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Film Study: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

The Huskies head back to the lab to concoct a run game and defensive pressure

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Tulsa at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wasn’t the prettiest game but the Huskies moved to 2-0 following a 43-10 win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes on Saturday. With Dillon Johnson, ZTF and Asa Turner among others banged up with injuries, the coaching staff used this week as a learning experience to figure out rotations and contingency plans.

The rushing attack was still struggling without RB1 Cam Davis but found something by giving the WRs looks at RB via sweeps, end arounds and perimeter screens. The passing game continues to be as advertised, albeit a handful of drops, as it proves it will be carrying the offense the whole year until the run game (hopefully) shows up.

In this week’s Film study, we focus on schematics instead of the aforementioned lowlights.

To the Film.

1st Quarter - 12:26 - 3rd & Goal

First play up this week we have a play design from Grubb that’s a great example of his philosophy to get the ball in the hands of your best playmakers and to keep concepts simple while dressing them up to keep the defense off balance.

Here on 3rd & Goal from the 2.5-yard line, we are in a short yardage situation deep in the red zone. Both the run and pass are on the table since this is possible four down territory, but our play sheet is limited by the condensed spacing on the field. Last season, this would be an easy run decision when we had a more established, road-grading offensive line and a goal line hammer in Cam Davis. This season, with a dominant passing game and an abundance of talent at the perimeter skill positions, Grubb’s again focused on using scheme to emphasize our strengths rather than playing to the situation or the opponent.

We come out in a 13 personnel singleback under center formation with Cuevas and Westover on opposite sides of the LOS and Culp lined up on the field wing. Odunze is lined up on the boundary in a condensed split off the LOS. This is a run-heavy look for the Tulsa defense to line up against, and if we had subbed a second RB or FB behind Penix instead of Rome, we would be in a conventional goal line I-formation. Most defenses in this situation would put in their jumbo package personnel to stack the line and play man behind it, which is exactly what Grubb’s play design is hoping for.

Prior to the snap, we put Rome in what looks to be jet motion with Tulsa’s CB (#4) traveling to match. However, instead of continuing past Penix on the motion, Rome slams on the breaks to move into the FB alignment. Seeing that, Tulsa’s defenders need to recalibrate their entire run fit and potentially their coverage assignments at the last second. With jet motion, you really only need to consider the potential hand off around the edge, but with a “FB”, you have to consider the potential for a new blocker inserting new gaps anywhere along the blocking front. Rome obviously isn’t a true FB blocking threat, but he is big enough that we’ve used him as an auxiliary blocker in similar situations last season, and he is also a threat to get the ball handed off to him out of the backfield. Since there’s so many ways we could threaten their defense with Rome in the backfield, Tulsa’s entire defense gets frozen for a split second.

After the snap, it becomes clear that we’re just running a simple play action Levels concept with an “Alert” arrow route into the flats with Odunze. If Tulsa maintained their traveling man coverage (like they did), then the fast motion into the FB alignment can act like a “jerk” stop-n-go to get a step on the CB into the flat. If Tulsa was in man-match and handed off the coverage of Rome to a LB, who would typically be covering the “FB”, then Rome has the speed to win in the flats all day long. If they checked into a zone coverage, then the crossing routes from Cuevas and Westover would give us a good chance at finding the soft spot, likely along the back of the end zone. It’s not a complicated concept, and almost every team in the country runs some version of it in their goal line package, but the genius is in creating the mismatches with Rome to give easy if-then reads to Penix.

1st Quarter - 2:57 - 2nd & 20 / 3rd Quarter - 0:49 - 2nd & 5

Without an RB1 that’s established themselves as a game-breaking option on the ground, Grubb’s dug into his bag of tricks to fill the void in the offense. We already broke down how he’s utilized creative formations and play designs to expand the short yardage/goal line passing attack to supplement the red zone run game, and like the Boise game, he leaned on RPOs and perimeter screen plays to set up YAC opportunities (to much better success against Tulsa). He even put Germie Bernard in the backfield to take a couple of hand offs on basic zone run plays. However, the most schematically interesting wrinkle that Grubb’s leaned on this week was his WR sweep package.

Jet motion has been a staple in the Grubb offense, but aside from a few hand offs to maintain the threat of a jet sweep, it’s mostly used as a constraint decoy to manipulate the defense or a form of window dressing in passing concepts. This week Grubb expanded on the WR sweep concept to generate these two big plays in the run game.

First up we have Ja’Lynn Polk’s 27-yard TD in the first quarter coming off of an End Around Sweep. This play is a great example of Grubb mixing up how he gets the ball to our WRs and how he sets them up to be play makers. As I mentioned above, Jet Sweeps are a regular fixture on our call sheet, but its a pretty one-dimensional play. At its core, Jet Sweeps are basically just a race between the motion man and the the defense to get to the edge. There isn’t much room (or time) for window dressing or schematic advantages to get built into a Jet Sweep play design. However, on an End Around and a few other WR Sweep concepts, there’s a lot more for Grubb to work with.

On this play, we are running the play out of 11 personnel in a tight bunch formation with Penix lined up under center, and the End Around is tagged off of Inside Zone Slice action. Unlike a Jet Sweep, End Arounds are built on misdirection, which is exactly where the Inside Zone Slice action comes in.

At the snap, our blocking front starts off blocking Inside Zone to the right with Devin Culp cutting across the formation to seemingly seal off the backside end for a cutback. This draws the majority of the box defenders to the right, away from Polk’s run. After a quick chip on the DL, Fautanu and Kalepo on the backside of the Inside Zone action release downfield to set up a convoy of blockers for Polk. Like a screen play, the backfield/handoff action and blocking scheme is designed to take advantage of the misdirection to neutralize a few defenders at the point of attack and get blockers downfield.

Instead of having the blockers take care of the immediate threats and letting the ball carrier win a 1v1 at the second level, like a conventional run play, Grubb designed this play to let Polk and the timing and depth of the backfield action neutralize the initial defenders with the blockers setting up the big play. Watching the replay, you can see that Polk is receiving the toss hand off nine yards behind the line which gives him enough space to allow him to evade the penetration from the backside DL. If Fautanu and Kalepo don’t get their chip block to slow down the DL, or Polk lines up one or two yards too wide delaying the hand off, or Culp doesn’t sell the backside slice block to slow down the DE, then the whole play could get blown up in the backfield. Hell, even if Rome’s “crack block” on the backside of the run action wasn’t needed, he was there to seal off the pursuit if needed. That’s a detail that could’ve been missed, but it was run to perfection. The devil’s in the details, and the crisp execution of this play is what made this play look so easy.

Later in the game we saw another End Around. This time it was to Rome Odunze for another TD.

Like the earlier play to Polk, the whole play design is predicated on misdirection, but this play highlights aspects of a similar play design that wasn’t emphasized in Polk’s run. This time, instead of being called off of a base run play, Grubb bases the End Around play off of a split back shotgun look with a Swing Screen action to Jalen McMillan that had gashed the Tulsa defense earlier in the game. On both versions, the misdirection was designed to get the defense to flow away from the End Around action, and with McMillan’s pre-snap motion, the misdirection was particularly effective.

While this play also resulted in a touchdown, not every play can be as well set up as Polk’s touchdown. In order to capitalize on the Swing Screen action for the misdirection, we needed to run this play out of a similar formation which meant putting both McMillan and Bernard in the backfield and not having an H-Back/TE who could seal off the play side DE. Instead, Bernard had the tough assignment of blocking a DE who had 50lbs on him. Fortunately, because of the aforementioned deep backfield action, all Bernard had to do was get in the DE’s way and prevent a clean shot on Odunze off the edge (which he did a fantastic job of doing).

The second challenge on this play was that the defense lined up the play side CB on the LOS instead of in off coverage. Our basic blocking scheme on these two plays was to have the play side WR block down on the safety or the next second-level defender and let the releasing offensive linemen block the DB over the play side WR. The preference is to run this play against off coverage to allow time for the OL to release downfield before the CB can come downhill on the End Around, but Denzel Boston did an excellent job of selling the inside release through the CB to force him upfield and then chipping the CB on his way to the safety to allow the OL to pick up the block.It was the combination of Bernard’s blocking at the point of attack and Boston’s perimeter/downfield blocking that set up Odunze’s big run.

I’d expect to see us run more End Around plays this season to supplement our perimeter run game and capitalize on the speed and playmaking talent in our WR room. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of WR passes down the line that get built off of the same action.

3rd Quarter - 7:31 - 2nd & 5

Finally this week we have a great defensive play from Jabbar Muhammad to set up a 3rd & long situation for the Tulsa offense. Between the Boise and Tulsa games, most of our defensive pressure has been generated by our defensive front. Against both opponents, one of our biggest concerns was containing mobile QBs. This meant having our EDGEs play conservative contain assignments while bringing pressure up the middle via LB blitzes and DL stunts. However, we also needed to come up with ways to vary the angles of our pressure to avoid becoming predictable, and Muhammad stepped up to the challenge.

Schematically, this play call was a pretty generic CB blitz call out of a single-high shell against a rollout call from the offense. Our secondary picked up the routes well, and this likely could’ve resulted in a coverage sack even if Muhammad wasn’t blitzing, but what I wanted to highlight on this play was how we can further weaponize Muhammad as an all-around playmaker for us on defense.

In my 30-Day Countdown breaking down potential impact transfers for us, I wrote of Muhammad, ”he’s a light-footed demon underneath who brings the intensity and tenacity that made our DB room so fearsome during the Petersen Era. He isn’t afraid to fly downhill against WR screens and in run support, and he’ll play WRs physically downfield step for step.” Muhammad’s physicality and closing speed jumped out to me prior to the season, and this play further highlights those traits. He ran nearly 40 yards across the field to make a chase down sack on a QB that was rolling away from him. We have some talented EDGEs, but having a CB who can be a heat seeking missile in the backfield is an asset.

Muhammad is too valuable in coverage to be a regular pass rusher, and we certainly have more EDGE talent than in 2018 when Taylor Rapp and Myles Bryant had the 2nd and 3rd most sacks on our team. However, we do have a role for Muhammad to fill. Looking ahead to the Michigan State game, last season we dominated the Spartan perimeter rushing attack by making an early down coverage adjustment that left our boundary CB (Muhammad’s position this year) in the flats with a quick trigger in run support. I’d expect to see a similar adjustment to again be in Coach Inge & Coach Morrell’s back pocket this week against the Spartans.

Awgs’ Bonus Play of the Week

We’re bringing something new to Film Study this season by implementing a bonus play each week courtesy of the newest member Awgs. No breaking down the highlight but just sharing something that should be on replay for both the fans and the team for the next week. Tristan Dunn has the honors this week bringing the boom on kickoff.