Eric Schmidt brings his 4-2-5 defense to The Mesa

The defensive front lines up with DL coach David Lose and DC Eric Schmidt looking on at practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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DC Eric Schmidt during practice (Credit: SDSU Athletics)

On September 3, 2022, the Washington Huskies hosted the Kent State Golden Flashes at Husky Stadium for a non-conference matchup. The 23.5-pt favorite Huskies won by 25 (45-20). To an Aztec fan at the time, the game was rather meaningless.

With the hiring of head coach Sean Lewis this offseason, Kent State’s 2022 games during Lewis’ final year as the head of the Golden Flashes took on a different meaning. This particular matchup saw Lewis face off against a Huskies’ ferocious pass rush led by Lewis’ future defensive coordinator, Eric Schmidt, coaching his first game as Washington’s special teams coordinator and EDGEs coach. 

The year prior, the Huskies were 98th in the nation in sacks. Under Schmidt’s tutelage, the edge rushers thrived in 2022, climbing all the way to 20th with 37 sacks in 13 games (2.85pg). Two of Schmidt’s players, Bralen Trice and Jeremiah Martin, earned First-Team All-Pac 12 honors.

In 2023, the Huskies sack totals took a step back, but the defense still excelled all the way to the National Championship Game against Michigan. Trice earned another First Team All-Pac 12 selection. 

Despite facing off in a college football game two years ago and coaching in the same conference last year, Lewis and Schmidt never formed a relationship. 

When Lewis went looking for a defensive coordinator in December, his research kept coming back to Schmidt, who was eager to get another opportunity as a defensive coordinator after six years in the role at his alma mater, North Dakota, from 2014 to 2019.

DC Eric Schmidt leading drills during practice. (Credit: SDSU Athletics)

“I hadn’t really talked to Sean (Lewis) much before being able to get on the phone with him during the hiring process and just do all the research and vetting of people in the coaching world,” Schmidt recalled on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Podcast. “Sometimes it is a small world. We had a lot of people that had crossed paths with each other throughout the years and just everybody that had worked with him.”


While Schmidt continued to coach the Huskies as they marched to the title game in early January, he accepted Lewis’ offer to be his defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in mid-December. When asked why he wanted to partner with Lewis at SDSU, Schmidt first cited the head coach’s traits as a human being. 


“Just the type of quality person that he is, and I think really when you get to this part of my career, it was, ‘hey, you want to work with good people, right?’ Like people that you’re not going to have to compromise who you are as a person, your morals, your beliefs, all those types of things and everybody had nothing but good things to say about Coach Lew.”

There is no shortage of good people that Schmidt has either played or worked with in the coaching profession. As a linebacker at North Dakota in the late 1990s/early 2000s, he was coached by Dale Lennon (HC) and Bubba Schweigert (DC). In 2001, the coaching legends guided the team to a NCAA Division II championship and Schmidt to All-American honors. The linebacker still owns North Dakota’s single-season sack record (11) he broke during that season. 

Richmond transfer DE Marlem Louis working on drills in practice while his teammate catches a ball in the air. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“Taking guys like me to maybe a place I never thought I could get to and just instill in that confidence and belief. Those are the types of guys that I took a lot from not only from the football scheme side of things but also just from a leadership and a culture standpoint too,” Schmidt said about his two coaches. 

Schmidt began his coaching career as a high school football head coach before Lennon hired him as his linebackers coach at North Dakota in 2006. When Lennon became the head coach at Southern Illinois in 2008, he hired Schweigert as his defensive coordinator and brought Schmidt with him as his outside linebackers coach. 

It was at Southern Illinois Schmidt met another great coach that would help his career immensely. In 2010, Lennon hired Kalen DeBoer as his offensive coordinator. When DeBoer became head coach at Fresno State ten years later, he hired Schmidt as his special teams coordinator and defensive line coach. Two years later, Schmidt followed DeBoer to Washington.

“Definitely learned a lot from Kalen (DeBoer) and just how humble he was, just the level of gratitude that he had to be in the position that he was in and really just being able to keep it about the players,” Schmidt replied when asked what he learned from his influences. “This is still about the players at the end of the day and what we’re trying to do here, what we’ve tried to do at Washington and at Fresno before that was let’s really do a good job of giving these guys the best experience that they’ve had in their lives up to this point. They’re gonna hopefully go on one day and lead their families, be fathers and husbands and things like that, and those will be even better days than they’ve had up to this point in their lives.”

