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Film Study: Montana

Where to start?

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Games on Pac-12 Network are nearly impossible to find full game downloads. So we are working with an extended highlight video. Unfortunately, that means we cant show you a lot of the “non-highlight” plays in this game. Meaning the shitty runs against Montana’s stunting run blitz.

This performance by the Huskies was just as bad as you thought it was.

Some simple observations from the Film Study Guys:

  • DL could not get off blocks and entire defensive front had issues keeping contain on their relatively mobile QB (And our pass rushers were not finishers, just flushers)
  • Giles Jackson really underwhelmed athletically and as a WR, and Taj Davis isn’t ready for prime time.
  • Dylan Morris did nothing with cadence. Perfectly timed run blitz by Montana over and over.
  • Seemingly no adjustments on offense. Tempo? No Huddle? Anything??
  • Newton and Davis were poor in pass pro, and the way the O-Line played, that was glaring.
  • Not clicking in the run game for our OL. No push and no holes opened. They were not able to adjust to Montana’s quickness. Almost like they didn’t practice against it.
  • Pass protection was a bigger problem for Morris than the WR separation.
  • Morris was just plain shitty in nearly every facet of being a quarterback


To the Film:

2nd & 4:

Overall, we were rather pleased by the defense’s statistical performance. However, there was sloppiness that needs to be cleaned up if we want to look competent against Michigan (and our conference schedule). Here, the offense ran a trap play out of 12 personnel against a 3-4 front with Julius Irvin (#29) rotated down into the box. We should’ve had adequate numbers to stuff this play, but there were a number of failures that led to this big play.

First, the DL couldn’t get off their blocks, and they didn’t play with gap discipline. Tuli (#91) did pretty well eating the double team from the RG & center, but Tuitele (#99) tried to shoot his gap far too aggressively and got smoked by the trap. Taki (#94) drew a 1-on-1 block from the LT, but he looked almost too eager to bulldoze the OL rather than shed the block to squeeze the gap.

Then at the second level, the LBs stood idle and didn’t attack the LOS to fill gaps. Despite playing an 8-man box vs 7 blockers we played at a 6v7 deficit because of how our OLBs are asked to play outside contain first rather than squeeze the interior gaps. This means that we either need all 3 of our DL to eat multiple gaps/blocks, or we need our LBs to play a more active role in plugging gaps and can’t rely on the line to keep them clean. Eddie (#48) was taken out low by the RT and the TEs easily handled Irvin (who did not look comfortable in the box), further neutralizing our second-level run support. Once in the open field, Montana’s RB got to work making our secondary’s tackling look pretty pathetic. KamFab (#31) took a bad angle and whiffed his tackle in the open field, and Gordon (#2) had to step up to get the RB on the ground. However, he looked far less physical in run support than he had been in the past, and we get the sense that no team will be very afraid of our secondary in run support. The open field tackling will also be a concern as teams will be more likely to try to isolate our DBs in space if they think we can’t tackle.


1st & 10:

Here’s a play that we wish we ran a few more times, and it illustrates why we was so frustrated with our lack of diversity in the run game. In this play we roll with 12 personnel, double TEs to the playside in Ace Pair set (Otton (#87) at Y and Culp (#83) at H) with Giles Jackson (#0) lined up off the LOS on the weakside of the formation. Against this, Montana played a tight-aligned Over front (playside DE head up on the LT, NT in the 1-tech, backside DE over the RG, OLB rotated onto the line backside) and did not try to widen their front to match the 2 added gaps that our TEs created on the playside. This was similar to what we faced against Arizona last year where the defense is selling out to clog the interior. The goal here is to push the run game to the perimeter where their speed at the second level can flow to the ball.

Despite this being where the defense is funneling the run, we were able to spring Jackson on the jet sweep with Otton and Culp both lead blocking up the field with miles of green grass open in front of them because Montana committed so many bodies to crash the middle of the LOS. This is such an easy play to run when the defense is showing this tight of a front, and this was easily one of our most explosive run plays. Don’t know why we didn’t call more sweeps or toss plays that we used to great effect against Arizona last year. At worst, it’d force Montana’s LBs to ease up on their gap shooting, and it might even force them to widen their fronts, which would open up gaps for the inside run game. Passing isn’t the only way to loosen up the box, and being down as many WRs as we were, we can’t be leaving chips on the table or tricks up our sleeve.


