The offense overcame some failures in execution on short yardage plays, and Michael Penix, Jr was having his way with the Arizona defense. Ryan Grubb loves to use misdirection, and Penix is master-class when it comes to selling and executing it.
Overall, the defense looked better than last week when you consider they were facing a much more potent offense with a dual threat QB. The back end made some adjustments to the stacked WR look, and Asa Turner made a big difference in getting guys lined up.
Linebackers in coverage were an issue more so than the last couple weeks, and it seems that —in pass coverage anyway— some of the inside guys look lost at times and are playing “slow.”
To the film:
1st and 10
This week, with such an overwhelming offensive performance —particularly from Penix— we wanted to take a look at a play that perfectly displays what makes Penix so effective in Grubb’s scheme. Approaching the red zone, our offense likes to take shots at the end zone while we still have the space to call the majority of our pass plays. Lining up in a balanced 2x2 spread set with 11 personnel, we draw Arizona’s defense into their most basic defensive alignments. Showing a soft 2-high shell with the CBs off the LOS, and based on Arizona’s tendencies, this sort of coverage alignment usually indicates Quarters coverage. Knowing this, Grubb knows that the offense is going to need schematic help and excellent execution to get WRs free downfield.
Digging into his bag of tricks, Grubb dials up a misdirection shot play. The play is set up first by bringing Odunze in short motion into a stacked alignment with McMillan from his wide out alignment over the numbers (just before the start of the clip). As our defense has learned over the last few weeks, the stack alignment can be challenging to cover from a Quarters alignment because once the WR gets off the LOS, the DB responsible for deep coverage is stuck in single coverage with a WR who has a 2-way go and space to work fakes into his route running.
Now that Grubb has set up a 1v1 against the CB, he then turned his attention to removing that CB’s coverage help and enhancing our WR’s leverage advantage with his play selection. Grubb calls a switch release Mills concept (outside WR post, inside WR dig), an excellent Quarters coverage beater. In Quarters coverage, the field CB knows he has the safety next to him to provide some help to the inside, so he’ll usually shade his coverage towards the boundary to take away outbreaking routes, especially against WRs in a tighter alignment to the formation. However, Odunze’s dig draws the field safety down and away from his landmark just inside the hash mark, eliminating any inside coverage support for the field CB. The switch release further complicates things for the CB by giving McMillan the opportunity to attack the CB’s leverage and drive him into the boundary, thus further widening the CB. Since the CB is locked into outside leverage, McMillan already has the leverage necessary for his inside break on the post, and any additional space he gains from his outside switch release is simply widening Penix’s throwing window.
The final part of this nifty play design, and Penix’s masterful execution of the play, is actually in the protection scheme. Grubb sets up a fake WR screen to the boundary to draw the rest of the defense, and most importantly the defensive front, away from the shot concept. Penix sells the screen with a hard pump fake to the boundary, and the whole defense swarms to that side. Fautanu and Kirkland are able to easily wash the left side of the DL away from Penix’s passing lane, and he delivers a strike to McMillan in the end zone for a TD.
Grubb does a lot of heavy lifting on this play through the play design, but Penix is still the key to everything working. He doesn’t just throw a perfect pass on-time to McMillan. He also understands what Grubb is trying to do with the scheme to set up the timing and spacing of the route combination. He gives the hard sell on the screen with a pump fake but then lets his eyes linger to that side as long as possible before shifting to McMillan and immediately pulling the trigger. Without that deep understanding of the offense and chemistry with his WRs to know exactly when to move through his progression, this would not have been a TD.
4th and 1
Next up we have an offensive play that was a lot less fun. Throughout this season we’ve had our issues with short yardage situations, in large part due to our questionable run game. For as creative, explosive, and well-executed as we are in the passing game, our run game leaves much to be desired. Often times, when we are calling pure run plays, we default to rather vanilla concepts and play designs that don’t leverage numbers, angles, alignments, or other mechanisms in our favor.
Here on this play we are in a 12 personnel ace wing shotgun set against a 7-man box, and we are calling an inside zone run to the weak side of the formation. We also have Giles Jackson running a jet motion fake to the backside. Now this whole play might trigger some John Donovan-era PTSD for Husky fans because this is almost identical to his favorite play call. We’ve broken it down at length in last year’s film study articles, but in short, the offense is using the jet motion to hold the backside contain defender so that the rest of the blocking front can either get a double team against the play side DT or let the TEs wash down the backside of the DL to open up a cutback lane.
