My last thread expressed scepticism about Dykes' ability to beat good teams, but I'm not normally about negativity so here's something more positive. I'm starting to break down interesting aspects of the LA Tech/TCU game from 2011, and thought people might enjoy seeing how he gains all those yards. Hopefully, this will be the first of several posts.
Something that lots of teams are starting to do (UCLA and ASU under Mazzone, WVU and OSU under Holgorsen, Oregon under Kelley, and increasingly more NFL teams) is to package two different plays together into one play call. This means that there might be a run heading to the left but a pass or a screen heading to the right, for example. The QB will then have a very specific read that determines whether he hands off or throws, a lot like the zone read that Oregon has made so famous. Let's look at a play.
Before the snap, Louisiana Tech is in a 2x2 formation (2 WR's to each side) with their RB to the right of the QB, who is in the shotgun. You can't see it from this shot, but TCU is playing what appears to be a 2-deep nickle. They're actually running their famed “blue,” or “2-read” coverage. This is a hybrid cover-2/quarters coverage. In Cover-2, you have two deep safeties playing deep halves of the field. I've drawn the assignments in the picture below:
These are the zones for Cover-2. The problem with this coverage is that it takes the safeties out of your inside run defense, because they can't aggresively play runs up the middle and be responsible for deep routes to the outside. An answer to this problem is to play quarters, outlined below:
Quarters gives the safeties outside help by dividing the field into deep quarters and having the CB's drop into the outside zones. This lets the safeties play more aggresively against runs up the middle. The problem with quarters is that your short outside zones become very vulnerable. In Cover-2 this wasn't a problem, because the CB's were playing the short outside zones. Now that they're dropping, however, the LB's have no help on short, out-breaking routes.
TCU's Blue coverage, or 2-read, tries to give the best of both worlds. In this coverage, the CB's will cover the first route that breaks deep and outside, thus giving the safeties the same help they would have in quarters. If no route breaks deep and outside, then the CB sits in the short outside zone, giving the linebackers the help that they would have in cover-2. This, then, is the coverage that TCU is playing on this play, and it's their base coverage.
Looking back at the pre-snap picture, TCU's nickle back is over the inside receiver to the left of the offensive formation, and the WLB is slightly inside the inside receiver to the right of the offensive formation. Note that the WLB is at the TCU 47 yard line.
Here is the pre-snap picture with Louisiana Tech's backside routes in gold, and TCU's 2-read assignments against these routes in blue. When the outside receiver runs down-field, remember that the CB has to go with him. This means that the WLB is responsible for any out-breaking route.
Just after the snap, Louisiana Tech seems to be running a play-action fake. In the picture above, the QB is pulling the ball after faking the hand-off. There are two clues that the play-action wasn't the call from the beginning, however. First, the inside receiver to the left of the offensive formation is run-blocking, not running a route. Second, note that the QB is looking to the right of the offensive formation, straight at the WLB. Also, note that the WLB's right foot is now on the TCU 48.5 yard line. Remember where he started? He's coming up to play the run.
Here we see everyone's position after the WR's make their breaks. Note that the WLB is completely out of position to play the inside receivers out route. This was not a fortuitous accident, however. The QB was reading the WLB. If he comes up to defend the run, the QB pulls the ball and throws the out. If the WLB works outside to play the pass, then Tech is running the ball against what is effectively a 5-man front. Note that, with 5 offensive linemen, there are 6 “gaps” that the defense must cover: Two between the center and the guards, two between the guards and tackles, and two outside the tackles. If the WLB would have worked quickly outside, TCU would have had 5 defenders to cover 6 gaps, which would have equalled yards for the offense. Note that the inside receiver to the left of the offensive formation is still run-blocking in the picture above. He doesn't know what the QB's read will be, and is blocking in case the QB hands the ball off.
This kind of play is great, because it puts a lot of strain on the defense and has the ability to make a specific defender wrong no matter what he does. These plays also have all the benefits of play-action, but are also conservative in that you only actually throw the play-action pass if the situation is favorable. During the 2011 season, Oklahoma State's OC mentioned that several of their big pass plays actually came on called runs. This kind of play is how that happens, and this is the kind of stuff we're going to see a lot of this year.