Welcome to the first in-season installment of Film Room.
Here I’ll look at some of the mistakes Mizzou made against Wyoming (dang, they made some costly mistakes). But we’ll also look at some of the good things they did — and in spite of the sting of losing — they did do some good things (it’s true).
In the first installment of Film Room, I wondered whether Derek Dooley would emphasize the quarterback read game as a way of utilizing Kelly Bryant’s legs. He did— though not as much as I expected— by featuring a play he called infrequently last year.
I’ve presented the Zone Read scheme before, but let’s refresh our memories. On Inside Zone, the entire line of blockers steps to the playside, leaving the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) unblocked. The quarterback’s read controls the EMOL: if the EMOL crashes down to tackle the running back, the quarterback pulls the ball and attacks the backside edge.
A common tactic to defend Zone Read is to gap-exchange the EMOL and the backside linebacker. In the above diagram, the backside defensive end (in red) is aligned in the C gap outside the offensive tackle and the backside linebacker (also in red) is responsible for the B gap between the guard and tackle. A gap-exchange is just what it sounds like— these players exchange the gaps they are responsible for.
Now the DE takes the B gap and the LB takes the C.
We’ve seen this play before in Film Room— Clemson’s Kelly Bryant running Inside Zone Read against a gap-exchange during last season. Notice how the DE takes the RB while the LB instantly appears on the edge for Bryant.
While Bryant beats the linebacker for a TD here, an offensive coach would obviously rather develop a scheme that would account for the problem gap-exchange poses than depend on a phenomenal play time and again. On Saturday night, Dooley employed such a scheme.
Zone Read Search
We looked at a scheme called Zone Wham last month. The play features a split flow action in the backfield with the H back moving against the grain of the play to kick out the EMOL.
Wyoming ran a ton of it Saturday night, and with success.
Zone Wham blocks the EMOL, so there is no need for a QB read. Dooley ran a play very similar to Wham— we’ll call it Zone Read Search— that keeps the read viable and accounts for the backside linebacker in a gap-exchange. It was something like a signature play for the 49ers during the Colin Kaepernick era.
Dooley called Zone Read Search four times against Wyoming, and Bryant pulled the ball on each of them. The first two— both on the first drive— were quite successful.
First, Bryant converts a 2nd and 7. The DE is the EMOL and attacks the back. Albert Okuwegbunam (#81) crosses the formation on a split flow path. Instead of blocking the EMOL as he would in Zone Wham, he searches out the inside linebacker who is gap-exchanging with the end. Watch as the Search block creates the seam that Bryant hits.
Later in the drive, Bryant moves the chains on a 3rd and 2, again on Zone Read Search.
You can best see the way the play develops in the tight shot. The DE shuffles way down to take away the run and the LB instantly flies to the edge. This time, Daniel Parker (#82) hooks the hard-charging LB, giving Bryant the outside.
On their second drive, the Tigers again ran Zone Read Search, this time unsuccessfully.
In the first two instances, Bryant was attacking the two-receiver side when he pulled the ball. Here he is attacking the single-receiver side. With the corner covering the only receiver to his side, the boundary safety is free to aggressively attack the run box on the snap.
All kinds of problems ensue. Right tackle Hyrin White (#50) becomes preoccupied with the safety, but fails to block him or the playside linebacker. While Albert O gets his helmet on the inside number of the gap-exchanging LB, heavy pursuit from the inside keeps Bryant from cutting up inside and forces him to the sideline.
We saw the play once more on the second to last snap of the first half (yes, we’ll address the fateful last snap of the half later). It was also to the single-receiver side and, again, the boundary safety stopped Bryant short of the goal line.
Zone Read Search was a nice wrinkle Dooley mixed in. I would like to have seen it again in the second half, and to the two-receiver side, but we can’t always get what we want.
Valladay: 61 yard TD
I’m feeling masochistic, so let’s shift to the defensive side of the ball where the Tigers allowed almost 300 yards rushing. A full 45% percent of the Cowboy’s total yards on the ground came on two snaps.
Yes, you remember them.
The first big play was Xazavian Valladay’s 61-yard dash to the end zone.
Did you notice that the scheme is the aforementioned Zone Wham? It is executed out of an unbalanced formation— the tight end is covered by a wide receiver— with a Jet Sweep fake as window dressing.
Let’s look at the way the Tiger defense reacted.
That looks like a bunch of gobbledy-goo, so let’s isolate the most important elements.
- This is the most important aspect: rather than stepping to the playside as an OL would normally do on Zone, the left guard steps backside to chip the nose tackle before climbing to linebacker level. This is a subtle but important technique. The chip allows the center to overtake Jordan Elliott’s (#1) playside shoulder, turning Elliott out of his gap.
- The guard goes on to drive Cale Garrett (#47) into Jordan Ulmer’s (#11) lap, effectively blocking two players. Ulmer is late reacting to the inside run as he must respect the Jet Sweep fake.
- These two blocks create the seam that Valladay hits with a full head of steam.
Watch again, and appreciate the effectiveness of the left guard’s technique.
