COACH’S CORNER: The big boys of the SAC and what they do so well

Kevin Merz, seen here as Bishop Dwenger’s quarterback in 2006, will pen a weekly column this fall for Outside the Huddle.

Coach’s Corner is a new weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.

It is no secret that year in and year out in the SAC the road to the “Victory Bell” goes through Bishop Dwenger and Snider. The two powerhouse programs have combined to win at least a share of the SAC crown in 14 of the last 19 seasons.

What makes both programs so dominant on a yearly basis can be attributed to multiple things they both do well. Strong senior leadership is preached at both schools and the amount of accountability placed on each program’s athletes is crucial. A cohesive coaching staff with defined roles for each and an attention to detail usually found only in major college programs continues to produce conference champion contenders seemingly every season.

The question that needs asked is – What does it take to prepare to play one of the SAC’s “Big Boys?” What on-the-field things need to be controlled to allow yourself a chance to be in the game in the late with a Bishop Dwenger or a Snider? What one thing above all else needs to be stopped offensively, defensively and in the kicking game?

This corner of “Outside The Huddle” will take a weekly look at schematic questions and answers in an attempt to give the reader an in-depth look into what is taking place inside the white lines on Friday nights.


There are a lot of ways to go with what is considered most crucial to stopping the Panthers’ offense. Frankly, not many teams in the state of Indiana do it with any consistency.

Snider is excellent in its short passing game and you must be able to control its counter schemes. However, the one play you better have an answer for as an opposing coach is “Snider Blast.”

The offense has evolved over the last decade to more shotgun looks and getting the ball out into space on the perimeter, but when the chips are down Coach Kurt Tippman still looks to the very first play that Snider football players learn as freshman, the blast. A traditional I formation look has been replaced in recent times with a shotgun variation, but the concept at the point of attack remains the same. The idea with the blast play is power football at its finest. Snider will block down (meaning most offensive linemen will take the man just shaded to their inside and drive him away from the play) while the fullback (or bonus back out of the gun) will kick out the unblocked defensive end, leaving a hole for the Panthers’ “quick guard” to pull through, cleaning up any linebacker in his wake. When blocked correctly (which trust me it usually is) this leaves an untouched running back into open space with a one-on-one matchup with a safety attempting to make a tackle in the open field. Advantage: Snider.


Bishop Dwenger’s offense is not flashy, it is not multiple in formation and it is not designed to trick you, but what Coach Mark Watts did so successfully last season was put a product on the field that would hit you in the mouth every play offensively.

The Saints’ rushing attack mixes inside runs with outside schemes, but the play that needs to be controlled from the get-go is the old school “ISO.”

Jason Garrett
Bishop Dwenger football coach Jason Garrett

ISO (short for isolation) is a downhill, inside-the-tackles running play that is designed to wear on you as an opponent. Lowell, a familiar foe for the Saints, runs ISO a majority of the game and if you can’t stop it, you will see it over and over again.

The design of the ISO play is to get Dwenger’s fullback into a on- on-one matchup at the second level with the opponent’s linebacker. Teams that play a 4-man front against the Saints struggle against the ISO play because in most 4-man fronts there is a side which has a natural gap between the nose guard and defensive end. Bishop Dwenger will have the tackle to the play side kick out the defensive end while the guard on the play side will double team the opponent’s nose with the center, leaving an alley for the fullback to come charging through at a linebacker. When the fullback makes his block with a full head of steam, the only player now in position to make the tackle on the tailback (who is following the fullback) is a safety or another third-level player. Most of the time that tackle is made, but seven yards have already been gained with relative ease and the chains continue to move.


The Panthers have remained consistent in their defensive principles for as long as I can remember. There is a reason for that…it works.

Snider is primarily a 4-man front with three linebackers, two safeties and two corners. Figuring out what the Panthers are about to do defensively usually relies completely on what the weak-side safety looks to be doing before the snap. As an opposing coach and quarterback, you must ALWAYS find that safety and identify if he is deep as a normal safety or “rolled” into the “box” (the area closest to the line of scrimmage between the tackles). This will help identify what coverage they are in and what blitzes they can possibly bring.

When the safety is deep in what we refer to as “2 high” (two deep safeties) we can safely assume the Panthers are in some type of cover-2 zone. However, when that designated player walks down parallel to the other linebackers, it is telling the opponent that the Panthers are in a 3-deep look (meaning the free safety now has one-third of the field and the two other corners have the other two thirds) or possibly man-to-man.

There are multiple things Snider can do to trick you with those looks, but identifying that weak-side safety and his alignment pre-snap is crucial to making a good decision on where to go with the football.


Bishop Dwenger is extremely difficult to prepare for defensively because it is one of the only teams at the high school level to use “stunts” with their defensive linemen.

Bishop Dwenger defensive coordinator Casey Kolkman.

A “stunt” refers to what happens when two defensive linemen criss cross (or switch) as the ball is snapped, confusing offensive linemen. The offensive tackle may be preparing to block the defensive end and the guard may be prepared to block the defensive tackle, but once the ball is snapped there is a ton of movement and switches taking place on the Saints’ defensive line. Couple these stunts with pressure from linebackers right behind it and if you haven’t practiced controlling Dwenger’s stunts and twists, your offensive linemen’s heads will be spinning by the end of the first quarter.

The opposing coaching staff must put in the film work, identify which stunts they are likely to see over the course of a game and rep those stunts in practice over and over so the offensive linemen are prepared for the confusion and chaos Bishop Dwenger can cause with just four defensive linemen.


Special teams practice can be viewed as somewhat of a waste of time and a resting period for players during some programs’ practice window. This is where Bishop Dwenger and Snider excel against that exact mindset some other programs have.

The Panthers are excellent in all phases of the kicking game, so it is tough to choose just one play, but the one that gave me nightmares preparing to play Snider was its punt block unit.

Think of a crucial Snider game you have attended over the last 10 years and I promise you a punt was either blocked or hurried in that game by the punt block unit. It probably resulted in a major turn in field position or even a scoop and score for a touchdown.

Snider coaches put in the work to identify their opponent’s weaknesses when punting the football, and then attack it full speed after constant practice during the week. As an opponent of the Panthers, you MUST take special teams period seriously that week or you will see a punt (possibly two) blocked on Friday.


If you pay attention at whatever game you choose to attend on a Friday, as the announcer reads the scores from around the area, you’ll often hear “Bishop Dwenger 8…Team X 0” in the first quarter.

How do the Saints constantly put up eight points instead of seven?

Bishop Dwenger is as good as it gets in the state at flat-out stealing a point from its opponent when the opportunity presents itself. Coach Chris Svarczkopf used to constantly say “special teams are a third of the game and therefore deserve a third of our time” and nowhere is this more evident than the extra point unit.

No play is more relaxed for an opponent than when Dwenger is kicking an extra point, but this is exactly what the Saints prey on. The Saints will use a “swinging gate” in which eight players are out near the sideline while the snapper, kicker and holder are by themselves in position. This looks odd at first, but the concept is very simple. If as an opponent you don’t commit eight of your players out to the swinging gate, the Saints are instructed to snap the ball quickly, get the ball out to an offensive back behind the gate, and walk into the end zone, turning seven points into eight in a blink of an eye.

As an opponent you MUST take extra-point defense seriously and practice it a few times during the week or the Saints will steal a two-point conversion multiple times a game. If you plan on being in the game late in the fourth quarter, those points will add up and possibly come back to haunt you!

Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season at Outside the Huddle.


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