Taking one last look back at the Oregon State game, we’re diving into the offense’s performance in the 27-24 loss.
As has been the norm for most of the season, the Husky offense did a few things really well, and a few things horrifically bad. The good and bad are almost never the same things every week, and that’s frustrating.
This week, the team decided to be an explosive rushing team but completely forgot how to pass the ball for long stretches of the game. That’s not to say there weren’t any big passing plays, Dylan Morris just couldn’t string together enough to keep drives going consistently.
We might’ve found a winning strategy in the rushing attack, and it will be huge for this team if they can build on that. There’s lessons to learn every week, but despite general dysfunction on this side of the ball, the offense looks to have some answers on film now.
At the end of the game, the offense that came up short on 4th & 1, but overall, we don’t think it’s fair to place the blame for this loss on the offense.
To the film:
1st & 10:
Starting the game off on a positive note, we saw Morris come out with guns blazing on the first possession. Rolling with our our preferred 11 personnel, we call a Verts concept lined up in a new 3x1 “Nub” formation versus a single-high shell. A “Nub” tag on a formation indicates that the TE (Culp here) is playing as a Y-TE (attached to the line) with the three WRs playing in a trips alignment on the opposite side. This is a popular formation because the TE to one side, the RB aligned opposite of the TE, and the WRs on the opposite side split puts the defense in run/pass conflict by making the run strength of the formation different than the pass strength of the formation. If defenses want to play pure man coverage from a single-high shell and nickel personnel, they would need to either put a safety on one of the two slot receivers (a mismatch), or they could put the safety on the TE side (a preferable match up) but tip off the offense of their coverage. In this case, they preserve the match up integrity and show the safety (#7) over Culp. On this play, we also see Odunze go into short return motion to get a second confirmation of man coverage.
With all the signs pointing towards man coverage, this play becomes a simple read off the safety. The CB over McMillan (#5) is aligned off the LOS, so the fade ball to the far sideline is probably out of the picture pre-snap. Odunze getting a clean release up the left hash seam off of motion could be promising depending on the spacing of the FS deep. The receivers should be looking for coverage clues pre-snap, like Morris, and Bynum saw the likely man coverage. With the understanding that Culp’s drag route should hold #7 shallow and probably draw him inside, Bynum flattens out his crossing route to attack the hole that #7 vacated. This maximizes the horizontal stress on the safety and helps Bynum get open quickly before the pressure package gets to Morris. Odunze’s seam route holds the FS just long enough for Bynum to race to the end zone for the first score of the game.
This play feels like one of Donovan’s scripted plays because of its use of motion and both the concept and formation are new or seldom-used during his more normal play calling. You’re supposed to use the scripted plays to probe the defense and figure out what works so that you can go back to the well later in the game. Motion worked well, and we hope the staff is taking notes to incorporate it into future game plans.
2nd & 6:
We wanted to take a closer look at a couple plays from the last drive before halftime to dissect what got us going on the ground. For once this season, it looked like we could string together a drive that got first downs because of the run game and not in spite of it.
On this play, we are rolling with 11 personnel aligned in a shotgun trey wing weak look. That’s to say that we have the RB aligned to the same side as the TE. As Coach B went into at length in last week’s Coach’s Corner, this formation, and especially the alignment of the RB relative to the TE, is a huge tell that we’re going to be running inside zone to the weakside of the formation (away from the TE). Now OSU is playing a single high shell, so they get the +1 in the box over us, but their pre-snap alignment largely negates their numbers advantage and the fact that they should’ve known what we were going to do if it was a run.
Somewhat surprisingly, OSU counters our formation with 3-3-5 personnel in an under front look (OLB plays as the overhang on the weakside with the weakside DE kicking in to a 4i-tech). Based on the sideline camera angle, it looks like the DE over Kirkland is either head-up or slightly inside of Kirkland in a 4i-tech, and the overhang defender is the box safety playing 4 yards off the line and widened out in the “alley” (between the line & the slot). This is an important pre-snap win for the offense because this essentially eliminates the problem of dealing with the unblocked end man on the LOS. Most of our opponents played the backside edge player very aggressively in pursuit to blow up our zone runs, so we’ve always had to dedicate blockers to counter. However, now with the most dangerous unblocked defender so far off the ball, Culp & Kirkland can focus on getting a combo block on the DE to the SAM and rolling up the edge of the defense to create a massive backside cutback lane for Pleasant.
Another key detail that opened things up for KP’s run was our elongated backfield mesh action. We’re confident that this was an inside zone with a backside slant to Bynum tagged as an RPO. The read on this RPO would’ve been the box safety where if he drops into the slant’s passing lane, then Morris would hand off, but if he attacks the LOS, then Morris can get Bynum on a quick slant with good inside alignment for a clean release. The safety drops at the snap to squeeze the passing lane, and Morris gives the hand off. The safety’s hesitation gets Pleasant 3 yards past the LOS before contact and gives him the space to put a move on the safety to gain the extra 8-9 yards. Its a pretty basic play design detail that really toys with the conflicted defender for the bonus yardage, but OSU’s poor alignment set this play up for success.
