Texas A&M continued their winning streak on Saturday night, defeating Mississippi State 30-17 at Kyle Field. Once again, freshman wide receiver Christian Kirk was a big part of the A&M game plan and played a big role in both catching the ball and drawing defenders away so other players could catch passes.
Starting with the first play of the game, Kirk was featured. On this play, A&M lines up in what I call their "sloth" formation, with Kirk in the slot.
I'll go ahead and show the play in full speed first:
The Aggies run a little variation with Kirk and the outside receiver. Most of the time, receivers will release up the field and run their route within their own "tube," if you will. So the routes would look something like this:
But sometimes offenses will use a "switch" tag (the tag is an extra word at the end of a play call that changes one or more players' responsibility) which has two receivers switch their landmarks and then run the routes, like this:
So now we understand what the two A&M receivers are doing on the play, and here's why this play works. We can't know for sure what the MSU safety's job was, but you can see that he likely has some sort of containment responsibility because while before the snap he bluffs that he's in coverage (deep alignment, looking at the receiver),
he gives it away right before the snap by looking into the backfield and starting to move forward.
And upon the snap, he moves pretty aggressively down into the box, until seeing that it's a pass.
But with him now out of the way, that leaves Christian Kirk being covered by #14, and #14 has no help over the top since the safety went down low. And that means Kirk has a very easy time breaking off and getting separation to make an easy nine yard catch. Refer back to the video above to see just how much room Kirk had because the defender couldn't risk being beaten over the top without any safety help.
So why run the "switch" action? Lots of reasons. To get Kirk involved in an advantage situation. To show a different look to the MSU secondary. To create a natural pick or rub if they were in man coverage. To see how MSU responds with their own responsibilities and use it again later (the Aggies did). Lots of reasons. In any case, it worked, and it's the first of many plays where A&M used Kirk as either a primary option or a decoy with great success.
The next play, A&M lined Kirk up in the wildcat and he took a direct snap. After that, A&M lines up in their standard trips formation.
The Aggies run their play action with Kyle Allen rolling left. This time, Christian Kirk runs a bubble screen. I don't think A&M has actually thrown a single bubble screen out of a 3x1 formation all season long (they did it a lot last year), but the threat is still enough to affect the defense, especially if the threat is Christian Kirk.
Two defenders move forward, ready to stop Kirk. But Kirk was a decoy all along. Allen never even looks at the bubble screen, instead taking the easy completion to Ricky Seals-Jones, who was left uncovered because of the bubble by Kirk.
The next play, a tunnel screen to Kirk. After that, Kirk's presence again opens up the field for someone else. Kirk gets double teamed by both inside linebackers, creating a very wide stretch for the backside linebacker.
Down in the red zone, A&M gets a big run from Tra Carson in part because the linebacker runs out to Kirk, leaving a void in the middle.
On the next drive, A&M continued to both use Kirk directly on screens and wildcats and stick routes, but his presence also continued to open up big opportunities for everyone else.
On this play, A&M runs play action with a designed roll out to the left. Josh Reynolds comes across on a drag to make an easy catch. Kirk was, once again, a big reason Reynolds was open. Kirk runs a deep route breaking to the opposite corner of the field while the quarterback rolls the other way, yet still draws the attention of three defenders. It was a decoy all the way, nothing more than a convenient way to move defenders away from where they intended to throw.
At the end of that drive, A&M scores on a pass to Damion Ratley. The safety was not able to get over to Ratley because he was over the top of Kirk, along with two underneath defenders bracketing Kirk.
Here's another play where A&M lines Kirk up in the backfield, hoping to get him matched up with a linebacker. MSU was ahead of the game on this play, as they went ahead and assigned two linebackers to him. The defense won this play, but again, the attention Kirk receives is high.
Here A&M runs a shallow cross concept with Kirk being the shallow crosser.
MSU's underneath defense focuses on Kirk, and Kyle Allen sees it and hits the open outlet to James White.
Next, A&M runs a different shallow cross series. The next two plays are basically the same, just run from different formations and with Kirk in different positions. In the first one, Kirk is the #2 receiver and runs a comeback on the sideline. Remember the "switch" tag we mentioned at the top of this article? A&M uses it here.
And here's the next play. Same concept, but Kirk is the #3 receiver now, and the defense keeps their eyes on Kirk just long enough to allow Reynolds a big completion.
To wrap this up, here are two more plays where again we do similar things, and when the defense fails to cover Kirk (the first one, a big gain to Kirk), they then adjust to cover him the next time which opens up a nice gain for Reynolds. Here is the first one. The thing to watch is the beautiful job Kirk does of shifting into the next open zone when the first zone he sits in gets squeezed shut.
So on the next play, Kirk runs the same route, and this time, the frontside linebacker follows him rather than releasing him to the weak linebacker, which creates a big hole to throw the curl to Reynolds.
He also blocks, in case you're wondering.
As you can see, both A&M and their opponents are making Christian Kirk a priority. A&M is feeding him the ball in every way imaginable, lining him up all over the field and getting creative. Defenses are now double teaming Kirk and sometimes even triple teaming him, with two underneath defenders and a safety over the top. To combat that, A&M is using that to gain advantages elsewhere.
A&M's offense has grown each week with regards to how much they do. With two weeks to prepare for Alabama, one has to expect that there will be a multitude of new adjustments that Bama hasn't seen. Check back next week for all the numbers and stats from the first five weeks of the season as I continue to chart tendencies and formations and a host of other other things.