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Film Study: Peach Bowl Part 3

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The offense lost the battle up front, and that was the difference

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This is the Film Study session most of you have been dreading waiting for; the one that shows why the offense was so inept for most of the Peach Bowl. The offensive line was outclassed pretty much all day, and that had a trickle down effect to Jake Browning speeding through progressions, running backs not trusting the crease that was occasionally created, and routes not having time to develop.

When people talk about Jimmys and Joes vs. X’s and O’s, this is what is meant: Washington’s offensive players lost one-on-one battles consistently, whether it was Nick Harris and the offensive line being pushed around by future Pro Bowlers, or wide receivers unable to block the superior Alabama athlete in front of them.

Let’s go to the Film:

3rd and 3:

Four members of the offensive line do a relatively nice job on this play, but right guard Nick Harris offers little resistance. He’s going up against redshirt senior Dalvin Tomlinson, who outweighs Harris by over 30 pounds, and is significantly older and stronger. Harris isn’t a good match for Tomlinson under any circumstances, but you can see on this play that Harris is standing too tall, and his weight is over his heels. As such, Tomlinson easily gets Harris off-balance with a violent shove, and pulls him out of the way en route to Jake Browning. Tomlinson is in Browning’s face in less than two full seconds.

The pressure certainly affects Browning’s ability to make the throw, but you’ll also notice that his feet aren’t set well, and he’s back on his heels at the release. It’s difficult to throw a good ball with that set-up.

From this angle you can really see the mistakes in the footwork. Browning doesn’t properly set his feet going in to his throwing motion, his stride with his left foot is way too long, and he falls away from the pass instead of stepping over the top of his plant leg. There’s an aspect of self-preservation involved, as stepping through the throw puts Browning right into the contact from Tomlinson, but part of that is the life of a highly-paid college quarterback.

2nd and 8:

The Huskies are running a wide receiver screen toward the trips formation to the offense’s left. Myles Gaskin motions right before the snap to pull a defender out of the box.

The play dies almost at the snap, when wide receiver Aaron Fuller is soundly defeated at the point of attack. Defensive back Tony Brown is bigger and stronger than Fuller, and he’s more aggressive on this play. Fuller waits at the snap, and absorbs contact instead of initiating it. He’s standing too tall, and instead of giving a little ground in order to keep his base underneath him, his driven onto his heels and off-balance. Brown throws Fuller aside and makes the tackle.

Browning’s throw is off-target, partly as a result of the upfield rush of the defense, and partly because he doesn’t step toward his target. You can see that the throw goes in the exact direction of his left foot, as usually happens. Chico McClatcher doesn’t run the greatest route here, either; after faking an upfield releasing, he’s drifting backward for the throw instead of staying in position. He eventually has to move back for the pass, but he’s not giving the greatest target when the ball is thrown.

3rd and 15:

The vast majority of the reason this play doesn’t work has to be credited to #93 defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. He’s a senior, a unanimous All-American, and the winner of multiple national awards in 2016. It’s not surprising that he’s able to read this attempted screen relatively easily, and make the tackle for loss.

It’s possible here that Alabama was twisting its interior tackles. #54 slants to his right, and Allen appears to be looping back to his left at the snap. It’s also possible that because Jake Eldrenkamp makes no step back to form a pocket, that Allen reads that “something is going on” and looks to find the running back - the mostly likely screen receiver that he could affect on the play. It’s also possible that Allen was freelancing a little here, and just got a big lucky.

Regardless, Eldrenkamp in no way impedes Allen from doing whatever it is he wants to do. Nick Harris doesn’t see Allen closing down from the back side of the play on the way to his second-level assignment. And Gaskin has no chance to get up the field after catching the ball.

2nd and 3:

There’s a blown assignment here someplace along the offensive line, and the net result is pressure in the face of Jake Browning that prevents him the time from coming off his primary read to any other receiver. The angle behind the offense below provides a lot more clarity, but from here, you can see that Browning is looking to his right at the snap, and that by the time he hits his third step on his drop, he’s already having to elude pressure instead of keeping his eyes down the field due to the free rush of #54.

This angle gives a much better look at what went wrong.

Lets start with what went right. Alabama has five men at the line of scrimmage on the snap. Left tackle Trey Adams has a man directly over him, so his job is clear. Left guard Jake Eldrenkamp reads #56 at the snap, and once he drops back into coverage, Eldrenkamp looks for an inside blitz, or helps back to the middle. Center Coleman Shelton also has a man over him. Lavon Coleman is staying in to pick up any blitzer that might come up the middle. So far, so good.

On the right side, Alabama has a defensive end in a wide nine technique, which spells speed rush. The Huskies are keeping H-back Drew Sample in to block. There’s a three-technique tackle between Nick Harris and Kaleb McGary.