The problem on this play is that the jet motion drew Jackson’s defender directly into the the frontside B-gap. That defender was able to knife into the backfield so fast, that Cam Davis wasn’t able to cutback. In zone blocking, the OL needs to be making sure that every defender on the play side is accounted for before focusing on double teams and chip blocks so that the RB can press the play side gaps to later open up the cutback. Kirkland completely missed the new B-gap defender after the defense shifted to account for the motion. Because of this, I’ll attribute this failed play to poor execution, but there is something to be said about the play selection. Inside zone isn’t normally considered a quick hitting run concept because of how much reading the RB may have to do in the backfield, and in a short yardage situation you want a quick hitting play. While we weren’t trying to get cute with the call, we definitely could’ve called a gap play that would’ve let the RB hit the hole with a full head of steam and a more certain 1 yard gain.
2nd and 10
Shifting gears to the defensive side of the ball, we had a little bit of good and bad here on this play. On one hand we nearly get a fumble from Asa Turner and the DB coverage looks a fair bit better than the last two weeks, but on the other hand our LBs are now getting exposed.
Here in 2nd & 10, we are matching a 2x2 offensive formation with a stacked WR look to the field. We are feigning a 1-high shell that we bail out of right before the snap to present a more typical 2-high shell that indicates Quarters coverage for our defense. Unlike the last few weeks, our DBs over the stacked WRs (Fabiculanan & Banks) play fairly tight coverage through their portion of their matched zones. Banks smoothly takes the vertical hand off from Fabiculanan, while KamFab maintains the outside leverage against Cowing since in match Quarters coverage he’s supposed to have inside coverage help. Turner is right there to break on Cowing’s dig route and rallies to make the tackle. At first glance, fans might’ve thrown their hands up at yet another uncontested pitch and catch for nearly 10 yards and blamed Fabiculanan. However, the LBs on this play should receive more attention.
To the boundary side, Arizona has a WR, TE, and RB who could all possibly be receiving threats, and we’ve matched with our own 3 defenders to that side (Cook, Green and Moll). The Wildcats do run a 3-man route combination with the TE running up the seam, the WR running a hitch, and the RB flaring out on a swing route. Assuming that we’re running a basic Quarters coverage call, our defenders to that side did exactly what they were supposed to do. Cook carried the seam, Green settled down on the hitch, and Moll chased the RB to the sideline since he’s responsible for the flat zone. The problem is that Bruener also chased the RB to the sideline, thus creating a wide open passing lane for Cowing’s dig on the other side of the field.
It’s not clear if Bruener or Moll was more at fault since we may have been using Moll as a QB spy against a lot of mobile QBs, but at least one of the two was wrong. Assuming Moll was not playing spy on this play, Bruener should’ve been dropping into the middle zone and reading the QB’s eyes (which never went to the boundary). Even though match zone coverage typically ends up looking like man coverage, there are still aspects of it that require constant communication for zone handoffs and each coverage defender bases their technique on the assumption that they have some degree of coverage support by those around them. If we’re going to be successful, the LBs need to step up their coverage communication and assignment discipline.
1st and 10
We’ll wrap things up this week on a positive note about the run game. While we were knocking some of the vanilla concepts earlier, it was mostly about the execution of those vanilla schemes because when they are well-executed, they could turn into big TDs like this.
Late in the game with a 3-point lead and an opposing offense that really wasn’t being stopped, Grubb and DeBoer made an effort to keep the clock running with high efficiency passes and the run game while still trying to score points. Just inside the red zone, Grubb dials up a nifty variation of our outside zone run concept known as pin-n-pull outside zone. Leaning on principles from gap and power run concepts, the pin-n-pull outside zone blends the angle and leverage advantages of down blocks and pulling linemen with the blocking assignment rules of outside zone. Once the defense gets lined up, every OL and/or TE attached to the formation reads the defense like its a normal outside zone play. However, instead of releasing down field if they are uncovered in their play side lane, the OL checks to see if they have a backside down block available. If so, the OL makes a check with the covered lineman next to him and they swap blocking assignments. Instead of reach blocking, the covered OL will pull around and attack upfield, and the uncovered lineman will now down block. In this case, Rosengarten still has to reach block, but Mele doesn’t as Bainivalu works his way through the play side DT and lets Mele release downfield.
The pin-n-pull does a good job in leveraging our athleticism on the line, but also takes advantage of our strong perimeter blocking from the WRs. In all likelihood, Davis wouldn’t have gotten the TD had Westover, McMillan, and Polk not completely dominated their DBs. It’s not a given to have strong run blocking WRs that are also dynamic play makers, but on long plays like this, its usually the WRs that make the key blocks.
Next up is Cal, who has a balanced offense and will have something to prove after laying an egg against Colorado.