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Film Study: UCLA Bruins

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Improvement?

UCLA v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Film Study guys walked out of Husky Stadium Saturday night with their heads hung low and frustration building. It was yet another winnable game, where being gashed on the ground at times hurt, and the inability to make the key plays was the dagger.

After cooling down and having a second look at the tape, we’re pleased to say there was improvement, even if the box score didn’t make it seem like there was. But, we’re going to be running out of low hanging fruit scheme wise. At some point the coaches will have to better prepare the players, and the players need to execute more consistently for the score board to look substantially better.

To the film:

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3rd and 7:

My oh my, is it good to have ZTF back?

Matching personnel nickel for nickel in an obvious passing situation on 3rd & 7, Bob Gregory dialed up a four-man pressure with a double T-E stunt (Tackle-End). Behind this stunt, we’re playing a 2-high shell just off the TV angle view, and we’re playing a soft Cover 2 drop zone coverage at the sticks. Taking a page out of our anti-Air Raid playbook, Gregory is gambling that by flooding the underneath zones with defenders, he can buy time for our defensive front can apply pressure without help and not give up easy yardage on the ground to a dual threat QB. Zone is the best call here specifically because of DTR’s rushing threat because it keeps eyes on the QB at all times and lets the DL to rush with a little less concern for gap awareness.

The stunt is the key to the play here. On the double T-E stunt, with both the DTs slanting hard to the boundary, the DTs are drawing the attention of the center and guard while ZTF is supposed to loop all the way around to the field A-gap for the open lane to the QB. There isn’t much complexity to this play, but you need to have a fast athlete to be able to loop around and hit a gap 3-gaps over from where he started. Typically, off-ball LBs would be the ones asked to run this sort of stunt, so having an edge player be able to pull it off is a big change up for an OL to block. Being able to call this stunt with ZTF detaches the back 7 coverage from the pressure while still keeping the pressure package wide open. His presence has a bigger impact than just his one-man rushing ability because it allows us to open up the defensive playbook in passing situations, which is why we wanted to show this play over ZTF’s other handful of pressures.

Just six months after tearing his Achilles, ZTF is looking explosive and agile.

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2nd and 7:

Well, this is a change up.

No, this isn’t the first time we’ve actually handed off to the jet motion man, but we really don’t like to, and we rarely get gains like this. As many of us have been calling for, we needed to incorporate more motion into the offense and get the ball into our best playmakers’ hands. This play does both.

In 2nd & 7, just inside the red zone, we stick with our usual 11 personnel in a pretty typical 2x2 formation with Pleasant aligned to the field and on the strong side of the formation. Even with Odunze flexed off the line on the boundary, this isn’t anything new for us that’d tip off the defense. Given our tendencies out of this formation, even we thought in real time that we were just going to be running to the boundary, and so did the Bruins.

The defensive front is selling out to stop the weakside zone run with a “tilted” NT. The tilted NT is just an NT that lines up in more of a shaded alignment off the center and is at a 30-45 degree angle relative to the LOS. A tilted NT that’s shaded to the backside of the anticipated zone run has an extremely favorable angle of pursuit, and his alignment makes it difficult for a backside guard to cut off on the zone. However, this same alignment makes it that much easier for the OL to seal off the NT if the play is running at him. In addition to the tilted NT, UCLA is showing a double ILB blitz look to clog the interior and barely react to the pre-snap motion. Both of these ended up biting the Bruins on the sweep.

By showing the double ILB pressure look, UCLA essentially commits to defending a downhill run because their second level players are now hampered by the traffic at the LOS and can’t flow to a perimeter run. Even though the boundary ILB bails at the last minute, he’s out of position to be able to flow fast enough to meet Pleasant in the hole. The lack of reaction to the jet motion pre-snap was an even bigger blunder though. Given how frequently we run inside zone to the weak side while tagging pre-snap jet motion to the strong side out of this formation, We don’t blame UCLA for barely bumping over their safeties and leaving #12 as the force defender against bad numbers at the point of attack. Most teams would’ve rotated the safeties or bumped out the LBs to account for the new unbalanced formation, but since they didn’t, Odunze was able to get upfield into open space without any real hinderances.