3rd & 5:
Just a few plays later, we get another big run from Pleasant. Again, we’re sticking with our 11 personnel on the play, but this time we are in a 2x2 formation. Before we take a look at the play design, we wanted to call attention to the WR spacing at the bottom of the play. In most of our 2x2 formations, we have our slot receiver lined up on the inside edge of the hash mark, but on this play we have Odunze aligned ~2 yards outside of the hash mark. It might be a subtle change, but having him aligned slightly wider starts to force the defense to tip their hand and draw the nickel defender out of run support. A tighter alignment would allow the nickel defender to play from the “alley”, but the nickel would be so wide splitting the distance in the “alley” that he wouldn’t be able to play the run or pass effectively, which forces him to commit to one or the other. In this case, he’s sucked out to the perimeter, and it basically telegraphs that the defense is in man coverage. Of course, another way of looking at it is that man coverage is the easiest way to account for the wide splits, so we may have backed them into man coverage. Zone would’ve made a lot more sense in this 3rd & medium situation because it’d keep eyes in the backfield and trigger DB run support quicker.
In the box, OSU is countering our formation with nickel personnel and is stacking the LOS with all 6 box defenders. The Beavers should’ve gotten the +1 in the box given their single high shell, but they played their strong safety back 8-9 yards deep like we do, so he was basically a non-factor in run support. This leaves us with the rare even number run match up. Back to the play, we mix it up this time, and trying to break tendencies, Donovan dials up a run to the strong side of the formation. We also decide to break our zone run tendency by running Duo, the most zone-like non-zone play out there. Many of the basic combo blocks that are built into zone are also present in Duo, but these double teams and blocking assignments are determined pre-snap. Really, this doesn’t matter much because the defense is stacking the LOS and makes almost everything a 1v1 block. In a 1v1 situation like this, the best we can hope for is for guys to open rushing lanes by riding the defender’s momentum to widen gaps, which is exactly what happened. The defense slants to the offense’s right at the snap, and Kirkland rolls the blitzing LB down the LOS.
The blocking up front was probably sufficient enough to get half the yardage necessary to pick up the 1st down (despite Ale completely whiffing his block on the front side), but it was the perimeter blocking at the second level that turned this into a big pick up. The key block on this play was McMillan’s block on the safety. A less well-discussed aspect of blocking design and install is where the WRs factor in. Most teams just default to having their WRs either take outside releases in man coverage to run off DBs, or they will have their WRs try to block DBs straight up if its zone. However, this coverage-based adjustment to McMillan’s blocking assignment shows that Adams is drilling some of the finer coaching points in the run game. Pre-snap alignment should have already tipped McMillan off to man coverage, so he knows that the CB is focusing on shadowing him and is a non-factor in run support. This allows McMillan to focus on the strong safety, who is the force defender on the play that would’ve triggered in run support. He lays a nice hit on the safety right before he was able to plug the gap. KP was able to make a quick cut behind his block, and he was off to the races.
On the replay angle we get a better look at the OL footwork that show that this was Duo and not zone. Generally speaking, fans at home can get away with making the zone vs. Duo distinction based on if the RB is initially aiming with or against the flow of the OL. However, this can get messy if you have an immediate cutback lane like the last play we broke down, or if there is a designed cutback like on zone slice. The 100% accurate tell is in the footwork. All zone run plays start with the OL taking their zone step in unison. On the replay, almost everyone takes an initial step to their right, but we see Bainivalu take his first step to his left, towards a pre-snap assignment to block the DT. This is a dead giveaway that this was Duo blocking.
This angle also shows how little vertical movement is necessary to open gaps in the rushing game. Curne, Bainivalu, and Kirkland all blocked their assignments in what amounted to pass protection. None of them really fired off the ball to move them off the LOS, and instead they all rode their defender’s momentum out of the play. The defense was burned by their slanting on this play because it left them less than gap sound against a run play that relies on the RB’s ability to read the defensive flow rather than hammer a specific gap like on a power play. Duo targets the A-gap (initially uncovered by the defense), but KP read the slant perfectly, cut inside Culp’s solid block on the edge, and made another cut past the safety. If we have RBs with the vision and instincts, we need to lean on them more by running Duo and wide zone runs that create more horizontal stress on defenses and take advantage of our OL’s athleticism.
1st & 10:
Dylan Morris has one MAJOR flaw, and it’s his immediate post-snap recognition.
Here we got a big sack that nearly killed one of our late scoring drives when we were in do-or-die mode. At first glance, one might think that this was another blown protection assignment by our OL, which is fair considering their poor showing this season in making the correct pre-snap protection adjustments. However, on this play, our OL actually has a pretty solid pass protection rep.
