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Film Study: Tale of two halves in win over Utah

That first half was... ugly.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Utah at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, if you turned that off in the first half, we can hardly blame you. Even if it was to take a deep breath, walk away from the horror, and check your phone 30 minutes later to see if things were turning around. Not talking about anyone in particular (John Sayler).

Detlef Schrempf thinks John is not a true fan:

We disagree. When you are a real fan, you lose your shit sometimes. Besides, turning off the TV is not the same as changing the channel, right? It’s like being at the game, going to get a hot dog, taking a long walk to the farthest bathroom, and hoping to hear a thunderous roar from above as you stand at the urinal.


To the Film:

1st & Goal:

First up, we’ve got Utah’s first TD early in the 1st quarter. As mentioned in Coach’s Corner this week, Jake Bentley was the most effective QB we’ve faced so far because of his willingness to utilize his feet. Neither Tristan Gebbia, nor Grant Gunnell, were quite as slippery when evading defenders, and although he didn’t get huge chunk yardage, he was frustratingly efficient when scrambling against our pass-oriented play calls in long down and distances.

Here in a first and goal situation, their whole playbook is open, and they choose to go with a passing look with 11 personnel split out wide in a shotgun trey look. Their TE, Brant Kuithe, is very similar to Hunter Bryant, so it makes sense that our defense countered with a conservative coverage look that left a pretty soft run front. Maybe we weren’t that concerned with Kuithe’s blocking, but by pure numbers, Utah has a pretty favorable run look with 6 blockers vs. 6 in the box. Utah jumps on what it looks like we’re giving them and calls a RPO look where the option element effectively gives them the numbers advantage in the box. This isn’t the end of the world from a defensive perspective since our defensive structure forces option plays to get strung out as long as possible to allow for the safeties to get involved and level the numbers, but this is a fundamentals bust at the point of attack.

This game, Coach K shuffled the defensive front with Ryan Bowman out by putting Josiah Bronson out on the edge. Bronson’s pretty athletic, and the field-side Edge spot does a lot of the edge setting against the run, so theoretically we should’ve seen a more robust rushing defense with this line up. However, Bronson’s in experience as an Edge playing the option sees him bite way too hard on the RB despite initially sealing off the edge against a Bentley run. Had he kept wide, he would’ve either forced a handoff into a hard charging Elijah Molden, or Bentley would’ve had to deal with him immediately in his face instead of the green grass he found once Molden vacated the alley. It’s tough to blame Bronson here because he’s playing out of position, and it’s a good reminder that it’s hard to shuffle our way to a stronger run defense on the fly.

3rd & 5:

Here we have what could’ve been a brutal turnover, reminding us that Dylan Morris is still just a redshirt freshman. From a play calling perspective, John Donovan drew up a pretty decent concept that put Cover 3 beater (slant/flat) on one side and a Cover 2 beater (double slants) on the other. This puts the onus on Morris to make the correct coverage read pre-snap and pick the better concept for what he’s seeing. He went with the slant/flat against the Cover 3 look.

As the name suggests, Slant/Flat concepts are simple 2-man concepts where the QB reads slant-to-flat as the two routes create horizontal stress on the LB. This concept is particularly effective against Cover 3 looks because the CB usually plays off the LOS, thus giving the WR an easy release, and the LB that usually has to pick up the flat zone would need to bail hard at the snap to keep up with the RB, thus opening a huge passing window for the slant. This is a one-read concept that is regularly run at the HS level, so Morris has been confident ripping throws to the slant. He reads the stationary LB post-snap, so he immediately checks to his RB. The problem is that Utah was setting a trap.

Donovan’s run-heavy game plans try to force defenses into single-high looks, so when our offense gets into 3rd & medium situations, slant/flat is a go-to quick hitting play. Knowing this, Utah dialed up a pretty straight forward Cover 2 disguised as a Cover 3 to try to pick on this tendency. Cover 2 underneath zones put the slant and the flat routes running into zone defenders, so that concept was pretty much DOA. The disguise was decent, with the down safety over the #2 WR on the field side rotating pretty hard at the snap, but Morris should’ve recognized some of the tips. The rotating safety (#4) had body language that looked like he was bailing, and his alignment depth was pretty deep for playing the field-side flat zone in a Cover 3. Usually Morris does a good job of using the snap count to get the defense to tip their hand pre-snap, but this time he didn’t. Its a lesson learned, and we came away no worse on this play.

2nd & 1:

This was a horrible run defense rep for us, and it lets us look into areas that we still need to shore up in our run defense. Before we point fingers, it’s important to outline what we are asking of our DTs, because we think they’ve gotten a bit more blame than they deserve this year and especially on this play. Yes, they’ve been bullied a bit at the LOS this year, but over all, they’ve done a decent job given what they are facing. Our defense works best when we have DTs that can 2-gap effectively. This means that they can lock down the 2 gaps on either side of an OL, not that they should be taking on 2 blockers all day long. 99% of the time, 2 P5 OL should be able to move 1 P5 DT.

What really killed us, and our DTs, was our LBs slow reaction to the play. Our LBs reacted so slowly that you can see that by the time they read run, they were only able to take one step forward before they were getting bowled over by Utah’s OL. This puts our DTs in a bad spot because it gives the OL an extra second where they have to stand up to a double team before one of the OL has to peel off and pick up the LB.

Utah came at us with a basic weakside inside zone run out of a bunch set, something that we’ve run pretty regularly on offense, so its mind-boggling why our LBs took so long to react. On top of that, Utah didn’t do a very good job of actually executing this play. As you can see in the endzone view, it looks like the RB is reading the RG-RT combo block. Here, the RT actually peels off the double team too soon since there wasn’t an immediate threat, and he ended up with no one to block. The RB sees the RT disengage and starts to plant to cut right. The fact that the RT stopped blocking on the play clogs the RB’s hole, so he starts to work his way back left and follows the LG-C double team that took Jacob Bandes 10 yards down field because Alphonzo Tuputala basically took himself out of the play.

We need better flow from our second-level defenders to prevent calamities like this. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the DL and the LBs, and they need to tighten things up. It’s also worth noting that the group on the field was pretty young, with guys like Tuputala, Bandes, Faatui Tuitele, and Cooper McDonald all on the field. They’ll get better with experience, but we’ll be taking body blows like this until that happens.

2nd & 4:

This was one of the only chunk plays that we got in the first half, and its a good example of how Donovan made a subtle adjustments on the fly. Half-way through the 2nd quarter, we had already seen that our power run game wasn’t working so well, and that the Utah LBs were crashing hard at anything that looked like a run. Donovan decided to change tack a little by calling this inside zone slice concept to mix things up.

This isn’t a huge departure from the inside run-heavy game plan, but the slice action from Jack Westover helps to create an easy cutback lane for Sean McGrew. This play design takes advantage of the LBs hard flow, and is a good counter concept. Another subtle coaching point that isn’t immediately obvious in the moment is that we had our OL immediately release to the second level to engage the LBs. In contrast to the previous clip of Utah running a double team-heavy inside zone concept, we almost completely ignored getting double teams. We were looking for the cutback lane all day long. The LBs flow took them out of the picture, and the immediate releases kept them there. Solid play all-around.

3rd & 6:

Here’s a prime example of a halftime adjustment that paid huge dividends and is only possible because of how strong our pass rush is this year. Here we’re in an obvious passing situation, and we check into our usual 1-4-6 rush dime personnel that swaps Sam Taimani for Kyler Gordon. Instead of our typical alignment with one of the OLBs playing on the interior and Edefuan Ulofoshio on the edge, we play a wide 3-man front with the ILBs feigning pressure over the guards.

For the play, Coach K calls an aggressive 1 man look but only rushes the 3 down linemen. We keep the ILBs back as lurkers against the underneath check down and as half-field spies on Bentley after getting burned by his mobility earlier in the game. It’s riskier call since we could’ve been sitting ducks against long crossers (as Utah called) if he has time to throw, but we get quick pressure on a very simple rush scheme. Both ZTF and Sav’ell Smalls soundly beat their blockers and flush Bentley out of the pocket. He tries to make an off-platform throw that is off-target and Molden makes the play.

The only coaching point we could see in the defensive front would be for Jackson Sirmon to trigger faster when he sees Bentley break contain, and if he’s going to rush, he needs to put more pressure on the QB. Sirmon didn’t rush fast enough to make a tackle, and he pulled up so early that he couldn’t affect the pass. Otherwise this was a very nice play.

2nd & 9:

This is where we should be putting more emphasis in our passing game. So far this season we’ve taken deep shots off of play action to our perimeter threats, and although the play designs have worked, the chemistry isn’t there between Morris and the WRs. Instead, some of our most consistent chunk yardage passing plays have come from shots over the middle to Cade Otton.

Similar to the scissors concept we broke down last week, here we get a hard play action fake with a over the middle to Otton. Given how hard the Utah LBs were flowing to any sort of run action, we were surprised we didn’t attack over the middle more. We threw in pulling action from Ale for good measure, and it sucked the LBs up a solid 3-4 yards before they recognized the fake.

Here in the endzone view we also have a good view of the coverage that we were facing, and again we get to see Utah playing a similar Cover 2 disguised as a Cover 3. Fortunately for us this time, the rotation works to our benefit as neither safety was in a good position to break on the ball, and it opened up the middle of the field to give Otton more room. Also we get a good example of how Morris’ quick trigger bails out some of our bad pass pro reps. Ulumoo Ale has an easy shot on Mika Tafua (shout out another 808 kid), but he totally whiffs on the block after faking the pull.

Again, an all-around good play.

1st & 10:

The very next play we again see how important Otton is becoming in our passing game as we go right back to him on a play action shot play. Here we go with a play action look that mirrors the zone slice action that we were having some success with and that we broke down earlier. This time Devin Culp is in on the slice action, which like the pulling action is a great run sell for LBs, and the LBs are again sucked up 3-4 yards into the LOS.

For the rest of the play concept, Donovan called a classic play action concept in wide zone-based offenses (ex. Shanahan, McVay, and James Franklin) known as “Leak”. The play works by having the backside TE (Otton in this case since the play action is faking a run to the left) block down as they would in a zone play, but then have him leak past his fake block and run what amounts to a wheel route up the opposite sideline. Morris’s boot action towards the right will then pull the reeling defense back towards him, and hopefully Otton is wide open. As you can see, this play worked like a charm, and Otton gets us that much close to securing the comeback.

Final Drive, 1st & 10:

Last up we have a play from our game winning series that captures all of the qualities that Morris exhibited that made this last drive possible. Here in 1st & 10, Donovan looks to have called a Verts concept to get the ball moving downfield quickly. Morris has a 5-step drop out of shotgun, and quickly realizes that his initial read isn’t going to develop before the Utah DE opposite of Kirkland is going to flush him out of the pocket. This shows an excellent feel for pressure and poise in knowing where he needs to move to keep the play alive. Morris calmly climbs the pocket and moves out to his left while keeping his eyes downfield. This turns the play into a scramble drill of sorts, so Puka Nacua converts his route into a type of deep comeback/out route to snag the best catch of the game.

The awareness of pressure, ability to move in the pocket to evade it, then throw an accurate ball on the move (to his left nonetheless) are innate traits for a QB, and Morris has the makings of a big-time QB. On at least four separate occasions on that drive, he had to lean on those traits, and he marched us right down the field. I’m excited to see what he might be able to do with a more wide-open attack as his career progresses.

The Huskies pulled out a game that —from a Film Study perspective— had a TON of “Oh, No” moments. The run defense is getting killed at the point of attack, and it’s the slow reaction of the linebackers that is consistently allowing these runs to go for more yardage than they should. The LBs started playing more instinctively in the second half, and we should be looking better moving forward as they figure things out.

It looks like teams are going to load up and crash hard on the UW running attack, which is why the power run concepts have been looking sluggish. Some teams (like Utah and their nasty front) will be able to do it. Some will not. We doubt the Huskies will change their concept of trying to create big runs via cutback lanes, so expect to see some negative runs, or some parts of the game when it looks like they can’t get anything going on the ground.

The good news is that Dylan Morris is not just a game manager. He’s an aggressive gunslinger who is also going to make some mistakes. He’s capable of moving the ball down the field via the short/intermediate passing game when the Huskies need him to. With opponents crashing the LOS to stop the run, they will need it every week. Dialing in the long ball would really help.

3-0. Here comes Stanford.