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Film Study: Utah Part One

The first part of the “Who Needs Brad?” Edition looks at the offensive performance from last Saturday

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Brad is doing his community service, so this week instead of him asking Darin to comment on the game and then blending those comments with John’s, the Dawg Pound will be hearing it straight from the horses’ mouths. To the film...

Numero Uno - 2nd and 8:

This is the good, ol’ fashioned power sweep. The Dawgs line up in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). At first, the left tackle is eligible, because he’s the last man on the line of scrimmage, so you know there’s motion coming. It must have been pretty exciting for Adams those few seconds, to know that the next pass could be to him. It was not to be. Sure enough, the tight end trades to the left side.

Utah has four linemen and two linebackers in the box — that makes six. Meanwhile the Dawgs have six blockers, so the numbers look good for running. “What about the corner?” I hear you asking. “Isn’t he almost like another linebacker?” Well, I’ll remind you of a quote I once heard from Bobby Turner, the former running backs coach for the Denver Broncos, at a coaching seminar: “We block safeties. We don’t block corners. I don’t know if corners are as s***ty tacklers in your league as they are in ours, but we don’t block them.”

At the snap, the tight end and the tackle block down; Adams blocks the guy over the guard so he can pull. The defensive end does a good job forcing the tight end, Sample, into the backfield. The left guard (Harris 56) and the center (Shelton 79) pull. Lo and behold! Utah’s corner looks like he wants to play football — he eats the block from Harris, which is all you could ask from him. Meanwhile Shelton cuts inside and picks off the inside backer to the play side.

Here’s what made this play work. Watch the right guard (Kirkland 73, filling in for Jake Eldrenkamp) and tackle (McGary 58). The guard knifes in front of the defensive tackle lined up over him, preventing him from scraping to the play. The tackle takes a step back, and moves around behind to take over the block once its established. As the tackle is moving in, the guard is moving out and crushing the inside linebacker away from the play. These guys are 300 pounds, and they move like cats. This is not something we’d grown accustomed to on Montlake in past years. It’s just beautiful.

The only thing left is for Jake to make a remarkably lame fake to hold the defensive end, and we’re off. Even though the play-side blocking was just okay, a good block on the back-side and the fact that we had numbers made this play work. It’s one reason why running on passing downs (2nd and 8) is not such a bad idea.

Numero Two-o - 3rd and 2:

Here’s another example of a similar scheme, but where the Dawgs don’t have numbers.

Personnel is 12, one running back, two tight ends, both lined up left. Technically one of them is supposed to be a yard off the line of scrimmage, but let’s not pick nits. The Dawgs run a very similar play, pulling the play-side tackle and the center, but this time the Utes have eight full-grown men in the box. Even the extra tight end isn’t enough to make up for it. You can see the play-side linebacker read the line blocking and move in forcefully to fill. He uses up both the pulling linemen and shuts the play down. The combo block on the backside is not as effective, but it probably didn’t matter.

Notice at the start of the play, when McClatcher motions across the formation, that corner moves up to the high safety spot, and there is not a lot of pass coverage left on the top of the screen. I know the Huskies’ tight ends have been underutilized so far this year, but I’ll take those odds. A seam route by the inside tight end and a corner by the other looks like a winner. Write it down. On the other hand, it was third and two, so maybe you should be able to just go get the first down.

There’s another thing worth noting about McClatcher’s role. Watch from behind.

Instead of relying on Jake to hold the end with a fake, the fake was the fly sweep to McClatcher. This is a powerful fake because McClatcher can get up and go and because the Dawgs have run plays like this. Watch the end freeze. Now watch the linebacker behind him freeze. That’s why you do it.

This view highlights something else. Watch the left tackle (Adams, 72) when he pulls. He first starts going outside of the tight end’s block, then peels back to try to pin the charging linebacker inside so Dotson can run outside. The outside tight end actually held his ground pretty well, and even so there was not much room out there. I wonder if it would have been better for Adams to cut inside the tight end and take the linebacker on directly.

Why don’t they just show the whole game from that view? It’s so much better than from the side.

The Third One - 1st and Goal:

Inside zone. The line works right in unison to seal the defense. Gaskin runs it in classic form, first Gaskin sticking his head inside to press the middle. This draws the linebackers up and in.

Watch the middle linebacker fill quickly and give up any hope of scraping. Then watch the linebacker and corner to the offense’s left move inside, toward the direction Gaskin is moving, giving up contain. And here we see more typical cornerback run support: not only does he fail to make the tackle, he prevents the safety from reaching Gaskin. You can think of cornerbacks as the mushrooms in Mario Brothers.