3rd & 9:

Here is a perfect example of our inability to pass protect despite adequate numbers and available hot options, as well as a prime example of how much better prepared the Montana defense was than our offense & OL. On this play we rolled with 11 personnel in a shotgun doubles alignment (a formation that we leaned on heavily throughout the game), and called slants to the boundary and “China” to the field with a 6-man protection called. Against this, Montana showed a Cover 1 blitz out of a wide 3-3-5 look. Knowing we were going to check into a quick concept after showing blitz, the two DBs covering Racanelli (#19)and Otton (#87) to the boundary both play “catch” coverage. This is a form of off-man coverage where the DBs sit off the LOS ready to drive on passes that are short of the sticks or are ready to perform an open field jam for routes that don’t break off underneath. This is a deceptive coverage technique that works well here because it lets the DBs play the underneath passes aggressively knowing that they have pressure hurrying the QB, and it has the saving grace that the downfield jam often throws off the route timing enough for the deep safety to come into play.

Against a standard Cover 1 ”Green Dog” blitz (where the LB covering the RB reads pass protection and jumps in as a delayed blitzer), we would’ve had hot route options with the slants. However, Montana throws a curveball by dropping their NT into the underneath middle-hook zone, yet another well designed feature of their blitz package that messes with our anticipated quick concepts. The NT clogs the passing lane to Otton’s skinny post and squeezes the passing window to Racanelli’s quick slant. Taj Davis (#17) would’ve been coming into Morris’ vision on his quick in-route, but our pass protection was crumbling by that point despite having an eventual 6v5 advantage.

It was hard to tell what the protection assignments were here, but the MIKE-WILL cross blitz and the feigned rush by the NT totally screwed up our protection. We got lucky that Newton (#6) stepped up and played meat shield in front of the blitzing MIKE, but there was no communication or handoff between any of the iOL on the blitz. Additionally, both Julius Buelow (#77) and Henry Bainivalu (#66) lose their match ups. Buelow looks like he has a man assignment, meaning he blocks the rusher he engages with through the whistle, regardless of where he may stunt to. This also means he really shouldn’t be expecting help on his inside shoulder, and yet he commits the cardinal sin of pass protection which is giving up the inside gap. His assignment blows right past him up the A-gap and eventually applies the initial pressure on Morris. Bainivalu is equally at fault here with his guy getting the sack on Morris. Bainivalu (all 330 lbs of him) was bulldozed a solid 5 yards into the pocket by the blitzing LB that he had ~100 lbs on. That simply should not be happening. Some of this is on Morris having a predictable cadence that allowed the LB to gain a running start at the line (something we saw way too much of), but we can’t be seeing our OL get pushed around like that.

This failed 3rd down is 50% on our protection and 50% on Montana’s excellent play design.


3rd & 4:

Here’s another example of just horrible pass protection. We have a 6-man protection scheme with Cam Davis (#22) lined up to the boundary against a 6-man box with a potential blitz threat from the boundary CB due to his tight alignment. Based on the defensive alignment and numbers, we’ve been taught that you’d want to call a 4-man slide to the left (Jaxson Kirkland (#51) to Nate Kalepo (#71) slide their protection to the left). You’d want to slide the protection to the left because there are more potential rushers to the left of the center (NT, DE, & 2 off-ball LBs) than there are to his right (DT, stand up EDGE, & CB). You’d then set it as a 4-man slide based on the DT’s alignment over Kalepo’s inside shoulder allowing for an easier rush pick up for Kalepo. If he was head up or on his outside shoulder, then go with a 3-man slide. This puts Victor Curne (#79) in man-to-man with the stand up EDGE and Davis would pick up the most dangerous rusher on the backside of the slide that Curne isn’t already blocking. The RB always helps on the backside of the slide because the slide protection is designed to ensure that every gap is accounted for on at least one side of the line so that the QB knows which side the hot rusher would come from if there were one.

