USC-UW Cut Ups: Better Late than Never Edition

You learn a lot watching a game a second time. You learn even more watching a handful of plays over and over. Here are a few cut-ups from the USC game, a little later in the week than I had planned on.

I had downloaded a whole bunch of .gif files by Sunday afternoon, but my plans to do a really comprehensive review of cut ups from this game were waylaid by life's other demands. Sorry. So here is a fairly quick run down of some of the plays I found interesting, for one reason or another.

Stressing the Edge

With a first down in the Trojans' territory at the beginning of its second possession, Washington attacked the perimeter of USC's defense. The Dawgs were in 12 personnel (one back, two TEs) and the WR combo was an unusual one: Terrell Bynum and Chico McClatcher. Jacob Eason was lined up under center, with both receivers to his right and both TEs to his left.

Chico came across the formation in fast motion and received a perfectly timed jet sweep hand off. Trojan ILB Palaie Gaoteote (#1) shot through the C gap quickly but couldn't get upfield fast enough and was left out of the play. The key blocks that made this play a good gain (19 yards) were made by Cade Otton, Hunter Bryant, and Nick Harris.

After he snapped the ball, Harris immediately angled to the second level and managed to just cut off USC ILB John Houston (#10), while both TE peeled out to create a nice alley for Chico to get vertical. Bryant won his block decisively, as you would expect Beast to do versus a freshman cornerback (Chris Steele). