Let's jump right into this week, shall we? I have a lot to cover. I'll get into some trends and results (personnel, play types, etc.) a little bit later but first I'd like to share some pictures and descriptions of a few new wrinkles A&M showed against Bama last Saturday.
There had been a lot of talk about what A&M was holding back and what we'd see. Some things we did see included the first five wide receiver sets of the year, the first QB counters, a couple new looks with our tight ends, and even a new look on kickoff returns.
First, let's talk about the QB counter play. A&M first showed it last year against Arkansas, and Johnny Manziel gained 50+ yards on it the very first time they ran it. A&M continued to run variations of it last year and continued to get big plays, like the game-sealing 72 yard touchdown run against Louisiana Tech. So it's not brand new, and now doubt Alabama knew we may use it, but it is brand new for 2013. We had not done anything like this in our previous two games, and against Bama, we ran it four or five times, from three different looks.
Here is the first look.
Pistol formation with a tight end next to Manziel. This counter involves no pulling lineman. The flow to the right comes from the entire offensive line and from Manziel starting right, while the running backs provide the "counter" back to the left.
The beauty of this is that since the quarterback is the ball carrier, you get an additional blocker, and as you can see, each defender has a blocker accounting for him.
Johnny follows some good blocks and gets a first down. This was the first play of the game, by the way.
So, that's one example. But as I said, we ran the same concept from two other starting points. Fast forward to the first play of our next drive, and we are now going to run it from a five wide receiver set after faking the jet sweep to Quiv Gonzales, a play we ran three times the week before.
So as Quiv goes in motion, the fake to him holds the attention of the defense, while our right guard and right tackle pull around to the left to block for Johnny.
An interesting note on this is that a lot of teams will pull both guards in the direction they are running. I don't claim to be an offensive line expert, but I will say that I think pull both linemen from the same side is fairly rare. I like it. We do it both directions, by the way. All of our linemen can run. Johnny again follows some good blocks and again gets a first down.
Now, for the third variation. Again, the whole goal is to get Johnny carrying the ball with two big blockers in front of him. But this time A&M does it from their basic trips formation.
Much like the play action fake to Gonzales on the previous example and the fake step by Johnny on the first example, this time the defense is held in place by a play action fake to the running back. The fake to the left keeps the defense honest while the left guard and tackle both pull around to the right.
Once again, since the quarterback is the ball carrier, the offense isn't forced to waste a player and now has blockers for every defender on that side of the field.
8 yard gain this time. Three drives to open the game, and on the first play of each drive, we ran a designed QB run from three different looks. Speaking of that, on the first offensive play of the third quarter we also ran a designed QB run, but that one was more of a straight run up the middle.
NOW, what about other wrinkles? I'll mention a couple and then show one more. One thing was, as I mentioned before, using true five wide receiver sets. We hadn't done that the first two weeks. Another was the formation we used to score our first touchdown. We had two wide receivers to the left, and two tight ends to the right. A look we hadn't shown all year and it led to a touchdown on a play action pass.
Another little wrinkle we did was using our tight ends to block for a wide receiver screen. We had just run a play with two traditional tight ends, aligned on either side, and after that play (a hand-off to Tra Carson), we immediately lined up with three wide receivers to the left, but the two inside receivers in this case were tight ends. We then threw a quick WR screen to Derek Walker who gained nine easy yards behind the tight ends.
This last one is pretty neat. I don't know if it's new, but it's the first time I noticed it. A common play we've been running since last year has been to line up in a 3x1 formation, and have the slot receiver on the trips side run a corner route while the two outside receivers run short little in routes. We used this play for the game winning touchdown against Bama last year, for the game winner against Ole Miss, and even for the final touchdown to Malcome Kennedy against Bama last Saturday. We ran it three or four times that I saw against Bama. It's a great play to run against man coverage with either zero or one safety. I'll show three example really quick from the Bama game last week and then show the wrinkle.
This first example, we hit Derel Walker for an easy pass because the defense sunk deep to cover the corner route.
This next one was on 3rd and 31 and Bama had it covered so Johnny just scrambled for a few yards.
This one was the final touchdown to Malcome Kennedy Saturday. You can see that they are in man-to-man coverage with no safety help, which is an easy read for Johnny. It's just a matter of the receiver beating his man and the quarterback making a good throw.
Ok, so now there's three examples, one where we hit the short play, one where nothing was available so the quarterback ran, and one where we hit the big play option. Now, here is a wrinkle I noticed in the Alabama game. I mentioned that this route is good against a single high safety or no safety. It's not so good against Cover 2, where two safeties each cover half the field. Why? Because the corner route runs right into one of the safeties who has everything in front of him.
Below you'll see that we have an answer for Cover 2. It's quite simple. Instead of a corner route, the slot receiver fakes the corner and then runs a post. Against Cover 2 defenses, the deep middle is a weakness, and with the receiver on the other side of the field running a deep route to occupy the other safety, it leaves the middle of the field wide open. Unfortunately, Johnny over-threw this ball and missed Kennedy, who was wide open for a big gain. But you can see the genius of the play design. It can be called or, I'd assume, adjusted on the fly based on coverage.
OK, now that we've had our fun there, let's talk about some trends and notes from the charting project.
- After not using it once in the first two games, we used a five wide receiver package 12 times out of 77 plays.
- 49 times we were in 10 personnel (one running back, zero tight ends). That's roughly 64% of the time, as opposed to 79% in the first two games.
- We called passes on all eight third downs we faced.
- Excluding our final drive when Alabama almost exclusively used a three man pass rush, they rushed 5 or 6 at us on 20/36 called passes. And on those 20, A&M averaged 13.2 yards per play. Johnny scrambled twice for 20 yards and was 10/18 passing for 264 yards, 3 TD's, 1 INT, and a 227 rating.
- When facing three or four pass rushers, Johnny still carved it up, going 18/21 for 216 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT, and a 194 rating. He had two scrambles for 15 yards in those situations.
- Mike Evans had an astonishing SIX catches of over 30 yards. He leads the nation in 10+ yard catches, 20+ yards catches, and 30+ yard catches.
- 14 of our 19 plays of 10+ yards came with 10 personnel. Four came with five wide receivers. One (the first play of the game, shown above) came with 11 personnel, with the tight end lined up in the backfield.
- JFF had seven of the eight longest runs by A&M on the day. Three were scrambles and three were QB counters.
- On first downs our play calling is very balanced. 37 first down snaps (not counting penalties), 17 runs called, 20 passes called.
- Five different times, we called a designed QB run on the first play of a drive.
- Here's the "Mike Evans makes football unfair" stat of the day: Johnny threw more passes (eight) to the "Deep Right" part of the field (20+ yards) than to any other area. On those 8 passes, Johnny was 6/8 for 262 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and a rating of 366.
As for the whole season, we're gradually getting more and more meaningful data. Now A&M's numbers mean a lot more, since they have played a great opponent, an average opponent (Rice, for argument's sake), and a cupcake. And the numbers are impressive. Here are a few.
- Total offense: 609/game. Unheard of in the pre-Sumlin eras.
- Yards per play: 8.16, up from 7.08 in 2012.
- 10+ yard plays: 2nd in the nation.
- 2nd in the nation in touchdowns
- #1 in the nation with 21 trips to the red zone.
- #1 in the nation in touchdown passes.
OK, that's enough. You get the point. This week I focused a little more on the pictures above and didn't make the charts I made last week. I will do that next week. That will give us one more week of data and a second week of using some of the new packages we started using in week three. Until then, enjoy and I'll be back on Friday with "5 Stats to Consider" regarding the matchup with SMU.