In my previous series, I suggested some possible answers to the question: How might Kelly Bryant’s exceptional skill as a rusher prompt changes in Derek Dooley’s run game? Today I ask the same question, but this time about possible tweaks to the passing game. In this series, we ask how Dooley might adjust his passing offense to suit Bryant’s particular passing abilities, looking at the pass game Bryant lead at Clemson and noting similarities to and differences with the passing attack Dooley employed with Lock.
To this end, I studied four of Bryant’s games at Clemson: The 2017 contests with South Carolina and Virginia Tech, the 2017 BCS Semifinal Sugar Bowl versus Alabama, and 2018’s game against Texas A&M. My focus today is on what I’m calling, for lack of a better term, pure passes—quick and dropback passes at the exclusion of screens, rollouts, and bootlegs.
Bryant’s reputation as an efficient passer who makes his money on short quick throws is well-founded according to my data. In the games I cataloged, quick passes accounted for almost 40% of the pure passes Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott called for Bryant. The traditional quick routes were all there, including Slants
In spite of Bryant’s production at Clemson, it’s difficult to predict that Dooley will frequently exploit Bryant’s expertise in the quick game. Pure quicks were a very small part of Dooley’s 2018 offense. Almost all the quick routes Lock threw were part of run constraint schemes (short routes or screens to discourage the defense from collapsing inside to defend the run) or run/pass options (RPOs). That is to say, quick routes were mainly included as support for other primary plays, not as ends in themselves. Here are some examples of the ways Dooley used quick routes in 2018.
Run constraint Hitch: In this clip the inside linebacker aligns tight to play the run, so Lock zips it in to Kendall Blanton on a Hitch. (Notice how the outside linebacker, #84, tries to bait Lock by turning his body fully toward Johnathan Johnson and then sinks in to cover Blanton at the snap. It takes a precise throw to make the completion, which Lock delivers).
RPO Slant: The unblocked backside inside linebacker chases the Outside Zone, triggering Lock to flip the ball to Emanuel Hall who is filling the void on a Slant.
Will Dooley cater to Bryant’s past success by bulking up his menu with pure quick concepts? That would require a schematic purchase of some expense, so it’s difficult to say. But we should certainly keep an eye out for the emergence of a substantial quick game.
A common assumption is that the loss of Lock’s cannon-arm will necessitate a dialing back of the Tigers’ vertical passing game. I would imagine this is true; at Clemson Bryant went deep much less often than Lock. But let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that Bryant is hardly incapable of going long.
Here Bryant puts the ball right on a well-covered vertical target on the field’s wide side.
Notice in this clip how he holds the deep-middle safety with his eyes before lofting the ball down the left sideline.
And here Bryant shows off his raw arm strength, uncorking a deep throw off his back foot while on the run.
So, deep throws are not off the table in 2019.
Bryant also had success at Clemson on several of the intermediate routes Dooley asked Lock to throw. Some examples in parallel:
Bryant drilling a five-yard In route—often called a Fin—on 3rd down.
And Lock to Johnson on a Fin.
Bryant tossing to a Dig route on a huge 3rd and 15 against A&M last season.
And Lock hitting Albert O on a Dig right at the first down marker.
RB Wheel. This is one of my favorites. Notice how Bryant gets through his entire progression before finding the wide-open running back as his third or fourth option.
And Lock hooking up with Larry Rountree on a similar route.
So, sure, transitioning from Lock’s deep-ball-brilliance will change the look of the passing game, but we should look for sustained success in the intermediate passing game based on Bryant’s familiarity with the routes Dooley will ask him to throw.
In the next installment of this series we will look at similarities between Clemson’s and Missouri’s screen games and giddily daydream about the promise Bryant’s scrambling ability will bring to the Mizzou attack.