel played from depth in the middle of the field (MOF). At first, it was shocking to see no overhang covered down on the Slot. Instead, he was in the middle of the field reading the mesh. The concept was mainly used against West Virginia, but you could see the evolution to the 3-3 defense occurring.
In the Spring of 2018, Iowa State featured the Odd Stack as their primary defense. As Hammerschmidt eluded, it was giving the Air Raid teams in the Big 12 fits. They were working harder than they had prior against traditional 4-2-5 or 3-4 Nickel schemes. The complete evolution had arrived.
Now turn on a Big 12 game, and you will most likely see a 3-High defense. Of course, it is the staple defense within the conference, but what is more important is that in the last five years, it has become a dominant scheme within major college football. It is probably as popular (if not more) than the Mint/Tite 3-4 variations highlighted by the Saban and Aranda systems.