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X&O Hurry-Up: Defending the No. 3 Receiver Up the Seam

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Oklahoma, especially last week against Iowa State, it’s apparent that the defense needs to account for the No. 3 receiver (the third receiver, counting from the outside-in; for Oklahoma, he’s often a tight end, H-back or even a tailback) running straight upfield. All offenses run seam routes, but what’s somewhat unique for the Sooners is that they’ll do it with players lined up in the backfield. Teams rarely try to hit backs up the seam because the routes take too long to develop, but OU makes it work. Even more dangerous, they’ll hit these guys off play-action and pop passes, exploiting over-aggressive run defenders.

It will be important for Todd Orlando’s unit not to forget about covering Trey Sermon and Dimitri Flowers. There are a few ways to do this, but let’s focus on the three I think we’re most likely to see. (Note: These aren’t all going to be H-backs or RBs because finding video is extremely time-consuming. And the offenses won’t always run what I drew up. Use your imagination.)

First, you can call Man Free and just assign someone to follow him around. This is not my preferred solution. There’s the possibility of mismatches, it’s still a one-on-one matchup, and it doesn’t solve the issue of defenders in run-pass conflicts.

Second, you could run a variation of Quarters coverage known as Poach or Solo. Essentially, the safety away from the trips side (if OU is in a split back look, it will be the twins side, which is a problem) will come across the field and stay over the top of the No. 3 receiver if he runs a downfield route. The Mike/Mac linebacker should be trailing him, giving the defense a double-team on the seam by No. 3. DeShon Elliott was the poach safety on his pick-six against USC.

Finally, there’s Fire Zones, a five-man zone blitz with three deep defenders and three underneath defenders. This gives the defense the same high-low double-team on No. 3 as Poach and has the bonuses of (1) pressuring the quarterback and (2) being extremely flexible.

I’d look for Orlando to dial up Poach against trey looks (two receivers and a tight end to one side) and, situationally, Fire Zones against 11 and 20 personnel. Don’t be surprised if Baker Mayfield throws his first interception of the year into one of Orlando’s zone blitzes.

A quick personal note, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to post a Kansas State review this week. Life got in the way; I haven’t even rewatched the whole game yet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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