Would Blocking People Help the Aggie Offense?

Much of the issues experienced by the Aggie offense can be traced to QB, youth, inexperience, execution.  But, the inability of the OL to block 3 or 4 rushers has been a major issue all year.  Saturday night against Mississippi State this issue removed any small chance A&M had to score enough points to win the game.

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Here, on 3rd and 5, Mazzone calls a pass play and State sends only 3 rushers.  The 5 man A&M OL completely leaves the best DL on the field, #9 Montez Sweat, unblocked.  The result is a sack and pant.

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This is another 3rd and 5.  Aggies have another pass called and again State sends only 3 down rushers, while also sending the nickel back on a delay blitz.  State has 4 rushers and the Ags have 5 OL and a RB, but fail to pick up the blitz and State pressures Mond into an early throw.

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This is a QB draw that A&M has set up on 2nd and 10.  State sends their OLB, #9 Montez Sweat on a twist stunt. ol4

This should be the absolute perfect look for this play.  State is in a 5 man box, which means if the Ags OL can get a hat on a hat they are set up for a big gain with nobody in the middle of the field.  Colton Prater #76 picks up Sweat on the twist.

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But Sweat is so strong he knocks #76 2 yards back into QB Kellen Mond.  He is now able to close the run lane.

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And ultimately generate a TFL.  This is a situation where Mazzone has a good call and favorable numbers, but the physical ability to execute the assignment dooms the play.

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Here is another situation where State sends only 3 rushers.ol8

Ags right tackle has a 1 on 1 block with Sweat.ol9

Sweat executes a mean swat move and gets free to the QB, forcing Mond to bail the pocket and get rid of the ball.  Again, A&M loses badly in a 3 on 5 situation.

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This is the play where Mond is knocked out of the game.  Again, State only sends 3 initially.  A&M has a shovel pass/screen set up to #25.ol11

The corner #7 then comes on a delayed blitz.  But, note how far he has to come to get to the QB.ol12

Despite the Ags having 5 blockers, he is never seen or picked up and almost decapitates Mond.  I would assume because he came from the corner, he was Mond’s responsibility.  But this was another slow developing blitz situation that should have been blocked adequately enough to execute the play.  Despite the incredible speed of #7, this is a basic corner blitz that must be recognized.

When a team can get the kind of pressure State generated with 3 and 4 rushers, your offense has almost no chance of success.  It’s really that simple.  They can drop ends and LBs into the underneath zones all day making life difficult on young QBs.  It’s a bad sign for those holding out hope for offensive production this season.

 

Know Thy Enemy: The Gus Malzahn Run Game

Instantly recognized in modern college football by its unique formations and motions, the foundation of Gus Malzahn’s offense is traced directly to the Father of the Wing-T, Tubby Raymond. Raymond was the long time coach at the University of Delaware and brought the Wing-T to the masses in the 70s and 80s.  Malzahn used Raymond’s book to develop his first high school offense 30 years ago.  He has maintained staples of the offense in his system wherever he has coached.  Although, I see less remains of the Wing-T in Auburn’s offense this year, it is still there and was prominent under Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.

Let’s look at some basics of the Malzahn playbook still in use today.  This is a classic Malzahn play that he has adapted from Raymond.  It is known as the Buck Sweep.  It’s a beautiful football play where both guards pull and lead a perimeter run.  Malzahn will run this out of a variety of looks.

This is the same play in last year’s Sugar Bowl out of a single back look.  As you can see there is an element of deception to the play that involves the QB keeping the ball.  These type of plays are logically most effective when the QB is a run threat.

That brings about a natural segue to the basic zone read play.

 

Who doesn’t run this play in college football?  Frankly, it seems like every other damn play is this play or the derived RPO off the same look.  I’m ready for something else.  But, Auburn has certainly made it a staple of their offense.  They especially love to go to this play when they go up-tempo and try to catch a team before they can get set.  After a splash play, expect hustle to the line and a zone read call. It can be predictable, but still remains effective for Auburn.

It was a great element of their playbook for Nick Marshall and it remains important in their current offense.  They will certainly run multiple RPOs off this play.  In the above clip, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham runs untouched for a 15 yd TD.  Why?  Well, the Arkansas game was really the first game where Stidham kept the ball on these plays.  And it certainly caught the Arkansas edge player with his pants down.  Notice how he crashes down the line with no regard to Stidham.  Stidham is a pretty fast QB.  He can certainly keep a defense honest and would probably beat Kellen Mond in a 40.  He’s not elusive or powerful as a runner, but he is pretty fast.

