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Film Room: QB Run Predictions

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There’s little to learn from a blowout, so let’s take stock of the state of the quarterback run game.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Tigers dispatched the Redhawks of Southeast Missouri with ease, just as we expected. Whew!

I don’t think there’s much to learn from this ritual bloodletting, so I thought we might revisit some predictions I made before the season started.

In the first two Film Room installments, I played the oracle, speculating about how Derek Dooley would use his new quarterback Kelly Bryant in the run game.

Spoiler: ALMOST NONE OF MY PREDICTIONS WERE RIGHT.

Let’s compare my pathetic attempts at divination with what we have seen on the field thus far.

1. I guessed that we would see Quarterback Counter Trap, a play Bryant frequently ran at Clemson.

Truth value?

Dooley has not called for it.

2. I speculated that we would see Inverted Veer, another staple of Clemson’s quarterback run game.

Truth value?

Mizzou has not run it once.

3. I supposed that Dooley would frequently structure run plays to allow Bryant to read the backside of the defense in the run game, giving him the opportunity to the keep the ball and run.

Truth value?

Well, not perfectenschlag. But I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Dooley has let Bryant read. I was right about that. Where I was wrong, however, was the frequency — I thought Bryant would be reading much more — and method — Dooley has limited Bryant’s chances to read to a single play that was called very infrequently last year. I didn’t see that coming.

Let’s look at the quarterback run-read game from last year, and compare it to what we have seen so far this year.

The vast majority of the time Lock was asked to read on two plays: Counter Trap and Outside Zone, so let’s start there.

Counter Trap

Last Year

In 2018, the Counter Trap scheme was Dooley’s second-favorite run call, just behind Inside Zone. (I discussed both Counter Trap and Inside Zone here.) Not all the Counter Trap plays Dooley employed called for Lock to make a read, but many did. In fact, the great majority of Lock’s read keeps were on Counter Trap plays.

Here is a diagram of a version of Counter Trap that asks the QB to read.

QB hands off unless DE crashes on RB

Here I offer some examples of Lock keeping the ball on Counter Trap. Many went for big plays.

Versus Purdue

Against Georgia

This Year

To me, the single most surprising change in year two of Dooley’s offense has been the practical disappearance of the Counter Trap. Before the SEMO, Mizzou had run Counter Trap plays exactly two times in each of the first two game (I’m not counting garbage time calls, only plays where Bryant is under center). That’s four times out of 69 total run calls, less than 6%. By contrast, Counter Trap schemes represented almost 20% of all run calls last year.

And counter (ahem) to my hypothesis, each of the four times Dooley called the play in weeks one and two, it was a version of the play that eliminates the QB read.

For example, on this snap against West Virginia, Dooley kept a heavy wing on the backside to block the player who would otherwise be the read man.

The read man (in red) is blocked by the H back. QB does not have a read.

The Tigers ran this play twice against WVU. To the right with Larry Rountree III,

And to the left with Tyler Badie.

The SEMO game saw a relative spike in Counter Trap plays. Dooley dialed up six Counter Traps out of 28 run calls, about the frequency we saw last year. This one is a Counter Trap GH (the backside guard and H back are the pullers) to Badie with Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Albert O leading the way.

Counter Trap GH

Neither the center nor the left guard come off for the Mike LB, but Rountree still gets four yards.

Not only did we see more Counter Trap against the Redhawks, but we saw the first instance of Counter Trap that supports my prediction, one that allowed Bryant to read the backside and possibly keep the ball.

The EMOL (B in red) is unblocked. Bryant must read him.

This is a Counter Trap GT (the pullers are the backside guard and tackle) led by Case Cook and Hyrin White.

With the tackle pulling there is no one to block the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL), an outside linebacker (#8) in this case. The read man stays at home, so Bryant hands off.

I figured we would see more Counter Trap and more versions of the play that would allow Bryant to read. In both cases, I was wrong.

Outside Zone

Last Year

When Lock kept the ball on a run read that wasn’t Counter Trap, the play was almost certainly Outside Zone. Here is a diagram of an Outside Zone play that allows the quarterback to read the backside.

The QB hands off unless the end crashs down on the RB.

Some examples of the success Lock had when keeping the ball on Outside Zone:

Against Tennessee.

Versus South Carolina.

For all that success in 2018, Bryant has not yet kept the ball on an Outside Zone play. This is not due to defensive reaction; it is by design. Dooley has yet to run an Outside Zone that offers the opportunity for a read. He has removed the read in several ways.

  • With an H back blocking the EMOL with what I have been calling a Wham block
Backside end man (W in red) is blocked by H back.

Dooley employed this play twice against West Virginia.

  • By turning back the tackle on an run-pass-option, or RPO
EMOL (T in red) is blocked.

In this scheme, it is the backside linebacker who is unblocked, not the EMOL. Notice the linebacker (#17?) move toward the line, keying Bryant to throw the slant behind him to Albert O.

  • And out of the Pistol alignment which requires a handoff that precludes a read.

Notice that out of Pistol Bryant must open back and to the playside. Even though the EMOL is unblocked Bryant has no way of reading the backside of the defense.

I expected Bryant to be given more opportunities to keep the ball on Outside Zone. Once again, this conjecture was incorrect.

Inside Zone Search

In fact, Dooley has only employed one run scheme that allows Bryant to make a read, what I’ve termed Inside Zone Search. On this play, the H back crosses the formation like he does on Wham, but he passes up the EMOL and searches out the backside inside linebacker.

H back passes up the read man, searching for the inside linebacker.

Dooley used the scheme last year with Lock, though very sparingly. On one of those rare occasions that it was called, Lock took one in for a TD against Arkansas.

This is the play design.

And this is the execution.

Thus far into the 2019 season, Dooley has called Search eleven times with Bryant has keeping the ball on seven of those plays. The first two times both came on the first drive against Wyoming, both of which we looked at here.

Here is another example from the WVU game.

That was a solid gain, but they didn’t all work out well. The play that knocked Bryant out of the WVU game (by making him “overheated” as was initially reported) was also a Search call.

WVU brings the “heat” with a “feverish” gang tackle.

Conclusion

If I’m trying to find a reason to explain why my predictions were so off-base — that is, if I cling to the narrative that Dooley would be doing things according to my prognosticating if only for an unforseen (by me at least) reason — this last play suggests one.

Should Bryant have to miss time, the list of QBs that could replace him is dangerously short on both bodies and experience. Perhaps Dooley is limiting Bryant’s running to preserve his health, even if it prevents Dooley’s ability from fully exploiting Bryant’s ability.

And maybe, just maybe, there’s reason to think my predictions could still prove correct. With the SEC portion of the schedule upon us, perhaps we’ll see Dooley risk opening up the run-read section of the playbook to take advantage of his skilled runner of a quarterback.

If that happens, we’ll give it a close look in the Film Room.