football Edit

Appetite for disruption: DeRuyter plans return to 4-3

Tim DeRuyter has elevated defenses at every stop. He's a masterful mentor of linebackers, pass rushers and ball-hawking DBs.
Tim DeRuyter has elevated defenses at every stop. He's a masterful mentor of linebackers, pass rushers and ball-hawking DBs. (Marcus Edwards - KLC Fotos)

Throughout a 31-year career in coaching Tim DeRuyter has molded and remade defenses, turning average talent into nasty and effective units.

He's been defensive coordinator at Navy, Ohio, Nevada, Air Force, Texas A&M and Cal, head coach at Fresno State. He's coached defensive backs, safeties, inside linebackers and outside linebackers. He's shaped players like Von Miller and Evan Weaver into stars.

At every stop his defenses have made dramatic and immediate improvement.

Wizard of D: DeRuyter's track record as DC, a sample
School/Season Scoring defense--before DeRuyter Scoring defense--with DeRuyter

Ohio 2002

99th

22nd

Nevada 2005-2006

78th

48th

Air Force 2009

78th

10th

Texas A&M

104th

21st

Cal 2018-2020

127th

22nd

For most of his career the veteran defensive coordinator has employed an attacking, blitzing 3-4 scheme, but his Oregon squad will feature the 4-3 as the base defense.

He's a coach with a very big tool kit. The Ducks will almost certainly be multiple and able to vary and disguise what they're doing, but 4-3 principles fit the personnel better for the near future.

That's one of his strengths as a coach, the ability to adapt his scheme to the strengths of his players. Yesterday Trace Travers of Golden Bear Report told DSA:

"...DeRuyter adapted the defense around what worked. For example, Cal lost OLB Cameron Goode in game one of 2018 and didn't have any depth at the position. DeRuyter moved defensive end Tevin Paul to OLB to shore up depth, and Paul ended up leading the team in tackles for loss that year. He's good at molding his scheme around talent."

The advantage of the 4-3 for Oregon's current roster lies in its simplicity. It will get Kayvon Thibodeaux and Mase Funa with their hand in the ground rushing the passer. It will get Noah Sewell in the middle of the defense ranging sideline to sideline stuffing the run as a classic monster backer.

A 4-3 will allow Brandon Dorlus, Kristian Williams, and Keyon Ware-Hudson to play one gap and penetrate rather than try to tie up blocks as undersized nose tackles. The 3-4 is almost impossible to run effectively without a true Nose, one big enough and strong enough to jam up the middle.

The Oregon defense regressed in 2020, badly. They missed veteran defensive backs who could come up and help stop the run. The middle pass defense was soft and exploitable.

Andy Avalos stuck stubbornly to a bend-don't-break mix of formations and responsibilities, confusing nomenclature and complex keys. His young players got routinely shredded.

The scheme was too complicated after the loss of so many veterans. All too often, split seconds before the snap, Jamal Hill or Nick Pickett were signalling frantically, trying to get everyone lined up.

The 2020 squad ranked 59th in scoring defense, 34th in yards per play.

There was almost a complete lack of disruption. The Ducks ranked 97th in sacks per game at 1.71, just 12 total all season. They forced just 7 turnovers all year, 103rd in the country in turnover margin on a per-game basis. The Ducks were 101st in tackles for loss at 5.0 per game, only 35 all year.

Overall, it was an appalling waste of four-star talent.

The failure to adjust or simplify the scheme doomed it. There was just too much inexperience, too many obvious holes, and by year's end, a shortage of healthy linebackers.

Then there was the baffling decision to line defenders a full yard off the ball and give opponents the first yard for free.

Too much read-and-react, and not enough get after somebody.

A base 4-3 set allows them to shift the attitude and the emphasis:

1. Attack and react

2. Penetrate

3. Fly to the ball

4. Play fast

In a way it's back to the future, creating 1.21 gigawatts of disruption, what Middle Tennessee defensive coordinator Scott Schafer calls "getting off blocks and making football plays."

It's a change that has a lot of appeal and resonance for Mario Cristobal: the philosophy dates back to Jimmy Johnson and the Miami Hurricanes in the 1980s.

Johnson devised a penetrating, swarming defense to destroy the I Formation and the Wishbone, but with a few adaptations and wrinkles, DeRuyter can employ it against the Spread offenses of the PAC-12.

The thought of Kayvon Thibodeaux unleashed as a 4-3 rush defensive end and Noah Sewell as a prototype/throwback middle linebacker, it's pure football genius, just so old-school crazy/brilliant that it might work.