One the the biggest struggles in the Ag passing game is related to Kellen Mond and his ability to get to his 2nd read quick enough to do damage down the field. He’s locking in on his primary target and holding the ball too long, if the primary target is not overwhelmingly open. To be fair, this has also helped him protect the ball and likely limit interceptions. He’s been very good at not throwing the Ags OUT of the game. But, as the competition steps up the next 2 weeks against STATE and Auburn, he’ll simply have to make more downfield throws.
These issues include pre-snap AND post-snap reads. Let’s take a look at a pre-snap read first.
Here Ags go 4 wide on 1st and 10. South Carolina counters with what looks like Cover 4 (quarters). Meaning the 2 corners and the 2 safeties are going to play their quarter of the field, with the nickel on the topside of the formation playing the flats. What has also happened is USC has gone to a 3 down look, with 3 LBs. The nearside outside LB also has flats responsibility. This is not a base look for USC, so they have no doubt confused Mond pre-snap.
What should be obvious here as Mond makes his pre-snap read is that Kirk is in a great position to generate an easy catch. There is plenty of green grass for Kirk to settle in an area between the flats defender and the deep safety. It’s likely the easiest throw on the field.
This is a well-designed play vs. quarters coverage. In fact, Mazzone has probably called the nearside read. The run action freezes both flats defenders. Creating an easy opportunity for Buckley to find a soft spot in the flats for an easy completion. Great call vs. Cover 4. However, Kirk on the top side of the formation is in a much better position to generate a big play. Not too mention, is a much more dangerous player in space than Buckley. This isn’t an error by Mond, but simply a good play that probably could have been a great play with a more mature QB.
If Kirk catches the ball in that position, he’s primed for a huge opportunity. But, if you watch the game, Mond’s eyes never even scan to his right. He takes a quick glance left and then snaps the ball. It’s safe to assume this is a called play by Mazzone and Mond is not reading his coverage.
Now, let’s look at a potential post snap read.
This is the very next play. USC has switched coverages again. Muschamp was wise in the game and was switching his coverages basically every snap to confuse Mond. This is common in the SEC. It’s only unusual if a team in major football doesn’t switch coverages a boatload throughout the game. It’s why it’s so critical for a QB and WRs to understand coverage.
USC is showing man free coverage here. Man on the 4 WRs and a free safety in the middle of the field. Generally, the patterns to beat this type of coverage will send 2 deep routes down the hashes to try and force that free safety to choose between WRs. It should create a simple read for the QB. Also note the safety is 17 yards off the LOS.
After the snap, the safety deepens to almost 20 yards.
The deep middle is wide open, as both WRs have inside leverage on their DBs. Obviously, there is a safety lurking, but he is very deep and there is a soft spot in the coverage to deliver the ball, if it comes out on time. Also note that Mond has a decent pocket to throw from. He is looking left all the way to Buckley, which should get the safety working that way. If you watch mature QBs, they will work the safety one way with their eyes and then throw back to the opposite hash. Classic QB move. But, Mond kind of freezes and never gets his eyes back around to Kirk, until its way too late.
For whatever reason, Mond doesn’t like what he sees and holds the ball for 4 seconds and then bails the pocket. This is a classic case of not trusting his eyes and the coverage. This should be an easy throw if the ball is delivered on time. But, if you hold the ball, you run your WRs right into the safeties. It’s self mutilation by a young QB.
Obviously, we don’t know how Mond is being coached on plays like this. But, as the Ags enter the 2nd half of the season against some really stout run defenses it will be critical to hit a handful of these plays every game.