Without looking it up, guess which signal-caller in Saturday’s Georgia v. Missouri game earned the highest quarterback rating? I’m confident none of you took Taylor Powell, who earned a round 7.0 rating. But I’d also bet few of you guessed that Mizzou true freshman Connor Bazelak bested the Bulldogs’ Jake Fromm in the category, 67.3 to 51.
You can quibble about the usefulness of an esoteric statistic like QBR, but the fact is— Bazelak’s performance in the waning minutes of the game was eye-opening. He completed eight of his twelve passes for 64 yards, and, just as impressively, looked cool and composed leading the Mizzou offense.
So let’s take a careful look at a few of Bazelak’s best passing plays on the night.
Mizzou begins in a 2x2 set before slot receiver Dominic Gicinto (#14) motions to a trips set.
A diagram of the formation after the motion.
Tigers offensive coordinator Derek Dooley calls a version of an Air Raid concept called Mesh. This concept floods the underneath zones with four receivers, two of whom cross — or mesh — directly in front of the quarterback.
Here’s the play.
The idea in Mesh is to stretch the underneath defenders, creating seams that the crossers can run to or settle into. In this diagram, we can see how the middle of the field opens up due to Gicinto’s Speed Out, and Tyler Badie’s (#1) Swing route.
The strong safety turns to run with the Out and the Will linebacker widens with the Swing, leaving the corner and nickelback to deal with the crossers.
Georgia is in man-to-man coverage. The corner chases Jonathan Nance (#4) across the field, and the nickel sticks with Albert Okwuegbunam (#81).
Every route concept should be designed with a sound read against zone coverage, and an answer for man-to-man. In the Mesh concept, the mesh of the crossing routes is designed to defeat man coverage.
Ideally, the meshing receivers will slide right past each other at about three to four yards of depth. In practice, many coaches will have the crossers slap hands as they mesh to make sure they are close enough to each other. Against man coverage this should create a rub that frees up the underneath crosser - who in this case - is Nance.
That would look like this.
Nance’s route, however, gets flattened out by his defender. The mesh, therefore, produces no rub.
But Albert O comes open as a result of his physical style of route running. Watch him push his defender back before cutting to his crossing route.
Now watch Bazelak go through his progression. It appears that he reads from left to right: Speed Out to underneath Cross to deep Cross where he finds his open man for a first down.
On the next play, Dooley calls another staple concept called Shallow Cross out of a 2x2 formation.
The Bulldogs align in a four-down front with two deep safeties.
Shallow Cross creates what is called a Triangle read for the quarterback, isolating two defenders in a triangle formed by three receivers. Here, the triangle is formed by a Shallow Cross by Albert O, a Dig route by Gicinto, and a Sit route by Badie, all in green below. The isolated defenders are the Mike and Will inside linebackers, in red.
Here’s how the play looked on the field.
Notice how the inside linebackers each expand toward the Shallow Cross and the Sit routes, opening a window for the Dig. The Shallow Cross also comes open as the strong safety runs with the Dig.
Bazelak doesn’t opt for the triangle read though. He instead throws the Hitch to the boundary side. I would guess that he was coached to take a Hitch if it is immediately open. These quick, easy throws to open areas are often called gift throws.
The Will linebacker is sealed inside by Badie’s Sit route, and while the boundary safety rolls down into the flat, he is unable to prevent the quick completion.
One more look.
This is an Outside Zone play with a Slant route attached as a constraint. The play comes out of a 2x2 set with Albert O attached as a wing on the boundary side.
The Bulldogs roll the boundary safety down over Okwuegbunam and play Cover 1—man-to-man with a single deep safety.
I discussed the role of quick pass constraints as a way to protecting run plays last week, so I won’t get into the finer points here. The gist is that Bazelak knows there is no defender in the backside alley that can take away Nance’s Slant route, so Bazelak pulls the ball from Badie’s belly and throws to Nance.
This is the way the Outside Zone would look based on the initial alignment.
It’s a good thing Bazelak opts to throw the ball. Georgia slants the backside tackle who, along with the nose tackle, blows up the backside of the Mizzou offensive line. Badie would have had no chance.
Instead Bazelak throws a strike to a tightly covered Nance for a gain of six.
Like our first example, this snap is a third-and-medium conversion.
The formation is 2x2 with a wing, this time Daniel Parker (#82), into the boundary.
The Bulldogs cheat the strong safety to the edge for a blitz, and the Tigers run a common quick pass combination: Fade by the outside receiver, Quick Out by the slot.
The cornerback sinks, leaving the Quick Out open, if only for a moment.
The cornerback comes up and makes the play, but only after a first down reception by Gicinto.
Another third down — this one a third-and-long — and another conversion. Dooley motions running back Dawson Downing (#28) out of the backfield, putting the Tigers in a five-wide empty formation.
Both the Bulldog inside linebackers are at the line of scrimmage, threatening an interior blitz. The coverage is Cover 1.
Bazelak hits slot receiver Barrett Banister on a Quick Slant. Banister catches the ball and maintains his reputation as a first-down-machine by slipping through a tackle to pick up the requisite yardage.
Notice that Georgia’s initial alignment suggests that the short middle of the field will be open. Both Banister and Albert O, aligned as the number three receiver on the right, look to be single covered with room to work inside.
Albert is running an option route and turns in to the open area inside. Georgia, however, employs an inside/outside double-team with the Mike and strong safety. The Will blitzes, leaving a void into which Banister runs.
Bazelak hits Banister with a soft, accurate throw, and Banister does the rest.
Another surprising Bazelak stat: Bazelak passes accounted for three of the Tigers’ four third-down conversions, and four of Mizzou’s eleven first downs.
If Kelly Bryant‘s hamstring prevents him from starting this week against Florida, Mizzou’s offensive coaches will have a decision to make. With three games left on the schedule, Bazelak can only play in two more without forfeiting his redshirt. But after his breakout Saturday night, it is difficult to deny that Bazelak gives the Tigers a better chance of winning than Powell.