- Another reason the lane gapes so wide is the right side of the line— defensive end Jatorian Hansford (#28) and strong safety Khalil Oliver (#20)— fail to constrict the hole. They get too far upfield and are further widened by their blockers. Hansford is roughed up pretty good by the right tackle.
(As an aside, as the Cowboy run game gained steam, I wondered whether we would see DT Akial Byers, who played DE last year, replace pass-rusher Hansford on the edge. We did not.)
- Finally, notice the lack of a deep safety to cover for the defensive front and save the touchdown. Free safety Ulmer is aligned in the box as a third linebacker. Joshuah Bledsoe (#18) is the boundary safety, but on the motion he flies across the formation to defend the Jet Sweep. This leaves the deep middle of the field wide open.
All these elements come together for the huge Cowboy score. One last time, if you can stomach it:
Chambers: 75 yard TD
Sean Chambers proved to be quite a handful as a runner. I neglected to go back and watch the four games he played for Wyoming last year, so I was not expecting it when he did this.
The play is Inverted Veer, a play I mentioned in this space a few weeks ago. Let’s look at it in some detail.
The blocking scheme is Power. A traditional Power play might look like this.
While Inside and Outside Zone are both considered part of the Zone family of schemes, Power is from a family called Gap schemes. In Gap schemes, the playside linemen block to their backside gaps while one or more blockers from the backside pull around to the playside. In Power, the backside guard (the right guard in the above diagram) is the puller.
Inverted Veer adapts the Power blocking scheme for spread formations. Neither a tight end nor a fullback are necessary to block on the playside because the quarterback reads the playside EMOL.
The QB puts the ball in the RB’s belly and shuffles laterally. If the playside EMOL— here the defensive end— squeezes inside, the quarterback hands to the RB on a sweep path.
If the EMOL comes upfield, the QB pulls the ball and runs it up inside.
The Inverted Veer play on which Chambers scores includes a Jet Sweep fake going the opposite way. I find this ingenious, for reasons I’ll get to.
The Mizzou defense presents an odd front (three down linemen). There are linemen in both B gaps (the gaps between the guards and tackles): this is called a Tight Front, alignment du jour for stopping inside runs against the spread offense.
Here is another jumble of a diagram showing how the Tiger defense reacted.
Again, let’s make sense of this by isolating a few things.
- First, as we see above, Oliver (#20) comes upfield, triggering Chambers to pull the ball.
- The Jet fake has tremendous effect, drawing the attention of Tre Williams (#93), Nick Bolton (#32), and Tyree Gillespie (#9). This is important, because getting the backside linebacker blocked is essential to successfully running Power. Here, Bolton is goaded into blocking himself.
- Hansford (#28) gets mauled by the left tackle, but at least gets penetration, causing the pulling guard to belly into the backfield a bit. This keeps the guard from turning upfield to block Garrett (#47). The guard instead kicks out Oliver.
Watch the play again, paying attention to these three elements.
Now for some criticism.
- Byers (#97) is in the backside B gap and goes entirely unblocked (the center neglects to check back on him for some reason). Instead of running upfield as he does, I’d like to see Byers follow the pulling guard— staying in his hip pocket, in the parlance of coaches— right to the ball.
- As we mentioned, the pulling guard is unable to make his way to Garrett (#47). Both Garrett and Joshuah Bledsoe (#18) are unblocked and have a shot at Chambers. Garrett whiffs and Bledsoe is the victim of a nasty stiff-arm.
- The Jet fake makes Garrett indecisive. Rather than attacking the line of scrimmage as he often would, Garrett waits to diagnose. By the time he makes his read, Garrett is in space with an athlete of a quarterback.
Let’s watch the tight shot.
I told you we’d get to the first half’s last play from scrimmage, and here we are. Abandon hope all ye made it this far.
What’s interesting about this play to me is that it was prefigured by the Tigers’ first touchdown.
The scheme is a Trap where the playside guard kicks out the playside EMOL and the fullback leads inside. This is the way I believe it would be drawn up.
But more often than not, they don’t happen the way they’re drawn up. Notice the way Cowboy strong safety Esaias Gandy (#5) knifes inside pulling guard Larry Borom (#79). The linebacker ends up on the ground and Larry Rountree III (#34) scoots past him for the TD.
Gandy didn’t make the play, but demonstrated a problem with the play’s execution. Might this problem arise again?
It might, and it does.
The fumble happens on the exact same play which is defended the exact same way. Here the puller is Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, who misses linebacker Ben Wisdorf (#43). Wisdorf keeps his feet and plants his helmet on the ball, forcing the fumble.
Allow me to conclude with a bit of editorializing.
I fear costly mistakes are becoming less regrettable abberations and more hallmarks of Odom’s otherwise solid program. As was apparent Saturday night, this team is not good enough to overcome mistake after mistake.
Having said that, it’s important to acknowledge that there is always time to clean things up because there are still games left. The season can still be a good one.
Win or lose, I’m looking for games where we can honestly say the Tigers gave their best shot and didn’t hamstring themselves with egregious errors.
Show me a clean game and I can accept any outcome. These mistake-riddled efforts, though, are getting tiresome.