At the snap, Montana brings both off-ball LBs and drops the DT over Kalepo into coverage on a zone blitz. One LB attacks the A-gap and the other attacks the edge while #50 crashes into our left B-gap and the NT slants towards our right A-gap. If this was to be blocked how Coach B sets set protection, then Kirkland should’ve ignored DE once he slanted across his face away from the slide and kept an eye out for the blitzing #10 because defenses rarely blitz without an edge rush. Buelow would’ve been sliding into #50 for the easy pick up, and Luke Wattenberg (#76) would’ve slid right into the blitzing #37. For a split second it would look like Kalepo would be responsible for the DT over his left shoulder and the slanting NT, but the DT drops into zone coverage so Kalepo would be free to take on the NT. We can have high confidence in this protection despite not knowing that the DT was going to bail because defenses also don’t rush two guys through the same gap because of gap integrity concerns. Even then, Davis was there to help chip in if the defense did rush two guys through the same gap, and the potential blitzing CB would then be the hot rusher for Morris to be responsible for.

Now this may not be how our offense set the protection, so we can’t speak to if individual guys missed assignments. However, Coach B’s protection is a pretty basic protection scheme that is taught even at the HS level, and it would’ve had answers for this blitz. The way this was actually picked up by our OL was so messy that we really can’t even begin to describe what we think they were trying to do.

One other note: As mentioned before, Morris didn’t mix up his cadence, and doing so likely would’ve tricked the defense into tipping their hand and allow the offense to tailor their protection assignments. Yet another simple trick that wasn’t tried...


1st & Goal:

This was the play that we thought was the “back-breaker” as we was watching the game live, and rewatching the play further solidified our view that our defense simply wasn’t prepared for what Montana’s offense had to offer. Throughout the game to this point, Griz QB Cam Humphrey had been giving us headaches with his mobility in the pocket when he kept evading our DB blitzes launched from wide angles out in space. However, the Griz had kept him out of the designed run game. It wouldn’t have been hard people watching the game to pick up on Humphry’s athleticism and the potential for the Griz to bust out an option play or a designed QB run to capitalize on it. It just so happened that the Montana staff was waiting to pick the right moment to play the ace up their sleeve.

Here the Griz are lined up in a shotgun Ace Wing look (12 personnel w/ both TEs attached to one side of the formation) with the TEs set to the boundary and the twin receivers to the field. Our defense matched with an unusual 2-5-4 personnel package (2 DTs, 3 OLBs, 2 ILBs & 4 DBs) that was aligned more like a 7-1 front. The DB alignments to the WRs look suggest a straight forward man-up coverage look, but even after rewatching the play several times, we still don’t know what we’re trying to do with our run front.

Despite having 8 defenders committed to the box against 7 blockers, we still have a pretty suspect run front (Don’t count Kyler Gordon (#2) as a box player here because he’s a bit too far to be a credible threat to plug a gap). For whatever reason, we had Alex Cook (#5) lined head-up on their Y-TE #89 between Jeremiah Martin (#3) and Jackson Sirmon (#43) (who was aligned as the end man on the LOS). We also had the boundary C-gap wide open based on Cook’s alignment, and Eddie (#48) was the only second-level defender who could flow to the ball.

Montana came out and went right after the open gap and the DB trying to hold the point of attack with a midline option. For those that are unfamiliar with this cousin of the read option, the midline option is, as the name suggests, an option play that had a read midline instead of the edge player. In this case, Jeremiah Martin is tagged as the read defender, and the Montana line splits their blocking assignments down the B-gap that he’s responsible for. The 2 TEs & the LT have a 3v3 on Sirmon, Cook & Gordon, and the rest of the line have down blocks towards the field. Martin crashed on the RB as if it never occurred to him that he might be unblocked for a reason, and Humphrey skirted right around him. The blocking mismatch between the 2 TEs + LT and Cook & Sirmon went as poorly as expected, and Gordon was so far off the line that he was a non-factor in run support. Even Eddie looked like he was unprepared for the option when he flowed hard with the frontside of the run (the fieldside) leaving a gaping hole in the line that Humphrey used to dive into the endzone.

The Montana touchdown was the perfect play against our defense, and it shows that their staff did their homework on us. We don’t think UW did enough homework on the Grizzlies, and its as simple as that.

On to Michigan.