Below is the good view.

Watch the tight end (88, Sample). You can see exactly what his job is. If the outside linebacker comes up to fill, meet him in the hole. If Gaskin cuts back, which he does, pin him inside. Doing this film study makes me like Sample more and more.

Utah is running two-gap defense, also called 3-4, in which the job of the linemen is to fill two gaps (take the attention of multiple linemen), leaving the linebackers free to roam either way. You can tell because the defensive linemen to the right engage Brostek and McGary directly instead of trying to get past them. In principle, this should work fine, except that Nick Harris and Trey Adams drive their guy basically to the Utah-Idaho border, preventing any flow at the second level. The defensive tackle has to hold his ground.

In a way it’s surprising this play ever works, especially against a front seven as good as Utah’s. The defense to the play side (offense’s right) pushes McGary and Brostek into the backfield, stopping the first option. If the backside guys could just hold their gaps, Gaskin would have nowhere to go. But they don’t. They never do. They can’t resist. The temptation to squeeze down on the play is just too much. Gaskin is a very good cutback runner, with vision and quickness, who can take advantage as he does here.

For those keeping track, Browning does a good job of pretending he’s actually considering whether he should give the ball or keep it. He’s like Meryl Streep back there.

What Are We On, Four? - 1st and 10:

Same play, other direction. This time the backside blocks on the offense’s right get blown up, preventing any cutback. The left guard (Harris, 56) doesn’t help the center with the double-team, and the center ends up in the backfield. When people say Utah has a good front seven, this is why.

I think I saw Jake actually check his iPhone during this play.

This Has To Be Number Five - 3rd and 7:

Hey, don’t the Huskies sometimes throw the ball? Yes, they do.

Remember when we mentioned Utah’s front seven? Well, here’s what they do when Heisman Candidate Jake “Don’t Call Me Locker” Browning drops back to pass. The Utes generate pressure with just four, which is where it starts. Jake “My Arms Still Hurt from Doing Pushups” Browning feels pressure and moves up in the pocket. He moves up in the pocket. Remember the days of watching Keith Price and Cyler Miles running backwards and toward the sideline before heaving the ball out of bounds?

The culprit here is the left tackle (Adams, 72). He has a tough assignment, following the defensive end on a twist. This is the scheme that Psalm Wooching famously ran against Stanford, from the opposite side. Adams does his best to stick with the guy as he moves inside, but he doesn’t quite have the footspeed to make it, and that’s the guy who gets Jake “Maybe I’ll Play Left-Handed Next Week” Browning out of the pocket.

The hero of this play is everybody’s new favorite tight end, Drew Sample. He lines up tight on the right and runs a little curl route among the linebackers. When he sees Jake “I’m Starting To Get Bored Throwing Touchdowns” Browning scramble, he does exactly what he’s supposed to: get depth and run the direction Jake is running. The middle linebacker has no choice but to come up and play the run, leaving Mr. Sample all alone for an eleven-yard gain.

It’s got to be frustrating for a defense to basically play well and yet give up the first down anyway.

The Penultimate Play (i.e., Six) - 2nd and 5:

The throwback pass. Watch the backside defensive end. See how he’s chasing the play sort of half-heartedly? That’s because he suspects he’s being had. He sees Gaskin going backwards, he probably noticed Browning going the other way, and he knows he’s got back-side contain. But he can’t resist. Could you? His final indignity is declining a collision with Adams. Wait, where did Adams come from? Watch him, the left tackle. I’m so impressed with how well he moves. If you just saw Adams running, with no number on his jersey and nothing around for scale, could you tell he weighs 310?

It’s possible that the real objective is a deep throw to Pounds, who lines up wide left. However, the Utes are playing man on the outside, so that corner isn’t fooled by the run, and he sticks with his man. If networks had any respect for their fans, they’d show this with a wider shot.

How do we know the corner is in man coverage? Look how he’s lined up at the snap. He’s inside of Pounds, taking away an in-breaking route by his alignment, and he’s looking at the receiver, not into the backfield. This is an advantage and a disadvantage to man defense. It means the corners have simpler responsibility (“See that guy? Don’t let him catch a pass.”), but it also means the corners can’t really help with wide runs. In my kids’ flag football league (the Sharks are now 5-0, as I’m sure you’re all aware), if we get a defense playing man-to-man, we run, run, run until they change or until we get so far ahead it’s embarrassing.

