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Film Study: Colorado Buffaloes

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Converting 3rd downs, then giving the ball away

NCAA Football: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Huskies displayed some of their best offensive execution of the season, with Dylan Morris converting seemingly every third down with sharp, accurate passes that were held on to by his receivers. The team was able to overcome a disaster inside their opponents’ 10 yard line, and another inside their own 10 yard line, and somehow still be in position to win the football game.

These unforced blunders led to 10 points for Colorado, and erased at least 3 for UW. Still, if not for two more Morris interceptions on lousy throws, the Dawgs would have won this one even with the 13+ points surrendered on fumbled snaps.

This team just cannot avoid mistakes, and has a really hard time keeping momentum when they are able to get some things working.

To the film:

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2nd & 8:

Starting off this week’s film study with a positive play with our one and only sack of the game, coming from Jeremiah Martin. We picked this play out to showcase some of the positives on defense that could translate to next year’s defense as well. In 2nd & 8, we are expecting a pass here and call a basic 2 deep, 5 under, rush 4, Cover 2 call. Colorado is in a condensed formation that benefits outbreaking routes and crossing concepts like mesh, but they called a curl-flat/spacing concept with three hitches/curls over the middle an arrow routes to the field and a swing route to the boundary.

To be honest, this play is DOA for the offense with the coverage call perfectly matching the offensive play. With 5 underneath defenders perfectly matched up with the 5 underneath routes, even at its most simple level, this play doesn’t look right. Additionally, the condensed formation makes it hard to put the CBs in high-low conflicts between the curls and the swing/arrow routes, and there was no vertical threat to the CBs that would push them out of the flat zone where the OLBs/Nickel would be in a horizontal conflict between the hitch and the swing/arrow (like a stick concept would).

What is impressive about this defensive play was that Martin was able to create 1v1 pressure by himself. On the play, Martin threatens the outside shoulder of the RT with the speed rush just long enough for him to commit his hips to the outside. As soon as the OT flips his hips, he slams on the breaks and almost pulls off a classic speed-to-power “hump” move (a la Reggie White) where the outside speed rush threat is used to get the OT off balance before using his momentum to throw him to the ground before sacking the QB. Even though he wasn’t able to completely disengage with the move, he was able to use his long arms to out leverage the now-off-balance OT and bull him into the QB for the sack. Martin doesn’t quite have ZTF’s bend or explosiveness around the loop, or his powerful bull rush counter, but with his potential departure to the draft, the defense will be looking for a new edge rushing threat to step up and become the focal point for our pass rush. Martin’s starting to put the pieces together to unlock his tremendous talent, and if we can clean up the run defense, he could get a lot of opportunities next year to show off those pass rush moves.

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1st & Goal:

Next up we have a nifty play design that we’ve tried a couple times this year (mostly against Arkansas State), but we finally have it figured out. This play is a pretty creative spin on the double screen concept. Quick screens seemed to have a much more prominent role in the game plan as the season progressed, but unlike Donovan’s go-to WR and bubble screens, this play has a bit more complexity built into it.

Double screens, as the name suggests, have two screen concepts built into one play. In this play, we have a bubble screen to the field and a HB swing screen to the boundary. Having two screens being set up on the same play gives the QB two options when deciding where to distribute the ball, and they give the defense a lot more to process than any single screen. This play also has a good combination of screen concepts. To the field side, the bubble screen is all about getting your best playmaker the ball in space in a 1v1 situation. To the boundary, the offense is trying to get the ball to another playmaker with the best/beefiest blocking advantage possible with many of the OL releasing upfield in what is almost an extended toss play.

Pre-snap, Morris is reading how the defense aligns over the stacked WRs to the field to see if there’s a simple numbers advantage one way or another between the two screens. In this case, the defense matches the stack with one DB on the LOS and one playing off. This sets up an easier block for Taj Davis, and it provides Odunze with more space to work his 1v1 against the safety. If they had played this WR alignment with one DB with inside leverage and one with outside leverage (rather than stacked), then that probably would’ve been enough of a tip for Morris to immediately look to the swing screen. Post-snap, Morris is reading the field side Edge. If he squeezes or attacks upfield, then Morris goes for the bubble screen. If he drops into the passing lane, then Morris goes back to the swing screen.

Morris puts the ball right on the money where Odunze can catch it in stride, make his man miss, and he was into the end zone. Good play for the offense.

