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Film Study: Huskies have their way with Arizona

Someday, Todd Marinovich will buy Grant Gunnell a beer, and they can discuss all they saw on Montlake

NCAA Football: Arizona at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Huskies executed their gameplan in impressive fashion Saturday night, and it happened in front of virtually no one at Husky Stadium. Man, how the Dawgs would have loved to have their howling, barking fans there to enjoy this party with them.

But UW had purple smoke sprayed out of the tunnel (a huge key), a very fired up and excitable head coach, and some really good football players who brought their own enthusiasm to the game. On TV, it almost felt like a packed house environment.


To the Film.


3rd and 10:

Right off the bat we have a play that is a microcosm of why UW had such a dominant performance against Arizona. In this case, an instance of how we simply out executed a less talented defense playing a fairly conservative defensive coverage and got great results.

Situationally we have an obvious passing situation on 3rd & 10 well within our own territory. Pre-snap we can see that Arizona basically wanted to play off coverage in a 2-high safety look (probably drop zone or catch technique in man), rally hard to prevent the first down, and force the punt. To counter this, Donovan dials up what looks to be a Hi-Lo combination known as “China” on the boundary side that gives us a few options depending on what the defense gives us. Cade Otton running a crosser route from the far side of the formation gives a different look that the traditional China concept (usually a dig + corner from the same side), but it works the same way in attacking the CB over Puka Nacua Hi-Lo. The CB bails into the hole to cover Otton, so that opens the second read, Nacua. When Morris hits the top of his drop, he sees two things: Nacua running free underneath, and a twisting DE coming hard with a free shot on him. Morris makes a good (not great) throw in the face of pressure, and Nacua makes an excellent adjustment to the football.

The route design here clears out a gaping hole for Puka to get the easy catch & run TD.

The beauty in this play design is that it’s a pretty simple 1-2 read between Otton & Puka, but the other routes complement the primary reads. For example, Terrell Bynum runs a post/dig type of route that pre-snap doesn’t look too promising given the tight spacing of the two-safeties likely preventing a shot over the middle. Same goes for Ty Jones, whose fade route against a CB 10-yards off the LOS is DOA. However, their vertical action clears out the defenders to maximize Puka’s catch & run chances to get the first down.

1st and 10:

One of our favorite parts about the game plan against Arizona was how big of an emphasis we made Otton in the offense. Not only did he get his usual blocking and safety valve assignments, but we unleashed him deep to dominate over the middle.

In this play, Donovan dials up a deep pass on 1st down (love the aggressive play call) with a hard play action fake. Pre-snap Arizona comes out in a 2-high look, but with the CBs playing so far off the LOS, there’s a decent chance that we see a Cover 4 look post-snap. Whether its a Cover 2 or a Cover 4, Donovan’s play call is ready with a traditional China look towards the top of the screen and a Scissors concept to the bottom for Morris to pick between off the snap. China typically works best against Cover 2 looks and Scissors is much better against man because it features a natural pick point where the routes cross. The key play design/calling principle to remember here is that Cover 4 (which is what Arizona ends up being in) essentially turns into man coverage once the receivers run 8-10 yards downfield (depending on how its taught). Both Morris and Otton recognize this so Otton gets a nice break into the post and is wide open for the strike over the middle.

Another key aspect of this play is how we sell out to imitate run action on this shot play by pulling LG Ulumoo Ale in addition to faking the hand off. Often times it isn’t the fake hand off that tricks the defense into thinking that its a run play. Instead, its usually how the offensive line blocks off the snap that influences how the LBs react to the play. In this case, it works spectacularly sucking the Wildcat ILBs a full 3 yards into the LOS and vacating the space for Otton to get open.

3rd and 8:

Part of our defensive dominance this past week was our ability to get solid pressure in passing situations. Some of this was in the form of creative pressure packages, and some of it was simply having better pass rushers than they had blockers. In the play above we had a mix of both.

It’s 3rd & 8 and an obvious passing situation. Coach K dials up a Cover 1 man-blitz out of a 5-man front to get after Grant Gunnell, who was already getting rattled after a couple of hits earlier and no easy options to get rid of the ball quickly. Arizona lines up in a pretty standard trips formation out of the shotgun which affords up to 6 blockers to counter our blitz. The RB ends up releasing, but the possibility of having 5 on 6 necessitates some creativity to get the defense an edge. Off the snap, we have our interior 3 (Ulofoshio, Bowman & Bronson) all slant hard to their left and loop our left EDGE play (Sirmon) all the way around to the right B-gap.

This is somewhat similar to a DL stunt we called against OSU, but instead of having Josiah Bronson loop around we have the slightly faster Jackson Sirmon. The difference this week is that we have Ulofoshio actually shoot the A-gap instead of trying to plow the OG into the center. He does it so well that the actual play design gets a little lost in the shuffle as Ulofoshio nearly gets the sack by himself after completely turning the guard around. His combination of speed, quickness, and technique are part of what pushed him to the top of the conference last year in pressure rate. He’ll be a key piece in our blitz packages.