Finally, UCLA had their backside DE crash (like most of our opponents have) which was the key to opened up the blocking at the LOS. The DE crashing and letting #12 play as the force player in the alley left the C-gap wide open. Bainivalu got manhandled pretty well by the DE, but with some help from Curne he was able to stay in front of him long enough to let Odunze through. Curne actually had a really good rep here between helping to seal the edge and still releasing quickly enough to wall off the backside flow from #15. Pleasant cuts the safety just well enough to take him out of the play, and if not for the right foot of Odunze planting on the sideline, this is a TD.

UCLA played into our hand in a variety of ways on this play, but it does beg the question: why were they so confident selling out on the inside zone in the first place?

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1st and 10:

If the last play was a change up, this was a bolt out of the blue.

We hadn’t seen this sort of Emory & Henry play in the Pac-12 in years, and it was actually Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams that were the last ones that ran it. Like most plays in football, there isn’t a whole lot of complexity to defending this correctly, but it does get confusing if you aren’t prepared for it.

Basically, this play is designed to catch the defense out of position and without the right numbers matched up on the perimeter. If the defense is outnumbered on the perimeter, then its a quick screen play, and if they don’t have enough in the box, then its a simple hand off for the QB. The biggest change up is that Emory & Henry puts ineligible linemen out on the perimeter. Conventional defenses are designed to have the defensive front play gaps and have DBs play zones or receivers. Moving OL to the perimeter creates confusion for the defense because there are a non-standard number of gaps on the OL, and someone on the defensive front needs to kick out to the perimeter and essentially play man coverage to match up correctly with the OL on the perimeter.

In this case, Smalls probably should’ve bumped out to match up on the LT. Of course, all of this gets extra confusing with UCLA’s double shift prior to the snap, and they don’t have a mirrored Emory & Henry formation after the second shift. It’s sort of like the quick change mass substitution trick that some teams have tried on 4th down conversions where they try to sneak a WR onto the field without the defense matching. Still, Smalls should’ve kicked out to the perimeter. He was responsible for the C-gap, and the C-gap moved 15 yards outside.

Its a tough play to prepare for if you don’t see it regularly, and the extra window dressing makes it that much harder to adjust to.

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1st and 10:

This is a play all about safety play and how defensive play calling isn’t as simple as it seems unless you have consistently sound play across the board.

On 1st & 10 BG calls a Cover 3 out of a single-high shell look. The personnel match up is fine, and our beginning alignment is sound. Since this is a standard down, bringing the extra defender near the LOS makes a lot of sense, and if we just had Turner and McDuffie play a little closer to the box, then we’d actually have a pretty formidable run front. Turner is kept a little wide to account for the bunch at the top of the screen, but it’s odd that we only have Gordon and Turner over the bunch at the snap. We don’t know why UW didn’t just bump the second level over, or have Bookie flip over to the boundary side. All 5 eligible receivers are on the boundary side, so McDuffie and Bookie on the field side at the snap doesn’t get us much.

At the snap, our entire defense basically just spot drop with very little reaction to what they are seeing in front of them and very little proactive movement as if they don’t have any clue what is going on. Cook playing deep center field is the one to watch in particular as he drops vertically off the screen. Instead of recognizing that all his vertical threats are on one side of the field and cheating to that side, he sits in the middle of the field.

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Replay:

Here on the replay angle you can see how much space up the seam Cook gave the WR because of his pre-snap alignment, and lack of adjusting for the offense’ alignment. Remember, these are the only 3 receivers in the pattern; nothing on the other side. Cook is inside the hash drifting away from the play as this is happening. It doesn’t look like Cook even recognized the the double verticals until well after ball was snapped, at which point it was too late.

