Analysis: The SACK Strategies of All-American Kayvon Thibodeaux

Joshua Whitted Analysis

Kayvon Thibodeaux wasted no time justifying his five-star recruiting rating. As a true freshman in 2019, he established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the Pac-12, and he saved his best effort for last, as the underdog Ducks took on the College-Football-Playoff-contending Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Thibodeaux wrecked the Utes, finishing with 2.5 sacks and spending most of the night in the Utah offensive backfield. Beyond the numbers, Thibodeaux showed off an impressive array of pass rushing moves that show just how advanced of a pass rusher he has become despite his youth.

In the video above, Thibodeaux (No. 5) uses both his smarts and athleticism to beat the Utah right tackle (No. 69). Thibodeaux lines up wide of the offensive tackle (Thibodeaux uses what is known as a Wide 9 technique), which gives him plenty of space to build up speed and beat his opponent with a quick speed rush, which Thibodeaux is very good at given his explosiveness. The offensive tackle realizes that he has to cut off Thibodeaux and beat him to the edge, and because of Thibodeaux’s athleticism, the offensive tackle has to set heavily towards the outside.

That works perfectly to Thibodeaux’s advantage, as now, the inside of the offensive tackle is exposed due to him oversetting. Thibodeaux simply executes a swipe move — a quick two-hand swat at the offensive tackle’s hands — and he has a clear inside path to the quarterback.

Next, Thibodeaux uses a tried and true pass rush move — the swim move — to get his second sack of the evening. In the video above, Thibodeaux (No. 5) starts his pass rush from the edge, but slants inside to take on the right guard (No. 71). Thibodeaux quickly gets his hands on the outside shoulder pads of the guard and gives him an ever-so-slight tug to throw off his balance.

Then, while keeping his outside hand on the shoulder of the guard, Thibodeaux quickly brings his inside hand up and over the head of the guard. This propels Thibodeaux past the offensive lineman and makes for a swift pass rush win.

Finally, Thibodeaux uses a simple-but-effective speed rush to blow by his opposition and earn his third sack of the night. In the video above, Thibodeaux (No. 5), is once again lined up in a Wide 9 position, outside of the right tackle (No. 69). As mentioned earlier, lining up in this position gives Thibodeaux an inherent advantage on the edge, and Thibodeaux certainly makes the most of it in this situation,.

First, Thibodeaux times the snap count ridiculously well, as he takes his first step before anyone on the offensive line even flinches. Then, he uses his explosive strides to race past the offensive tackle in a flash and get within range of the quarterback. Finally, he uses his elite balance and flexibility to flatten his rush and turn the corner to meet and sack the quarterback.

Thibodeaux is the total package as a pass rusher. He can win with speed, power and elite technique — a lethal combination. And did I mention he was only a true freshman in 2019?

Pac-12 quarterbacks better keep their heads on a swivel for the next two years because Thibodeaux’s only going to get better with age. If he maintains his upward trajectory, he will be in the conversation as the best pass rusher in all of college football by the season’s end.

Joshua Whitted
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Tom Corno

Phil Anderson, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.


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