In a 1st & 10 situation where there’s no clear run or pass lean, we come out in a shotgun trey open formation with the TE flexed into the slot. OSU shows a 4-2 front and a 2-high shell at the snap, so there’s no immediate pressure threat from the defense that would trigger a blocking adjustment. Because the passing concept that calls for McGrew to release into the field side flat, Morris and the OL should know that they are only going to have a 5-man protection. Hard to tell if this is a true slide-man protection or a straight big-on-big protection call based on the post-snap reactions by the OL, but it definitely looks like Bainivalu and Curne are locked in on blocking the DT & DE in front of them, thus leaving any potential blitzers as the hot reads for Morris. In this case, the CB #1 comes on a CB blitz from the nearside. It’s subtle, but you can see Odunze try to point out the blitz right before the snap, but #1 kept his pressure well-disguised until the last minute.
It looks to us that Morris should’ve been responsible for the blitzing corner, and his total obliviousness to the pressure is what got him sacked. For all the hype that QBs get for their ability to make the throws, read the coverage, and evade pressure, its the little game management details that can often make the biggest difference in offensive efficiency. During his coaching days, Coach B taught QBs to run through a 3-item pre-snap checklist: 1. identify the coverage shell, 2. identify the MIKE for the OL, and 3. identify the potential blitzers. The coverage shell read identified route adjustments for the WRs, the MIKE call set the fulcrum for the slide protection, and ID’ing the blitz threats kept the QB & the blockers on the same page when it came to who was accounting for who (including the hot read). It doesn’t look like Morris is doing much of a pre-snap check operation on a down-to-down basis, so its fair to wonder how much pre-snap reading he or the OL is doing to set themselves up for success.
1st & 10:
Who would’ve thought that the Wildcat would yield us our longest run of the season? Definitely not us. Against OSU, we showed another wrinkle in our Wildcat package with a 3 RB backfield, but we kept with the same basic concept run out of this new formation. This is Power O all day, and the combo of Redman washing the edge of the defensive front, KP getting a clean block on the kick out, and Ale leading the way through the gap was simply text book. OSU was scrambling late pre-snap to get aligned right, but their tight 3-4 front wasn’t going to have all the answers anyways.
For whatever reason, Giles Jackson on the jet motion continues to hold the WILL on the backside instead of flowing with the pulling guard, so we had the numbers advantage at the point of attack. The execution at the LOS got McGrew 5 yards downfield untouched, but it was his playmaking that got him into the end zone. The CB #1 knew he didn’t have to worry much about Morris so he and the safety trigger down in run support pretty quickly. By the time they arrive, McGrew was already downfield, which would’ve been a real nice gain on 1st down, but McGrew was able to shake off both attempted tackles and race to the end zone for the score.
We haven’t made much of an attempt to incorporate Power and some of the window dressing into our shotgun run game, but the continued success on these Wildcat plays suggest we should look into it.
4th & 1:
This might be a divisive play call here, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that the QB sneak is a good call in this situation. Outside of the QB sneak, our offense hasn’t had a sure fire short yardage play for a couple of years now. Stanford has their jumbo package, a lot of teams have some sort of dive play that they hang their hat on, but we don’t. The Wildcat with McGrew had been working for most of the game, but we had been stuffed on a Wildcat play on the previous play, so going back to the well would be a tough go. A more spread out formation to run out of was another option here, but in 4th & 1, the chances that we were going to run up the middle were pretty high. OSU could’ve gone with a Cover 0 look in that situation, and we would’ve still been outnumbered in the box like we were here.
Finally, passing was also an option here, but it’d represent an extremely aggressive play call. Situationally play action could’ve been really tricky on the defense, but again, a Cover 0 call, like they had here, puts the defense in man coverage where eyes are locked on the eligible receivers instead of the backfield. This makes it tough to get guys open off the snap and mitigates the effectiveness of the backfield action. That’s not to say that a play action pass couldn’t work in this situation, but the merits and advantages of a play action pass over the sneak are pretty minimal. If we absolutely had to pass in this situation, a rollout or some sort of moving pocket concept that can buy time for the QB against the pressure and mess with the defense’s coverage assignments would be our pick.
We went with the play that had been a reliable winner for us, and if you don’t think we could get one yard on a sneak against OSU, then you really shouldn’t be thinking that this loss was a letdown at all.
We’ve seen several different ways of coaching the sneak, so we’re not sure if Morris was supposed to hit a specific gap or go over the top. Regardless, we have to block the immediate threats, so having a player shoot the gap that Morris tried to nuzzle into screwed up the play right from the get go.
UCLA has the worst pass defense in the Pac-12, and are tops against the run. The passing game needs to be more explosive this week, as the sledding could be tougher on the ground.