Flanker Sweep out of a Wing look.  This is a Malzahn favorite. It is a sweep play with a pulling guard, but the ball is handed to the flanker. Malzahn has typically lined up his fastest RB in the flanker position whether it was Michael Dyer, Corey Grant, or Cameron-Artis Payne. It’s just a fantastic play for a fast RB. As Chip Lindsey has taken over as OC, you are seeing less of this play. But, #23 Ryan Davis or #12 Eli Stove would be the flankers used to run it.

Play Out of Quick Huddle

The quick or sugar huddle is used throughout the game by Auburn to disguise formations and try to gain an advantage on the opponent.  It’s a signature of Malzahn’s offense.  Here a traditional jet sweep is run out of the quick huddle. Notice how the guards don’t pull on this play as they do in the flanker sweep.  The jet sweep is more effective in the Malzahn playbook than other systems, because flanker motion is such a constant of the run game it provides no key to defenders.  In other words, they can’t cheat due to motion.

Another reason that Malzahn will use the quick huddle is to disguise trick plays.  Here you have a tackle-over who splits out, only to see Auburn run a tunnel screen on the opposite side of the formation.  The defense has to be on alert anytime Auburn goes to the quick huddle, because you will get deception and it will happen quick.

Inside Zone/Power

The most commonly run play for Auburn this year would be a inside run that Auburn runs out of its shotgun formation.  Generally a 2 or 3 wide look where the flanker comes in motion, but the ball is handed to the tailback.  The flanker carries out the fake to one side and the QB will often carry out the fake to the other side.  This is a foundational element of Wing-T football, use motion and fakes to keep both edge defenders at home with threats to both flanks.

Auburn will run this play using basic zone blocking, with a wham block across the formation by the HB/FB.  This is basically an inside zone read play with flanker motion.

This is a very similar looking play, but more akin to the old power dive from the Wing-T playbook.  I’d venture a guess that this play is a Malzahn creation off the old 21 dive in Tubby Raymond’s original playbook.  They also love to use this play in short yardage and goal line situations. There is a hell of a lot of backfield motion to distract a LB, DE, or safety, but it is just a basic run play right up the old gut, with a pulling guard and a kick out block from the HB/FB. And of course, you could get a QB boot or a flanker sweep out of it.  That’s Wing-T 101 and it nice to see that it still serves as the bedrock of a top college run game 30 years after its Golden Age.

I’ll breakdown the Auburn pass game in the next couple of days.

 

Why Can’t A&M Get Christian Kirk the Ball? And Why a QB Change May Be Due.

A&M’s best offensive playmaker is only averaging 4 catches a game.  As a sophomore and freshman,  he averaged almost 7 catches a game.  Why is his production down?

#1 QB Play.  It goes without saying that A&M’s QB play under Kellen Mond has been too slow and indecisive in coverage recognition needed to identify good looks for an inside WR.  It’s also safe to assume that coaches have called plays away from the middle of the field where interceptions most often happen.  It’s also fair to point out that Kirk has struggled with drops in almost every game.  Even when the ball is delivered to him, he is not automatic to catch it.

#2 Passing Attempts.  A&M is averaging only 31 passing attempts this year, down from 36 last year and 37 in 2015.   A&M simply isn’t throwing the ball as much nor running as many offensive plays due to inefficiency and slower tempo.

#3 No Josh Reynolds.  I will maybe write about this in depth later. But, in this offense the X WR has to draw safety attention.  That is not happening this year and that means Kirk is getting safety looks over the top all game long.  This is a big problem for A&M right now.

#4 Coverage Looks

Teams have schemed the ball away from Kirk this year.  Let’s take a look at a few examples.

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In the UCLA game, on the very first drive, UCLA sends 6 rushers on 3rd and 5.  This empties the middle of the field for a quick in/drag route to Kirk for a nice gain.  It’s a nice job by Starkel in recognition.

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Easy throw and catch to a wide open middle of the field.

However, if you watch A&M on tape in SEC play, teams simply don’t empty the middle of the field in passing situations.  They have caught on to A&M tendency to run a lot of drag routes in the middle of the field and are dropping multiple defenders into this area.

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Here, State drops 3 into the drag area of the field on 3rd and 5.  The exact same scenario as the UCLA game example above.  They take away the easy drag throw and force Mond into more difficult throws betting he can’t make them.  They only rush 3.  They are also spying Mond to take away the QB scramble here.