At the snap, McGary looks to block the end, and Harris helps back toward the middle. That leaves a free-rushing defensive tackle, plus a blitzing linebacker coming through the same hole. Coleman can only block one of them (and does a fine job). The big mistake, though is that two linemen, both shaded by a defensive tackle, both ignored said tackle.

This, or course, is speculation, but here is the descending order of likeliest at fault:

1. Nick Harris should’ve blocked the tackle. He’s got the best angle, and it’s a difficult proposition at best for McGary to reach back across the middle to make an effective block on the tackle if the tackle comes straight up the field.

2. Kaleb McGary was actually required to make that reaching block. Drew Sample was in position to pick up an outside charge - sort of, so McGary should’ve blocked one man down.

3. Coleman Shelton was supposed to recognize the alignment and audibled to a different protection scheme, based on the play called.

Had McGary blocked down on the tackle, the defensive end on the outside likely would’ve slanted back inside of Sample’s block. And, as said, that’s a difficult block to make at best, given the superior angle the guard already has. The most likely explanation is that Harris simply went the wrong way on this play.

3rd and 10:

There’s pressure from the edges, but Jake Browning does a nice job of stepping up in the pocket. Once he does, though, it looks like he doesn’t really realize how much time he has; instead, he leaves the pocket to his left, and fully commits to running the ball by tucking it anyway and really removing the option to pass.

Had Browning realized the time he had once he stepped up, he could’ve seen Myles Gaskin leaking upfield to the right as a safety valve. A little flip to Gaskin could’ve been big yards. Once Browning moved left, if he had continued to hold the ball in a position to throw it, he could’ve seen Drew Sample, who started the play as an H-back in the backfield in pass protection, leaking out to the left as a safety valve. Holding the ball in a position to throw likely also would’ve slowed the upfield pursuit from the inside linebacker who was eventually part of the tackle, and given Sample even more room to get open and up the field. As it was, the second Browning decided to become a runner, he entered into a footrace he was destined to lose.

1st and 10:

After spending virtually the entire first half in the shadow of its own goal post, the offense finally gets some breathing room when one of its best athletes makes a good play.

This is a well-designed play. The Huskies are running a power lead out of the fly sweep. Nick Harris is the pulling guard, and Lavon Coleman is the lead blocker. This play is almost stopped in the backfield because Harris isn’t fast enough and doesn’t take a good enough angle to get to that fast-closing inside linebacker who forces McClatcher wide inside the the five yard-line.

Drew Sample, Lavon Coleman, and Andre Baccellia don’t get great blocks, but each just absolutely just enough to get McClatcher a small seam, and he’s able to exploit it for 16 yards. Could a “horse collar tackle” penalty have added 15 more yards?

2nd and 10:

The interception returned for a touchdown right before the half....This play definitely caused some heartburn ‘round here in the immediate aftermath of the Peach Bowl loss.

There’s no doubt this moment was an absolute back-breaker for the Huskies. That can’t be debated. But the play call isn’t actually the issue here.

This is one of the few times the offense gave Jake Browning a hot read in the face of a potential blitz - Lavon Coleman running a swing route to the offense’s right. And Alabama does in fact blitz, and it’s the linebacker that would’ve been charged with covering Coleman.

This play is essentially an auto-read for the quarterback. If Browning sees the linebacker blitzing, he immediately checks down to the running back, who should be open. But in order to maintain coverage integrity, Alabama runs what’s called a “peel blitz;” the defensive end on the offense’s right (#22) is supposed to rush the passer unless he sees the running back release on a pass route. You can see #22 coming up the field, read Coleman’s release, and move into coverage.

Here’s what should’ve happened, in order:

1. Browning needed to identify the peel by the end, and throw the ball over everyone’s head out-of-bounds.

2. Browning reads the peel by the end, and takes a sack.

3. Lavon Coleman (who’s not a sophisticated receiver, even for a running back) and Jake Browning simultaneously read the peel by the end, and Coleman attacks his coverage up the field. Browning could’ve looped the ball over the coverage to Coleman on a mini-fly route that would’ve gained big yards.

#3 possesses some up side, but the simple fact of the matter is that it isn’t viable with Coleman. He’s just not that type of back. There aren’t actually that many, and none on the Huskies’ roster (that we know of). So, we dismiss this.

With the time on the clock, just THROW THE BALL AWAY!! Given the nature of the read Browning had, it’s just that simple.

From this angle, you can see just how fast things happen. Browning reads the blitz, but has still only has about a second until the pressure is in his face. He finds his hot route, but doesn’t take into account the defensive end. He’s got to do that.

