Massillon has built quite a resume over the past seven years in the Ohio high school football scene, the span of time during which Nate Moore has been the head coach. Consider that the Tigers have qualified for the playoffs in six consecutive years, advanced to the regional finals five times and advanced to the Division II state finals three times. In addition, over the past four years the Tigers have lost just seven times out of the 56 games played, four of which occurred during the playoffs.
But although the offense has been spectacular, most of the credit for the improvement goes to the defense, particularly the defense against the run. In the past four years, Massillon has surrendered a mere 3.3 yards per carry, which is a full two yards per carry better than during Moore’s first three years, a time when he was installing his program. Also, the mark is significantly better than that of the previous coach.
From the fan perspective, credit a change in the scheme in that the Tigers now heavily involve the free safeties in run support. This is something that has evolved as defenses must counter the more mature spread offenses. Prior to the spread, the offenses were throwing the ball 20 to 30 percent of the time. So the defenses aligned with four or five linemen and three or four linebackers to stop run-oriented teams. But now, with offenses throwing around 40 percent of the time, more support was needed in the secondary. However, this came at the expense of the defensive line, which was reduced to three or four lineman. With fewer linemen at the point of attack, defenses became more vulnerable to the run, particularly to the outsides. That’s where the safeties now come into play. Whereas previous safeties focused almost exclusively on pass protection, safeties must now also run downhill to the edge to defend the run and not be shy about delivering the big hits.
Years ago, if a team’s safety was the leading tackler, there was a serious problem on defense. Not anymore. In 2019, Robbie Page recorded 3.9 tackle points per game, fourth best on the team. Austin Brawley has similar numbers in 2020. And then last year, Brawley AND safety teammate Ryan Zentkovich chalked up 5.1 and 5.3 tackle points per game, respectively, leading the entire defense in that category.
But Massillon’s defensive improvement against the rush has also had a marked impact on scoring. Whereas the Tigers gave up 26 points per game during Moore’s first three years, that number has been lowered to just 11 points, which is an excellent result against the spread offense. And that also translates into wins.
Meanwhile, the defense against the pass has remained fairly constant, hovering around 6.4 yards per pass attempt. This statistic is not unlike that of previous Massillon coaches that gamed against the spread offense.
Offensively, from Moore’s first three years through his next four, it has been “steady Eddie.” Points have increased by about a touchdown a game, yards per rush have increased by 1.3 yards per game and yards per pass attempt have increased by 0.6 yards per game, about what one would expect as a new system settles into place.
Now, with the 2022 season fast approaching, the Tigers return several starters that man the front seven positions. And many of those are underclassmen. So, one would expect the defense against the run to again be very strong, for at least the next two years. Trust me. It will be a fun group to watch.