Thursday, December 21, 2006

the Great Pelini | by Jay

Meet Bo Pelini, the line-'em-up-and-get-after-'em defensive coordinator for LSU. A nine-year NFL defensive assistant, Pelini spent one year as DC at Nebraska under Frank Solich, then went to Oklahoma for a year and served as the co-defensive coordinator on the Sooners team that went to the championship game. After that he moved to LSU in '05, when head coach Les Miles snatched him up, impressed at the way his Sooners defense had handled Miles' Oklahoma State squad. These days, Pelini's constantly touted as a head coaching candidate (rumors of Pelini to Michigan State or Stanford were floated this season), although it looks like he's going to stick with LSU for at least another year.

Pelini broke into football on George Seifert's 49ers team and was mentored by Seifert proteges Ray Rhodes and Pete Carroll (a close friend of Pelini's). As Pelini explains:

“To know where my influences come from you’d have to go back to my time at San Francisco with George Siefert and Pete Carroll,” said Pelini. “Most of the things that we do come from that system. It’s not the same system, but the concepts are very similar. It’s a totally different type of football in college, you have to adapt and do some things differently, but that’s where most of my plays come from; my early upbringing when I was with the 49ers.”
He's only 38. His players love him. All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey calls him the mastermind. "He's kind of silent on the field but in the meeting room he goes crazy," Dorsey said of Pelini. "We all have his mindset. I feel so confident going out there with him."

A good piece in the New Orleans Times-Picayune elaborated on the difference between Nick Saban's former LSU defense and the new scheme brought in by Pelini.
Pelini’s defensive philosophy is built around aggressiveness and turnovers – he likes lots of both. Unlike Saban, who preferred man-to-man coverage in the secondary, Pelini likes zone and while he will blitz, it won’t be near as much as Saban.

Saban was a chess master once the offense broke the huddle, giving his players many options and relying on them to pick up the changes quickly. Pelini wants his players’ minds uncluttered so they can take the shortest distance to the ball and be ready to take it away when they get there.

“You play with great effort and get 11 hats to the football,” Pelini said. “That’s where great defense starts. We talk about it all the time.

“When you get there you have to get there in a bad mood with the awareness that you’re not going there just to make a tackle but get the ball out, too.”

LSU players welcomed the change, even while they couldn’t argue with the success they had under Saban. Last year, LSU was No. 3 in total defense, No. 5 in pass defense and No. 7 vs. the run with most of that crew returning.

But these days, when a defense is called from the sideline, the confusion ends there. Usually, regardless of what the offense lines up in or changes into, Pelini’s defenses play the hand they’ve dealt.

“(Under Saban) we would get two or three calls at a time and we’d make the call according to the formation,” said middle linebacker Cameron Vaughn, who calls the defensive plays. “That was good but a lot of times we lacked communication because it’s hard with 92,000 people screaming in your ear. We had a lot of busts doing that.

“With Coach Pelini, the call is going to be the call 90 percent of the time. We’ll check it sometimes, but usually it will just play out. We have a lot fewer communication busts.”

Said safety Jessie Daniels: “It’s much easier to execute when you have so much less to think about. We made a lot of mistakes Saturday, but if we execute this defense the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be fine. The guys really like playing it.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt also noted some differences in LSU under Pelini:
COACH MARK RICHT: Well, just now I mentioned some of those things, which is the types of coverages they play behind their blitzes. Coach Saban, not 100%, but a much higher percent of the time, they were playing man coverage behind their blitzing schemes. Even when they weren't blitzing, they were playing a lot more man coverage. Most of the time, not all the time, but most of the time, the corner backs were right up on top of you, in your face, pressing the receivers. So that's different. Not to say that LSU doesn't do that some, but they don't do it as high a percentage as Coach Saban's group. Just overall, percentage of blitz is less with Coach Miles' team and Coach Pelini's philosophy.
Despite the professed emphasis on creating turnovers (Pelini's Huskers were second in the nation in takeaways with 47), the Tigers have been lackluster in this regard so far under Pelini. Last year LSU forced only 14 turnovers, and this year they're not much better, with only 19.

But that's about the only deficiency you can point to. As Charlie pointed out a couple days ago at his presser, the LSU defense is tremendous in just about every respect:
Let's go over to defense. You've got Bo Pelini as the defensive coordinator, second year there at LSU. In his first year at LSU they finished third in the country in defense. They're giving up 12 and a half points a game, 4th in the country; three yards per pushing attempt; 93 yards rushing per game, that's 15th in the country; 145 yards passing per game, that's 3rd in the country; 248.8 yards total a game, that's 2nd in the country in total defense. They have 38 sacks, which is 6th in the country, and they're holding opponents to touchdowns in the red zone, which I always talk about touchdowns in the red zone, teams have only scored nine out of 27 times for 33 percent touchdowns in the red zone...

Bo doesn't blitz an extraordinary amount of times. I think the typical mentality in a game like this is probably to try to pressure you more, come up and get in the face of the wide receivers and see if you can get off the line of scrimmage. I know statistically what they do from even over or under. I mean, I can go right down their fronts and tell you what coverages they run and the stats of pressures on 1st down, but the bottom line is you've got to be ready. With this long a time that the coaching staffs have, you have to be ready for just about anything because those staffs could be thrown out the window and they could go to a whole different perspective than what they normally do.