If Alabama hadn’t blitzed, the end would’ve continued up the field, and the inside linebacker would’ve picked up Coleman in coverage. Browning could’ve either found someone open down the field, or could’ve come back to the opposite side and found Chico McClatcher.

1st and 10:

While there likely wasn’t a ton to be had here, this play is actually fairly solidly blocked. If the running back hits the hole, that is....

Instead, Myles Gaskin doesn’t like what he sees on this power run, and doesn’t get up the field behind Nick Harris’ power block. He makes an extra cut in the backfield, and tries to bounce the play outside. That allows Alabama’s pursuit to get to him, and bring him down for no gain.

The daylight Harris is small, granted, but that’s really all you’re going to get against a defense as good as Alabama’s. Coming to a complete stop and dancing behind the line of scrimmage is a sure recipe for disaster. On this play, Gaskin needed to hit the hole - hard - and just take what was available. He wasn’t going to juke Alabama laterally.

3rd and 6:

Jake Browning keeps his eyes down the field, which is good. He counts on his running back to pick up the blitzer, which is also good. But once he feels pressure, he makes the mistake of trying to escape out the back instead of stepping up in to the pocket.

It might not have mattered, because Myles Gaskin doesn’t make a great block and the linebacker may have gotten the sack anyway, but had Browning stepped up earlier, he likely had Darrell Daniels (the inside receiver of the three on the offense’s right) coming open on a corner route. Simply put, the Huskies’ pass blockers were defeated on this play.

2nd and 6:

The offense roles the pocket to its right on sprint-out action from Jake Browning to try and give a little more time to the quarterback.

Browning is moving toward the trips side of the formation. There was a play to be made here early on, but one of two things happens:

The inside slot receiver (Aaron Fuller?) is running a quick out. If Browning had thrown the ball to him, early, there was a completion to be made. Not for terribly many yards, but a completion nonetheless.

John Ross doesn’t run the right route as the outside receiver. He stops short, meaning the quick out route is coming right at him, and the offense has two men in the same area.

If Ross’ route was correct, then he is likely there to block. If the ball had been thrown on time, there might have been yards to be had. It’s also likely that Ross was supposed to run deeper, to clear out space for the underneath receiver. Alabama frequently runs what’s known as a “pattern-matching zone defense,” which means that the defenders play man-to-man technique within their defensive zone, but pass off a receiver to another defender when the receiver leaves his zone. The usual rule with pattern-matching defense is “man deep only,” meaning that a cornerback will convert to man-to-man defense if the receiver releases deep; had Ross run a deeper route, the corner over him would’ve stayed with him, and the deep route likely would’ve drawn the attention of the deep safety on that side of the field as well.

2nd and 10:

A zone-read from the Huskies.

Or, at least the look. If this was a true read, then Browning should’ve recognized that the correct decision was to keep the ball; the Huskies had that side of the field well-blocked, and he would’ve had at least a chunk of yards.

As it was, he handed off. While no one would say there was a “gaping hole” to the offense’s left, there was a small crease at the point of attack (between the left tackle, and the double-team block of the center and left guard). Myles Gaskin doesn’t like the look, and tries to bounce the play outside. The result is a tackle for lost yards.

From behind, you can see there is in fact a small crease. Gaskin needs to hit it as hard and as quickly as he can against a defense that pursues as well as Alabama’s.

3rd and 10:

This route concept is very similar to the sprint-out a couple of plays before. The slot receiver is running a mid-range out route, and the receiver on the outside, this time, runs deep to clear space.

This is one of the more difficult throws to make in football, from one hashmark to the far sideline. This will never be Jake Browning’s forte, but he’s shown throughout the year he can effectively make this throw when he can get the ball out on time, and when he’s really able to use his whole body to drive the ball. Even though the ball is thrown mostly on time from a clean pocket, it’s late getting to the receiver (Aaron Fuller). At the very end of this gif, you can see Browning falling back from the throw instead of driving over the top of his left (plant) leg. It’s very possible that the injury to his shoulder simply prevented him from being able to use his whole body to make this type of throw - as well as others we’ve shown here and in the recent past.

3rd and 3:

Another sprint-out, but with a pocket that doesn’t really move.

Two things to note on this play. First, the route isn’t great by the receiver. He’s running an out route, but he’s drifting down the field instead of making a square cut. You can see his cut as at around the Husky 49 yard-line, but he’s in to Alabama territory when the ball gets to him. Second, Browning just doesn’t have everything into this throw. He never gets his shoulders turned from the receiver (meaning this is really just an “arm” throw), and he falls away from the pass instead of running through it.

By this point, it should be clear: Something just wasn’t right with Jake Browning. The “little stuff” - like throwing fundamentals - is actually a big part of his game, and a reason for his success. For him to be this consistently off certainly says that he just couldn’t do it the way he did in October.