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ACC teams matching up with more nickel defenses

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 3, 2014 at 1:45 pm •  Published: September 3, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference aren't waiting for passing situations to bring on another defensive back.

Instead, they're starting with the nickel package.

Teams are adding a fifth defensive back to chase receivers. They're creating hybrid positions for players fast enough to stay in coverage but physical enough to play the run. It's an effort to cover more ground and avoid mismatches against offenses that keep attacking from sideline to sideline without substituting.

"You're trying to match speed," Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "You can disguise numbers and get people in the box. But when you know they're going to throw it, everybody in the stands knows they're going to throw it, you want to be able to match up.

"Football is evolving. It's changed. It's always changing. You've got to be able to match up personnel."

Programs across college football have long used nickel packages. But they're becoming the norm, especially as defenses constantly shift into multiple alignments — often against no-huddle offenses — to match up on every snap.

Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are using a 4-2-5 — four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs — as their base scheme and the starting point for what they do every week.

Other teams are using the nickel heavily, including reigning national champion Florida State.

The school lists the defense as a 4-3 base with multiple looks — four linemen, three linebackers — but the DB-rich Seminoles began using more nickel a few games into last season. Coach Jimbo Fisher said his team ran nickel 71 percent of the time last season, including as the starting lineup for the BCS title game against Auburn.

"It's hard to (match up) when you don't play nickel packages," Fisher said. "The reasons we're in it a lot is because teams are in three and four wides most of the time."

The Seminoles ranked as one of the nation's best defenses last year while giving up an ACC-low 4.1 yards per play. The Hokies, led by longtime coordinator Bud Foster, were second by allowing 4.5 yards, while UNC was sixth in the 14-team league at 5.3, according to STATS.

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