It could be argued that driving, or even drifting, to the sideline at the snap would’ve opened Cook up to the potential crosser against his flow, but he doesn’t even need to do that to take away the seam. Pre-snap Cook could’ve aligned nearer to the seam and sat at 15-20 like we usually have our safeties play. Even dropping vertically from this tighter alignment would’ve been preferable because he would’ve eliminated the seam ball from the get go.

This one is on Cook.

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3rd and 2:

Taking on a more positive tone, we have a great rep of run defense on 3rd & 2 to show how much better our defense played against the run this past week after the bye.

In a run situation, we are again matched up well personnel-wise, and we fairly well matched up numbers-wise. At the snap it looked like we might only be 6v6 in the box while sitting in a 2-high shell, a point of contention for many Husky fans. However, BG had dialed up a field side nickel blitz with Turner dropping over the slot late to help disguise the blitz. This blitz helped get us the +1 defender in the run front, and even though UCLA ran to the strong side, the +1 defender made the difference. Our whole defense was actually aligned to stop the weakside zone run. Our front was playing a quasi-under front with Bookie’s blitz acting in place of a crashing backside DE and Sirmon flowing towards the blitz to act as the backside contain. Despite our defense being set up for a run in the opposite direction, we were able to make the play because of the strong individual performances.

On an individual basis, Tuli, and Bowman both had solid reps. Bowman ate a double team and anchored the point of attack well enough to buy time for the rest of the defense to rally. Tuli had himself a great game, and this play is just one example of why. Here he was explosive off the snap, he bullied his 1v1 match up behind the LOS, and he shed the block to make a play on the ball carrier. Tuli is starting to really shine. Not to be outshone though was Eddie. He’s had a pretty quiet season, but against UCLA he was back to his more aggressive downhill playmaking. On this play he immediately diagnosed the play and was triggering downhill at the snap. Hopefully we continue to see him play fast like this.

As mentioned in Coach’s Corner this week, there was a lot of improvement in our run defense, even if the box score didn’t show it. If we continue to see improvements like this, then we’ll have a fighting chance down the stretch.

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1st and 10:

In the 2nd half we started to see a portion of the run game that we’ve wanted to see for weeks now. On this play we blend pre-snap motion, 12 personnel, and gap blocking to create a (rare) explosive run play. Running counter trey with jet motion to the backside, the offense was able to draw the backside ILB to the backside just enough to get Bainivalu and Otton over to the play side matched up on the OLB and play side ILB. This had two main benefits to the overall blocking on the play.

First, this allowed Kirkland and Ale to spend an extra split second double teaming the DL before having to even think about the backside ILB (they ended up not even needing to block him). This allowed them to widen the play side C-gap, which ended up being useful since #33 squeezed the gap so much.

Second, by eliminating the backside ILB from pursuit, this moves Pleasant’s man (the guy he has to make miss) from the play side ILB to the deep safety. Even if the deep safety triggers hard on the play, Pleasant still gets 5 yards downfield more or less untouched. From there he’s off to the races.

This play was a great reminder that even if our OL isn’t the best at downhill blocking, we do have a number of good pulling linemen, and Otton might be the best lead blocking TE in the country. Both Bainivalu and Otton land solid blocks on hard charging defenders, and they paved the way for a good run. It was also a good reminder that even without being the most talented RB in the room, Pleasant has found a way to be one of our most effective. He hit the hole with little hesitation, he slipped two ankle tackles, and he dragged two defenders another 5 yards after they both made initial contact. It’s getting tough to ignore his production.