In Schmidt’s first year as defensive line coach at Fresno State, the school’s run defense improved from 71st to 24th, and their 4.17 sacks per game ranked third in the nation. The Aztecs are hoping Schmidt makes a similar impact in his first year as he did for “that team up North.” 

The vaunted Aztec defense took a major step back in 2023 across many statistical categories. Particularly, the Aztecs finished tied for 114th with only 1.5 sacks per game. 

The 3-3-5 is out. The 4-2-5 is in. 

The flexibility of the 4-2-5 against the ever-evolving offenses and passing games in today’s college football world is a main reason Schmidt employs it. 

DT Tupu Alualu goes up high to snatch a ball in practice drills. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“(Offenses) want to attack you vertically, attack you horizontally, so you have to be able to have enough athletes and speed on the field,” Schmidt explained. “For us to be able to match what offenses are doing and not have to subpackage all the time off of it to get different body types on the field and really be able to live as much as we can out of one personnel grouping, this is the system for us to be able to do that.” 

The flexibility comes from having hybrid players all over the defense that, allows them to be multiple in their fronts and coverages. At times, they can look like a 3-4 defense. Other times, a 4-3. 

“It’s really hard nowadays to say, ‘hey we’re going to be one thing and sit in that one front or that one coverage and we’re just better than everybody else,’” Schmidt explained.

Halfway through spring camp, the returning defenders have rave reviews of Schmidt’s defense. 

Super senior safety Davaughn Celestine noted after the first spring practice that the three safeties’ role is not much different in the new defense, but he has noticed that there is not as much pre-snap movement or stunts run up front on the defensive line than in previous years. 

Defensive tackle Tupu Alualu’s role is changing in this defense, and for the better, according to the JUCO transfer from a season ago. In last year’s defense, he was technically the only inside linemen, playing predominantly a nose tackle role. This year, with two tackles on the front, he is able to move up and down the line and expand his responsibilities.

“Last year, I was just an under-center type of guy where I just took the double team, triple team,” Alualu explained. “As of now, I am playing the 3-tech and the B-gap as well where I can get some 1-on-1s certain plays and eat up the double blocks for the linebackers to get through.”

With the change from a 3-man to a 4-man defensive line, the biggest impact to the defensive side of the roster is at defensive end/EDGE, the position Schmidt coached at Washington. At SDSU, Schmidt hired Rob Aurich to lead the position group. 

With pass rush success in 2024, recruiting the position should be easier for SDSU in 2025 and beyond.

“It allows us to really be able to recruit and have the ability to be able to play with really productive edge players and pass rushers and guys that can go get after the quarterback,” said Schmidt.

Transferring from Richmond for his final season of collegiate eligibility, senior defensive end Marlem Louis hopes to be a big part of that 2024 success. It did not take long for Louis to fall in love with his new DC’s passion and creativity.

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“You could really see his love for the game,” Louis noted about Schmidt. “He does a good job understanding that everything is new to us and not going crazy off the walls when someone messes up, but being a great mentor, being able to be there for us and really correct us in the best way possible to keep us growing.”

Louis lauded Schmidt’s “deep bag” of playcalling, including dropping the edges back in coverage at times, but added making disruptive plays and limiting big plays is the main focus of the defense. 

Trey White, making the move from SAM OLB to EDGE in this defense, echoed Celestine’s remarks that his role is not very different while noting he feels more comfortable on the defensive line after playing there at Eastlake High. 

“The coaches are giving us more freedom of rush,” said White about this year’s defense. “We are able to take the inside move a little bit more (as an edge rusher), and I feel like that’s going to free up some more rushers.”  

Schmidt understands defenses need proper scheming to thwart the evolving offenses of this decade, but also realizes that sometimes guys will need to beat their guy for SDSU to be successful. 

“Certain times, everybody in the stadium knows that those two edge players are coming,” Schmidt said. “They know they’re going to get blocked by the tackles. Can those guys go win 1-on-1s?”

One particular shift noted during spring practices is the use of field and boundary EDGES versus strong-side and weak-side parameters of the 3-3-5. In a recent practice, Louis and Ryan Henderson covered the field edge while Dom Oliver and Caleb Otlewski manned the boundary side on the first two rotations. 

The two opposing coaches at Husky Stadium in 2022 now embark together on an opportunity of a lifetime in America’s Finest City. It’s no secret that with immediate success and offensive fireworks, Lewis’ name will end up on short lists for Power 5 head coaching openings in no time. 

But Schmidt, who has excelled in all FBS levels as a special teams coordinator and a defensive position coach, gets to call a defense at the FBS level for the first time. With the right schemes and the right players, Schmidt’s name on those short lists might not be too far behind. 

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