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Film Study: Colorado

Just... solid.

Colorado v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Washington Huskies dismantled Colorado in what was just a no-win matchup for the Buffs. Penix was more conservative than we have seen him all season, and the Huskies leaned on the running game in their slow-build to a blowout win.

Defensively, the Dawgs were able to stifle the only offense Colorado had, which was their running game. The pass defense was barely tested on the back end, but the pass rush was constant throughout.


To the Film:

2nd and Goal

Kicking off the offensive fireworks against the Buffs, we have the first of a handful of red zone run plays that would find pay dirt. Like we said last week in Film Study while breaking down Cam Davis’ TD against Oregon, this base concept, weakside inside zone, is one of our bread and butter run plays. As many long-time readers will remember, this was one of our go-to plays under John Donovan as well, so what made this work when it was so ineffective last year? It’s all about the window dressing and how it sets up the play with specific looks.

The play starts off from a FIB (formation into the boundary) bunch look with Wayne Taulapapa aligned in the shotgun towards the bunch. Against this, Colorado is playing a shallow 2-high shell with base 4-3 personnel and the DTs shaded towards the field. Based on coverage tendencies and their alignments, we can assume that they are playing Cover 4. As Grubb likes to do, he manipulates the Buff defense through his use of pre-snap shifts. On this play he brings Jack Westover across the formation to a wing H-Back alignment to the field and Wayne moves over to the field side of Penix. This shift flips the run strength of the formation, but Colorado only adjusts by bumping their LBs over to account for the change in passing strength with the field OLB playing as an overhang defender. Typically, if you bump your LBs over to account for the passing strength, you see some adjustment on the DL to account for LBs being in different alignments and swapping run fit responsibilities. However, since the DL didn’t shift to adjust and neither of the safeties rotated into the box, we now have 6v6 in the box and two double teams on the DTs, a very favorable inside run look.

The second key piece of the play design that sets up the TD is how we account for the contain defender. Zone blocking is great because the rules allow for maximum flexibility at the point of attack, but they don’t account for the backside contain/chase defender. To account for this, offenses either need an RB that is so incredibly talented that they can make that defender miss in the backfield, or they need to account for that defender with some other schematic mechanism. This can be an extra auxiliary blocker (like a TE or FB), a bootleg fake to keep the defender in contain, a QB read (either option or RPO), or with motion, like we did here. Because Colorado didn’t bump the field EDGE outside of Westover after the shift, we can assume that the overhang field OLB is playing contain. Again, this is an ideal look for this play because we are using Jalen McMillan in jet motion to keep the contain defender honest, and the further the contain defender is from the point of attack, he harder it is for that defender to sniff out the fake and make a play on the RB.

With the double teams on the DTs up to the 2 box LBs and the contain defender held in place, Wayne was able to hit the hole at full speed and split the gap between the safeties and the slow reacting contain defender to waltz into the end zone. While we didn’t get this exact look every time, clearly the staff saw various aspects of Colorado’s flawed run fits against weakside inside zone in their game planning because we used variations of this exact play on every one of our 5 rushing touchdowns, and Colorado never adjusted to stop it.


1st and 10

Next up we have this fun play design that we ran for a TD on the very next drive. This jet sweep-double reverse-throwback screen is one of the cooler play designs that I’ve seen Grubb dial up all year, and it’s a great example of why he’s such a good OC.

The key to “trick” plays like this is timing and how we manipulate the defense’ reaction to the play against them. Based on Colorado’s film, Grubb must’ve known that they had this 3-high shell in their playbook and that certain down/distance/formation looks were more likely to draw them into this look. Getting this ultra-conservative coverage look is the key to this play’s success because it allows time for this play to develop. At the snap, Colorado only has 5 defenders in the box and neither of the CBs are within 5 yards of the LOS. Since the play involves a double reverse action with 2 WRs moving into the backfield, either CB chasing the WRs into the box from a shallower alignment would’ve blown up the play. The same could be said if we had any of the safeties in the box. However, with such a conservative alignment from the DBs, they are far enough away that even if they diagnose the play, they aren’t in a position to make the play, thus mitigating our risk.