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Again going back to UCLA, this is a disguised zone coverage when A&M goes 5 wide/empty on 2nd and 8.  Kirk has no defender over him and does a great job sitting down at the sticks for a great throw by Starkel.  While this look is still occasionally seen by A&M, they are not taking advantage of it with Mond at QB.  He is simply far too slow in recognizing and delivering the ball.  This is a timing throw that absolutely must be threaded between the defenders.  If it is late, it is likely picked off.  I’ve seen this concept double clutched by Mond multiple times a game.  The QB has to be ready to fire the ball upon the snap.

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Here is an example of a similar coverage look vs Arkansas.  This time A&M has an RPO called and Mond reads the off coverage and decides to throw the hitch to Kirk.  A good read.

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But, the execution is bad.  The ball sails high and Kirk has to leave his feet to catch it.  This can’t happen on this throw, because the yardage in front of Kirk is erased by the defenders.  It has to be an accurate throw made quickly.  Not easy, but important.  Remember Johnny Manziel side arming these throws at the speed of light?  That is what you are looking for on these type of throws.  Mond’s delivery is consistently lethargic on these timing throws. The release just isn’t fast enough, nor the accuracy good enough.

Now, let’s take a look at Nick Starkel after he entered the State game.  You can immediately tell that Starkel has recognition of what coverage he is seeing from the defense.

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Here State is showing a 2 safety shell look.  With both safeties back and no defender near Buckley on the nearside, there is a soft spot in the coverage.

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Starkel quickly recognized this and throws to the open spot in the defense where he is expecting Buckley to sit down.  The throw is on time and accurate.  This was a throw that Johnny Manziel made for probably 1,000 yards to Swope and Labhart….5 yards at a time.

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But, Buckley has not sat down in the soft spot in the coverage.  He drifts another 3 yards upfield into the safety.  The ball is now behind Buckley and lucky to not be intercepted.  This was a bad job by a young WR in recognizing the soft spot in coverage, which is a critical skill for any WR playing on the inside.  But, I can assume that based on very limited film of Starkel, he is more comfortable reading this type of coverage vs inside WRs and making throws into this area of the field as compared to Kellen Mond.  This creates danger, but will also assuredly create opportunities for slot players like Christian Kirk.  This is vital for any spread offense.  And why a QB change could be coming very soon.

The Justin Fuente File

For those schools looking for bright young coaches, Justin Fuente can’t be ignored.  An offensive background has not warped his sense of solid football fundamentals and defense.  Fuente is sure to be pursued by many well-funded suitors.  Here is a look at his background.

Age: 41

Played: QB OU and Murray State

High School All American At Tulsa Union

Coached:

2001–2003 Illinois State (QB)
2004–2006 Illinois State (OC/QB)
2007–2008 TCU (RB)
2009–2011 TCU (Co-OC/QB)
2012–2015 Memphis
2016–present Virginia Tech

Head Coaching Record:

2012 Memphis 4–8 4–4 T–3rd (East)
2013 Memphis 3–9 1–7 T–9th
2014 Memphis 10–3 7–1 T–1st W Miami Beach 25 25
2015 Memphis 9–3 5–3 3rd (West) Birmingham*
Memphis: 26–23 17–15 * Did not coach bowl game

Virginia Tech Hokies (Atlantic Coast Conference) (2016–present)
2016 Virginia Tech 10–4 6–2 1st (Coastal) W Belk 16 16

Key Questions and Analysis

Went 10-4 in Year 1 at VT with a team coming off back to back 7-6 seasons.

Known as the assistant who helped revamp the TCU offense and make Andy Dalton a good college qb

He’s the rare guy with an OC background who’s goal is to run the ball successfully and win the game, more than trying to set scoring records. Understands what tempo really is. and what its NOT. (a race to run the most plays)

Took over a terrible Memphis program that had won 5 games over the previous 3 seasons. Won 10 games and a league title in year 3.

Always been pretty balanced run/pass in terms of attempts, even at memphis. thus far at VT, he has run more than he has passed.

Hired Dave Odom to be his DC at memphis. Odom got the Mizzou HC job and had memphis playing top 25 defense.

Even as a career offensive guy, his time under Patterson, with Odom, and now with Bud Foster have to lead me to believe he damn sure understands good defense and philosophically why it is important. Is very much a hands on HC. Very involved with offense, defense and ST. Hes not the career OC who stays on one end of the practice field. Coaches hard and can be hard on players.

His personality is tough. Is it tough love on his players or is he an asshole? He has a way of coaching that reminds me of Billy Gillispie. Tough, sarcastic, nothing ever quite good enough. Not a lot of feel good moments. More old school than what is currently popular. Do players respect him? Is he a strong leader?

Says “mmmkaaaayyyy” alot. Could infuriate players if losing. Jeff Bridges voice double. Really sounds like Jeff Bridges.

