LSU Hires Dave Aranda as Defensive Coordinator

Aranda is an excellent hire for Les Miles and LSU. From LSU’s release:


I’m here to stop you

“This is a great hire for us,” Miles said. “Dave has an outstanding track record of producing some of the best defenses in college football. We’ve seen him up close and understand how difficult it is to have success against him.

“He’s everything that we were looking for in a defensive coordinator. He’s youthful with tremendous enthusiasm; our players are going to love him. He brings great defensive knowledge to our staff both as a technician and as a strategist…. Dave will bring different packages and an attacking style to the field,” Miles said. “Watching his defense play, they are tough to move the ball on and they are sticky in every situation. His defenses do a great job of getting off the field.

Given that he’s an up and comer there’s not an enormous amount of information out there on Aranda, but what there is — and the tremendous defenses he’s coached at Utah State and Wisconsin — indicates that he’s very good teacher and coach. I quoted him (very) briefly in The Art of Smart Football, and the below clip gives a bit of insight into some of his philosophy on rushing the passer.

Also the coaches I’ve met with seem to universally praise him, citing both some of the techniques he uses (often lining up his defensive tackles a yard or more off the ball to help with slanting), and his candor in taking full responsibility for Wisconsin’s blowout loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last season. (Here is an old powerpoint from Aranda on pass rush when he was a GA at Texas Tech.)

Aranda is also at the forefront of defending both read-option plays and has developed some interesting answers for packaged plays/run pass options in recent years.

One way Aranda keeps his defense simple but reactive is by giving his linebackers several reads on each play that can evolve both pre- and post-snap that nevertheless are only based on a few key looks for the players. In a private whiteboard session he told some high school coaches that when teaching a defense a rival school’s coaches (I won’t name names) might might draw up 75 different looks for their players, but for his there’s only three looks. Some examples of these reads can be found in this excellent article with Aranda from Xs and Os Labs, where he talks about how he combines one-gapping and two-gapping principles to defend the spread run game.

Aranda, who runs a 4-3 base quarters package used to play single-gap control defense and wind up getting gashed for big yardage on zone wind backs because of a numbers advantage on the offense because of his two-safety look.

“[On a “Zeer” or zone-read-veer run scheme, n]o matter how you draw it up, the offense will have four guys at the point of attack: the QB, the tackle, the guard and the running back. If you’re a one gap type team and you’re playing it that way, whether your have a five and a 1-tech or a 3- and a 5-tech it really doesn’t matter because it’s four on three,” says Aranda. “You have two DL and one LB. The DE gets the shaft because he has to play two aspects: the dive, the bend of the dive to the inside out to the QB. You’re cheating a guy. An easy answer is to use someone from outside the box and bring him inside the box. The problem with that is the bubble screens and the now screens that are thrown by these offenses. Teams will read the LB that is walked out. If that LB steps up and reads run on the play action to handle QB on zone read. Once the QB sees him step up, he disconnects from the RB and throws the slant over the top of his head. It’s a tough play. I found you needed to get four and four and equate the numbers post-snap.”


Aranda has a very simple philosophy when it comes to his second level players playing the read game: If you’re in the core [i.e., the box], you play in the core and if you’re outside the core you play outside the core. “This handles all of that fly sweep you may see out of unbalanced formations,” says Aranda. “There is no inside linebacker needed to run down sweep, or safeties negating force. Everything must be assignment football, particularly when playing the option.”

His Mike LB’s assignment pre-snap when playing the Zone or Zeer read is to sit in the A gap, but post-snap he has some key progressions to work through starting with his first step. . . .

Initially, Aranda tells his Mike LB’s to work to stack the 2-technique, but as the play bends back he must be ready to fall back. To do that, he must be at five-yards. “If it’s coming tight downhill, that 2-technique is going to clear out the A gap. There is no A gap so it’s already bending back to begin with. As the offensive tackle is coming down on the 2-technique, and our 2-technique is already squeezing the guard, the RB will bend back. The further he bends back, there is our 5-technique. For our Mike LB reads, we play clear or cloudy. If they zone it, the guard surges on the 2-technqiue, the tackle wipes out the 2, now Mike is already sitting in the gap so he plays the back. If the back bends it and it’s cloudy (the end is there) the Mike is over the top and will be a QB player inside out. If the Tackle works to surge on 2-technique, then turns back out on the 5- technique (to open up the B gap) it’s a clear read so the Mike hits it. Essentially, he plays clear to cloudy and dive to inside out on QB. But everything works off the defensive tackles.”


“The way we play quarters, the outside LB is the force defender. We play the safety as sky force but it’s a replacement force if the LB gets cracked. We used to put the safety as the pitch player, but he also has number two vertical so he’s in conflict. Teams could run the back-side number two in orbit and now they have a pitch player. The LB plays into the number two receiver man-to-man. He’ll play the QB if he comes out his way and he’ll also play pitch. The safety is sitting off of him. He plays the outside half of QB to pitch. We tell the safety if number two blocks he triggers off that LB so we can get those two involved (diagram 15). Whenever that safety has pitch responsibility in a quarter’s system where he has two vertical, there is a problem. We need to be tied with the LB. We play crack replace with the safety so the LB can be more aggressive. If they run a slant/bubble combination, the safety must see the block on that LB. The LB who is covered down can play the run aggressively through receiver. The safety is the protector.”