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4th and Goal:

We’re featuring this QB sneak from the 3rd quarter to focus in on our use of certain personnel in short yardage situations. On this play, it is less about the play call and more about who we have on the field. Unlike the immediate predecessor to this play, we come out in 13 personnel instead of our 23 personnel Jumbo-I goal line package. We’re not sure of Jack Westover’s availability against UCLA, but former walk-on and back up FB Javon Forward was getting the snaps at FB. In a short yardage and goal to go situation, we’d feel a lot more comfortable having our best starters on the field for whatever play call it is. If we want to run the ball out of the Jumbo-I, we should want Westover on the field. If he’s not available, then we should reconsider the merits of running out of that formation. We had already been stuffed in the backfield on a run out of the Jumbo-I earlier in the game, so reconsidering who we’re playing makes a lot of sense here.

The play itself we’ve run a dozen or so times this season with varying success, and at it’s core it relies only on 3 or 4 players on offense to be successful (typically that doesn’t include the FB). Putting in Bynum to draw a defender out of the box, or using him on jet motion like he is here might not have as direct of an impact on the defense as a FB lead blocking for a runner, but he might be more useful than the back up FB, even in a run situation. In this case, we get one of UCLA’s players to match the motion, which leaves one less body in the box that is trying to shoot the gap.

Football is all about playing your best guys in the right positions, and we need to really evaluate who, when, where, and how we are playing our best players.

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3rd and 1:

Here’s another good example of how our defensive front is playing the run way better, but we just couldn’t completely stop an excellent rushing attack and a pretty damn talented RB. On 3rd & 1, we see great burst by the DL at the snap to nearly blow the play up in the backfield. On the edge, Bowman held up against the double team as well as anyone could expect. Both LBs triggered downhill fast, but there was one gap that wasn’t well covered by a box defender (Bookie should’ve had the gap) and Charbonnet made us pay. It could be argued that we should’ve had the safety rotate down into the box, but we realistically should’ve been covered even without.

Replay:

Here on the replay angle, you can see that we have about 6.5 guys (Bookie is kinda sorta there) in the box against 6 blockers. More than likely, Bookie had to stay wide over the slot to ensure that there wasn’t a bust in RPO responsibilities, but at the same time, Bookie does have the backside contain to account for, and his hesitancy to attack the ball once he started sniffing out the play is the difference here. He paused for half a beat and the slot was able to get in his way to spring Charbonnet.

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2nd and 7:

Finally today, we have a prime example of why its so overly simplistic to think that our defensive problems can be solved by trusting our CB duo and playing aggressively on the LOS.

Here we have a 2nd & 7 situation from the 9 yard line, and UCLA has been marching. They come out in 11 personnel aligned in a trey open 3x1 shotgun look that has their TE (Dulcich #85) in the slot, and we are matched up in nickel as well. Right before the snap, we drop Alex Cook down into the box from his deep safety position in a 2-high shell, and Turner creeps into a stacked alignment over Dulcich. Additionally, we are loading up the LOS in a pressure look. Our safeties’ movement and our pressure look more or less tips our hand that we’re playing a Cover 0 blitz.

Unfortunately, when you go into man coverage, you are leaning on your safeties and/or your LBs to match up in man coverage as well since coverage is only as good as the weakest link. In this case, Turner gets matched up on Dulcich, and he gets worked in the open field.

Replay:

Here on the all-22 angle, you can see both the pre-snap movement and how solid our perimeter coverage was with McDuffie and Gordon. You can also see that both Turner and Bookie were beat on the play. Safeties and even nickel corners are such versatile positions that they rarely are able to develop good man coverage techniques, which is why a 1v1 match up on a safety is almost always a favorable match up. One could even say that a staple of Lincoln Riley’s offense is attacking safety match ups vertically out of the slot. This is all to say that we need to look at defense holistically and not just assume that leaning on one strength won’t lead to issues in other areas.

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Better overall play design and play calling always helps, but the Huskies are running out of the smaller stuff that you can add, change, or focus on during the season. Things like motion, new-wrinkle screens, and personnel. It’s about executing on the field.

Arizona is really struggling. Can Washington execute and take advantage Friday night?

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