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Film Room: How Kelly Bryant can help Mizzou in short yardage

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Bryant’s legs can turn a situation of disadvantage into one of advantage.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Tiger quarterback aligns in shotgun, needing a first down to continue the drive. He faces pressure as he drops to pass and, in the teeth of the rush, delivers a strike to an in-breaking receiver. The gain earns a first down and extends the Tiger drive.

Lock and Bryant: Similarities

This description represents not one, but two plays from last season. The first is from Missouri’s frantic, ultimately unsuccessful drive to win the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State. On a 4th and 3 play that could have ended the Tigers’ chances, Drew Lock shows toughness and poise finding Johnathan Johnson as Lock is driven to the turf.

The second play is from Clemson’s first drive against Texas A&M. Kelly Bryant stands tall in the pocket, delivering a strike for a huge 3rd and 13 conversion.

These two plays exemplify the traits Lock and Bryant hold in common as tough, experienced, cerebral signal-callers.

Lock and Bryant: The Difference

In our first Film Room series, we focused on the differences between Lock and Bryant, speculating about changes the Mizzou offense might undergo to cater to Bryant’s tremendous running ability. In this column I’ll do the same, but with a much tighter focus, analyzing how Bryant’s acumen in the run game might be enjoyed by Missouri in one particular offensive phase: short yardage.

We began with parallel passes by Lock and Bryant. As it turns out, the final plays of these drives also happened in parallel fashion: short yardage plays with the ball in the quarterback’s hands. If the passes with which we began embody the similarities between Lock and Bryant, the drive-ending runs illustrate an important advantage Bryant offers in the short yardage phase.

The Short Yardage Problem

Let’s pause here a moment to describe the problem short yardage defenses pose for offenses. The defense will usually press receivers, packing the other defenders inside to defend the run. The tight coverage takes away easy throws—any pass attempt will be contested. The math in the run game, however, is also tough: the defense can have up to a two-player advantage in the run box.

Let’s illustrate the problem.

Down four points in the second quarter of the 2007 Big 12 Championship v. Oklahoma, the Tigers have a healthy drive going, headed, it seems, for a go-ahead touchdown. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is having particular success with a quarterback Inside Zone play from an empty backfield. First, Chase Daniel converts a 3rd and 1 with a long run.

Then, on 1st and goal, he comes up just short of that touchdown-for-the-lead.

Second and goal sees RB Jimmy Jackson unable to break the goal line, bringing up 3rd and goal from the one. Christensen goes back to the QB Zone. This time the Sooners shift to the short-yardage defense described above, lining up six defenders in the box.

With only five offensive linemen to block the Sooner’s six defenders, there will be an unblocked man.

The red linebacker (B) can’t be blocked.

You might remember the result.

Daniel is corralled into the arms of the unblocked man and dropped short of the goal line.

Sigh. The difficulties of short yardage.

Unpause. Back to the final drive of the Liberty Bowl.

Coming up Short

Fourth and 1 with 1:05 to play and the Tigers need a touchdown. Dooley sets Trips (three eligible receivers) to the right. Two tight ends— former O lineman Samson Bailey and precocious freshman Daniel Parker— align in a heavy wing. OSU responds with the defense described above: press-man coverage on the outside receivers, stacked box with the remaining defenders.

Mizzou has seven blockers to deal with a nine-man box. Two Cowboys will be unblocked. The Tigers run Inside Zone, and Lock pulls the ball.

The backside safety is unblocked.

He is chased by the unblocked safety and tackled short of the marker.

Game over.

Success

The last play of Clemson’s drive is strikingly similar to Mizzou’s: Trips to the right, Inside Zone. A&M plays press-man on the wideouts and stacks the box.

Clemson has six to block eight. There will necessarily be two unblocked defenders.

The backside outside and inside linebackers can’t be blocked.

The Aggies perform what is called a gap-exchange: the outside linebacker crashes inside on the RB, forcing Bryant to pull the ball. The inside linebacker slides outside, replacing the OLB on the backside edge. Bryant immediately finds himself confronted by this unblocked man. How does the play end this time?

Differently.

Bryant freezes the linebacker with a stutter-step, then beats him to the pylon.

Touchdown.

Conclusion

The numbers in the short yardage run game add up to a distinct advantage for the defense. Success often depends on someone beating an unblocked player. Kelly Bryant’s natural running prowess gives Missouri this someone.

Mizzou’s inability to pick up that difficult yard immediately ended their threat to win the Liberty Bowl. Bryant’s scamper for six against Texas A&M, on the other hand, can be seen as the difference in the game: Clemson won the game by two points.

Indeed, the short yardage phase can be extremely important in close contests. And with Mizzou losing several close games last year—the Tigers failure to run the ball effectively in the second half of the Kentucky game comes to mind here—perhaps the advantage Bryant brings to the short yardage run game pays off in the win column in the season to come.