Anyway, Browning doesn’t throw deep. He hits Darrell Daniels on an intermediate out route. Okay, where did Daniels come from? He’s the two receiver in the bunch on the right — the second receiver in from the sidelines. He does a great job of faking a blocking assignment and then sneaking back left for the pass. Notice when he leaves his block. Rather, notice that he does not leave his block. He waits until the defense leaves him; in other words, once the run has been sold to the point that the defense ignores Daniels and closes on the runner. This takes patience.

I’m leaning toward thinking Daniels was the primary receiver, and not Pounds. Two reasons. First, on his radio show, Coach Peterson responded to a question about trick plays by saying there were many times they called one but Browning checked out of it because they didn’t get quite the look they wanted, and their goal is to use those plays to maximum benefit. So if Pounds was the primary receiver, Browning might have checked out of the play. Second, it’s a little hard to count the seconds using the gif, but my guess is it would be around six seconds before the ball could have reached Pounds on a go route, which would put Pounds something north of 50 yards downfield. A) That’s a pretty big throw for Browning, and B) the Dawgs started from the 50, so you’d be running out of room. That’s all speculation, though.

The Climactic Seventh Play - 1st and 10:

This. This is the kind of thing Husky fans were hoping for from John Ross but had no right to expect. He’s in the slot. The defender is six yards off because Ross is fast — hadn’t you heard? Ross fakes a stop route, and you can practically hear what the corner covering him is thinking.

“Wait, what?! I have to cover him short, too?” Yes, you do.

Coleman runs by, turning it into a bit of a rub-route.

“Come on, man! Be reasonable. It’s bad enough I’ve got to cover a guy who runs a 4.25, do you really need to throw a pick at me?” Sorry, dude. Better pay attention.

Coleman’s wheel route draws the linebacker inside Ross to the outside, and it also causes the corner defending Ross to hesitate. You can see this clearly in the Good View, below.

“Oh, so I don’t get any help, either? Great.” It’s a real challenge. This is why cornerbacks make so much money in the NFL.

Then Ross presses up field, past the corner (the guy covering him) and the middle linebacker, who is juuust a little too far away, since his partner is chasing Coleman up the sideline. Both of us are unsure what to call this route. It’s like a slant with a very obtuse angle. Or a very short go route. We’ll call it a “hook and Ross.”

“Do I get anything at all?” Sure. There’s a safety.

“Okay, so he’ll break up the pass.” No.

“Make the tackle?” Not really, no.

“Why not?” Well, in addition to running a 4.25, John Ross also weighs nearly 200 pounds. He’s not a little receiver anymore. If you’re late to the game — like the safety was, and basically standing still as the safety did — and Ross has a full head of steam, he’ll score.

There are three more interesting notes on this play.

First, the middle linebacker is moving toward Ross. This is why the hook and Ross route must go upfield instead of slanting in. There’s also a safety who should be closing faster than he is, which is why you have to throw the hook and Ross quickly and to the right spot. Browning’s pass isn’t ideal; Ross has to stop and turn back. Browning took an extra hitch and may have held it too long. But the throw does lead Ross to the right location and the path to the end zone.

Second, one of the underappreciated advantages of having an extremely accurate QB is WR trust. How often do you see inaccurate QBs plagued by “drops?” If this pass was behind Ross, and it had been thrown by Jake Locker (still love you, Jake), the receiver might have wondered if he were about to be hit. He might lose focus on the ball or have alligator arms. Ross knows this ball is thrown intentionally out of harm’s way, so he reels it in easily while staying on his feet and getting into the endzone.

Third, Utah rushes five, including a linebacker on a delayed blitz. Let’s work our way across, shall we? Starting right to left:

Right tackle (McGary, 58) takes his guy on a tour of the concession facilities and restrooms at the far end of the stadium.

Everybody’s new favorite tight end, Drew Sample (88, lined up as an H-back) flat stones the blitzer.

Right guard (Brostek, 60) appears to be having a quiet conversation with the defensive tackle. There is no movement.

Center (Shelton, 79) and left guard (Harris, 56) double team the other tackle. The defender tries to jump over them or something. I don’t know what he’s doing.

Left tackle (Adams, 72) gets the end beyond Browning before he gets free. I think this is the guy that caused Browning to move up a step and may have delayed the throw slightly.

Overall, impressive pass blocking by a group that’s performing way above expectation. We expected above average. We hoped for good. We’re getting very, very good indeed. The Huskies are leading the Pac-12 in scoring offense and this was another solid performance against a good Utah defense in front of a hostile crowd.

Tomorrow, we will look at the defense and a certain special teams play.