Not exactly charismatic. Fairly middle of the road in personality.

Straightforward and honest with the media. Professional, more insightful than average. Tries to actually answer questions. Seems fair.

Does an incredible job with formations. Will use many unconventional formation throughout a game to get a matchup he wants.  Understands 1 on 1 football extremely well.  (My player is better than your defender so let’s get him 1 on 1)

Recruiting

His highest ranked class at Memphis was #77

1st full class at VT finished #26, #4 in ACC
This current class is ranked #25, #4 in ACC

slightly better than Beamer’s final classes. but pretty close to a standard VT recruiting class. Hasn’t signed a 5 star, yet.

Contract

Has a $6m buyout in his VT contract. Goes down about $1m each year through 2021.

Guaranteed Money: 
$3.2 million in 2016. Under the extended contract, $3.25 in 2017. He stands to make $3.4 million in 2018, $3.5 million in 2019, $3.65 million in 2020, $3.75 million in 2021, $3.9 million in 2022 and $4 million in 2023 in base salary and supplemental compensation.

Players Drafted:

Paxton Lynch, QB 1st round

Lynch started for Fuente as a freshman. He’s the only high draft pick that came out of his Memphis classes. Fuente is known as a really good evaluator of talent, its what people have said about him. But, at least during his 4 years at Memphis he won with kids that really never showed a lot of NFL upside. His WRs, RBs, DBs…the types of spots where you might expect a school like Memphis to have some better players…not really. he won with a great qb and very solid schemes and fundamentals.

Key Staff

Bud Foster, DC
brad Cornelson, OC/QBs
Galen Scott, Safeties and AHC
Brian Mitchell, CBs
Vance VICe, OL

Credit to Todd Grantham: Defensive Masterpiece

For all the talk of A&M’s offensive woes, and it was certainly offensive, much of the credit goes to Todd Grantham.  His NFL level pressure packages had Kellen Mond so confused pre-snap with coverages and pressures, the young qb had little chance in the passing game. No doubt in my mind that his mental confusion led to terrible physical execution.  (And that is really where Ags OC Noel Mazzone fell short, by not having more easy reads available for Mond.)

But, credit to Grantham because State’s players were moving and dropping all over the place.  And it was changing play to play.  The few times the Ags did get a favorable look, they couldn’t make the basic throw.  (First 2 plays of game and the slant to Ausbon that was picked are 3 great examples)

It was as good of a performance by a DC as you will see.  (And we’ll just gloss over the plays where 4 STATE DL whipped 5 AG blockers)  I wanted to show you one example of Grantham’s scheme.  I could show you 15 that are similar.

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It’s 3rd and 10.  Grantham shows a man-free look to Mond.  It looks like 1 on 1 coverage on his WRs, with a free safety over the top.  There are 5 defenders at the LOS showing rush.  This is the down and distance the Ags knew they had to avoid coming into the ballgame.  Grantham is really really good in these situations.

But, as you can see, right as the Ags snap the ball, the nickel back comes off Kirk on a blitz.

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Notice how for a brief moment it looks like Kirk in the slot may be uncovered.  But, that’s not true.

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The strong safety will now roll to Kirk in the slot, post snap.  So he is really playing a robber type coverage and will look to pick off any quick pass to Kirk.

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Meanwhile, 2 of the original down rushers are now dropping into underneath coverage. So STATE is actually only sending 4 on the rush.  Ags should be able to pick it up with their 5 OL and RB in protection.

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But the RB leaves his feet in pass pro and missed the blitzing nickel DB. Also note that the 2 players who have dropped are protecting the deep middle of the field.  This is just a beautifully designed coverage package.

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And Mond is forced to make an early throw.  The WR on the topside of the formation, #13, to my eye looks like he should have sat down at the first down marker for a back shoulder throw.  He continues going 5 yards beyond the stick, where he should have read blitz and broke off his route.  That seem to be what Mond expects.  But, it is impossible to know for sure.

 

 

Pre-Kickoff Saturday Late Vegas Line Movements

For entertainment purposes only! But, always interesting to see the games getting late action.  Lines from Westgate in Las Vegas.

Purdue -6 to -4 vs Nebraska

Kentucky -5.5 to -3.5 vs Tennessee

Pittsburgh -3 to -1.5 vs UVA

Mizzou -11 to -14 vs UCONN

Iowa -9 to -7 vs Minnesota

BYU -14 to BYU -9.5 vs San Jose State

Texas -8.5 to -10 vs Baylor

Wash St -3 to -1.5 vs Arizona

Miss St -1 to -3.5 vs Texas A&M

Georgia -14 to -13 vs Florida