As for the manipulation of the defense, this design layers the various portions of the play to set up the throwback screen perfectly. The DL is in a tight alignment that is giving up the edges and relying on an aggressive run fit from the overhang LBs to contain perimeter runs. With the initial jet sweep, we are attacking the field edge hard and forcing a hard flow from the LBs. With the reverse action, we are catching the defense off-guard and forcing them back towards the field. However, because of the backfield eye candy and the initial jet sweep, the defense completely ignores the fact that our OL is still getting out to the field side boundary with McMillan, so when Penix finally throws back to McMillan, we have a convoy of 6 blockers ahead of our shiftiest yards-after-catch receiver with only 3 initial threats and one defender (DT #99) that McMillan has to make miss prior to reaching the 1st down marker. From there, McMillan does what McMillan does and puts the rest of the defense on skates on his way into the end zone.


4th and 6

Jumping over to the other side of the ball, we wanted to highlight how the staff has made adjustments to better account for our defensive strengths and weaknesses. Here on 4th & 6, Colorado is in a pretty clear passing situation given how poorly their rushing attack had fared up to that point on a down-to-down basis. Their offense lines up in a nub bunch formation in an attempt to capitalize on our poor coverage against bunch and stacked WR alignments. However, instead of playing the bunch out of our 1-high shell with 3 DBs directly over the bunch and a deep safety mostly out of the picture in the middle of the field, like we did earlier in the season, we played a modified version of our 2-high shell.

Instead of trying to maintain the +1 coverage advantage to the field with 3 primary DBs and the deep safety, we instead moved Eddie Ulofoshio out into the overhang alignment as our extra coverage defender and bumped Dom Hampton out to a more traditional CB alignment while rotating Jordan Perryman back off the LOS into almost a safety alignment outside of Asa Turner. This is a fantastic adjustment because of how it plays to our personnel.

Eddie has never been our best coverage LB, but he is definitely serviceable when he only needs to provide inside support against shallow in-breaking routes. Dom has struggled at times when asked to carry WRs vertically or on breaking routes, but as the outside flat defender, he can read the QB and WR the whole way with the sideline as extra help behind him on outbreaking routes. Perryman hasn’t been great on breaking routes either, but from his deep alignment he can sit, read, and drive on the ball on deeper outbreaking routes rather than needing to run with a WR the whole way through the route, and if he does need to carry a WR vertical down the sideline, he has a 9-yard cushion to protect him. Turner has been the most consistent cover man of the four to the field, so he has the most responsibility. However, he really only needs to pick up the deep crossers and post that would come from the bunch, so even then, he is well supported.

From a run fit perspective, this adjustment might seem a bit precarious given that we have Eddie playing further out and us potentially opening ourselves up to an inside run like the play that Nix scored on the other week. However, in theory we should still be relatively sound even with our pass-rush sub package since Bright should be shielded by Voi and ZTF long enough to reach the field-side B-gap on a run play, and Cook, a better box safety than cover man, is still playing a relatively shallow alignment where he can factor into a boundary run fit.

It’s not an ideal run fit, but its good to see the defensive staff is willing to try new things to shore up the weaknesses in our coverages with the pieces that they have on hand.


4th and 2

Circling back to the offense and what we were breaking down in the first play, we again get a look at our weakside inside zone concept. However, this time we get to see what this play looks like without all the window dressing and why it’s so important.

Here on 4th & 2, we are lined up in a trey open formation with Westover in the near slot to the field and Cam Davis aligned to the passing strength. Like in the first play, we motion Westover into the blocking front, but this time its a short motion to the same side of the field instead of across the formation. Because there is no changing to the passing strength, Colorado doesn’t adjust their alignments much other than moving the defender that was over Westover into the formation on the LOS and bumping the edge defender on that side into the B-gap. Colorado also has a late rotation of their safeties, bringing one into the box as their 7th box defender, likely because they were anticipating a run.

Colorado’s DL alignment is also less advantageous for us on this play. Instead of having 2 DTs shaded to the TE, they instead have a wide play side OLB on the LOS, a 5-tech DE, a 0-tech NT, a backside 3-tech, and the new backside OLB on the LOS. Because of the additional bodies and alignments on the LOS, we aren’t able to get double teams on both of the DTs like we were on the first play. Also, because we aren’t using the motion to hold the backside contain player, Westover is forced to block him instead of moving up to the box safety who ends up tripping up Cam Davis for a short gain. While the play was still successful, it felt like we were trying a little too hard to play bully ball instead of using any of the extra play design aspects that were so successful on the earlier TD play.