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3rd & 3:

Now we have a less fun play for the Dawgs. Here in crunch time before the half, we are facing a 3rd & 3 at the Colorado 39 yard line with just 14 seconds left and one timeout. With Peyton Henry’s reliable range stretching out to about 40 yards, the offense needed to get 16 yards or more in under 14 seconds to attempt a FG, or they’d need to make up their minds quickly on a Hail Mary attempt. Wanting to save the timeout for a potential FG attempt, Adams is in clear passing mode, and he knows he needs to be conscious of the time. A deep play will take 5-6 seconds to develop, but the game clock stops to reset the chains in college, so a quick play past the sticks might let the offense squeeze in an extra play.

Because of the camera angle, we can’t tell for sure what the full passing concept is, but there are double slants to the boundary side, and at least one hitch route from Westover in the field side slot. Morris only looks to the field side after the snap, so we can assume that McMillan was covered off screen, which pushes Morris to the covered Westover. At that point, he tries to pick up the first down on the ground, but he gets taken down for a sack.

It was brought up that Colorado was in a pre-snap “double mug” look with both ILBs standing in the A-gaps, but then they both dropped into coverage immediately at the snap. This would’ve hypothetically opened up a rushing lane for Morris to pick up the first down, where a spike and time out could’ve given the offense 2 plays and a FG attempt. However, this is a little bit of hindsight being 20/20. Morris is a passer first and foremost, so he is supposed to work through his progression as quickly as possible, which he does. Adams gave him a 2-route progression, and once he moved through those, he ran. However, between his drop back and his decision to run, Colorado made up for their bailed ILBs by having one of their DTs work his way back to the middle in order to maintain rush lane integrity. Unless Morris had two sets of eyes to keep an eye on the coverage and the what every person on the rush was doing, its just a tad bit unrealistic to think that he could’ve done a good job of reading both. Unfortunately that means that he might’ve missed an early opportunity to pick up the first down, and instead he gets sacked, and the drive is killed.

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3rd & 7:

Getting back to a more positive note, we have an excellent example of how Morris could be a competent game manager in a more QB-friendly offense that takes things off of his plate. Here we’re running a mesh concept over the middle with McMillan on an alert fade route and Cam Davis leaking out into the flats. Mesh was another concept that we really focused on in this week’s game plan. In this case, the play only works because of the surprisingly deep zone drops from Colorado’s LBs, but it does leave Taj Davis wide open on his crosser.

Similar to the previous play, Colorado is showing a double mug look up front in order to bait the OL into a full slide protection call before bailing into zone coverage. However, unfazed, our line calls a half line slide to the right, and they do a good job of picking up the twist to the left side of the line. Picking up stunts when a part of the backside of the slide in man-to-man blocking has been a area of concern for the OL this season, but Ale does a great job here of picking up #44 (better angle shown below).

Replay

Circling back to the initial point, this play showcases some of Morris’ better game manager QB skills, things the we really thought he possessed when he came to UW as a highly rated signal-caller. On this replay angle we can see how he subtly shifts in the pocket to find a passing lane to throw the ball through. We can’t be sure what did it; whether it was a better grasp of the progression, better play design offering clearer reads, or increased confidence in the protection. Morris on this play looked like a completely different QB that was playing way more under control. This open, underneath receiver is the guy he has been missing in key situations all season.

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3rd & Goal:

And back to the roller coaster of emotions, we Colorado’s last TD that put the game out of reach. After two stops on 1st and 2nd down, we are facing a 3rd & goal from the 2.5 yard line. Colorado comes out in 12 personnel and in an under center formation, so we counter with our goal line alignment. Faking the outside zone to the weakside, Lewis boot legs to the right and is given a pass-run option.

With the Colorado receivers locked up by McDuffie and Gordon, and with Asa Turner getting de-cleated by their 5’9” 185 lb RB, Lewis just needs to beat Bruener to the edge in order to score the touchdown. Fortunately, Bruener reads the bootleg the whole way. Unfortunately, he is unable to square up on Lewis, whiffs, and Lewis dives into the end zone for the TD.

From a scheme and assignment perceptive, we should’ve been ready for this play. If Turner could’ve stayed on his feet and, done a better job of containing Lewis, Bruener might’ve been in a better position to square up on his tackle even if Lewis broke contain. Mobile QBs have always been a struggle for us, but the one time that it looks like we have one bottled up, his legs yet again make the pivotal play in the game.

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In a flipping of this season’s script, the offensive and defensive play calling matched up well against Colorado. The offense was both simplified for Morris as well as aesthetically more creative and confusing for the defense. On defense for the Huskies, they looked better prepared to match up against a mobile QB. However on both sides, execution on an individual level was our undoing.

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