2nd and 7:

The play here isn’t all that special, but we wanted to throw this one in here in order to show and discuss some of the reasoning behind why our bunched & condensed formations are actually a good thing. So much of the last decade has been spent popularizing the modern spread option offenses that old-school power run games have fallen out of favor. The idea of spreading an offense out with skill players and leveraging space is certainly an effective philosophy, but what gets lost is that while the spread run game minimizes the impact that bad perimeter/auxiliary blockers have, it also minimizes the impact that really good blockers have. The best spread run games also have elite QBs that can either leverage the perimeter talent through the air or can be the trigger man in an option heavy scheme. We have a bunch of really good auxiliary blockers, solid perimeter talent, and a brand new QB who’s not much of a runner. The choice to make here seems obvious.

One only has to look at how versatile and effective Cade Otton and Jack Westover are to understand why we want to make them focal points of our run game and blocking schemes. In this case, we have a bunch formation where any of the flexed members of the bunch could potentially perform a block across the formation. Donovan ends up calling a counter play to the left with Bainivalu pulling and Otton leading through the hole. What isn’t shown is that out of the same formation we’ve also had lead runs with Otton or Westover leading through the hole from their bunch alignment, split zone runs with them pulling across the formation for the backside seal block, toss plays, and a full complement of passing plays. The multiplicity of our run game is amplified by our ability to have blocking threats from nearly all of our players on the field, and it’s just not possible out of spread sets.

*Mini-rant over.

1st and 10:

This play is in here to illustrate a coverage concept that was the basis of our entire game plan, and it’s a version of what we introduced last week. Here we see Coach K calling what looks to be pattern match Cover 3 mable. As we began explaining last week, pattern match Cover 3 (or as Nick Saban calls it, Rip/Liz coverage) is essentially a hybridization of man and zone coverage that offers teams a means of playing an 8-man box, play zone coverage, and protect the seams. This is accomplished by having everyone play man if the receiver in their zone runs vertical (past 8-yards, kinda similar to the rules in Cover 4), and then hand off coverage to adjacent defenders if routes break off before 8-yards.

Obviously there’s a lot of checks and adjustments that are contingent upon how the defense lines up, but fortunately, Arizona is pretty static in their formations, so it is easy to illustrate them. Generally, rip/liz coverages have the safeties rotate towards the passing strength to match numbers (in this case Alex Cook is rotated towards the 3-receiver side of the formation). To accommodate the fact that we had to rotate towards a 3x1 formation, our defense made a “mable” call. This is the standard call for locking the isolated CB in pure man coverage (Keith Taylor at the top of the screen). This allows our deep safety to worry about crossing routes and not on the wide open space the. This is also why it can be so hard to tell what the coverage responsibilities are when watching live. We actually run a lot of plays with both man and zone.

Elijah Molden reads this play perfectly. It’s like he’s saying “Are you really gonna throw it to him? Are you REALLY gonna throw it to him?? You don’t see me back here??”

1st and 10:

Yeah, this is really just here for us to gush about the potential of Cam Davis. How does someone have a 16-yard run with 16 yards after contact? With little steps, incredible balance, and power.

Outside of his hard running, Davis also showed off his solid hands on this series by making 2 rather difficult catches with the ball placed well behind him. Other than that, not a whole lot to dissect here. He’s just a really promising up-and-comer.

3rd and Todd Marinovich:

“All I saw was purple. Actually, I lost my ability to see colors in the 2nd quarter... it all looked... black?” - Grant Gunnell

Rather than a good blitz design like earlier, this was a pure coverage sack that also gave us a chance to see what our individual pass rushers could do with the cards stacked against them. Every single one of our 3 rushers faced a double team and still got decent push on the pocket.

In this second angle we have a great view of Zion Tupuola-Fetui, and he gives the RT a forearm shiver that absolutely staggers him. Then he displays the motor to outhustle everyone and get a hit on Gunnell. ZTF’s speed to power is pretty special for a guy who was such an under the radar prospect out of Hawaii (shout out another 808 guy). We once heard he was discovered by one of UW’s recruiting interns as one of their weekly assignments looking for hidden gem recruits. Such a great story.

1st and 10:

A lot was made about the 4th quarter success Arizona’s 1st team offense had against the Husky reserves. Well, here we see the ENTIRE second string offensive line creating a huge running lane against the Wildcat’s starting defense.

Kinda like the Cam Davis clip, we threw this clip up here to gush about Richard Newton. Admittedly, we were wrong in our preseason prediction that he would be one of our top playmakers by carries (close but not as clear as we thought), but Newton is still one of our best playmakers on offense. The biggest knock on him last year was his lack of high-end speed, as he was known more for his punishing running style. This should really clear things up. He’s got wheels.

A dominant effort from Jimmy Lake and his entire team, coaches, staff, etc.

The gameplan was simple, and it worked. Dylan Morris did well working from almost an exclusively clean pocket, and we will see him tested a lot more in some of these games that will hopefully be played (or added) this season.

Next up is Utah, who Kyle Whittingham will have ready to play after their week one disappointment.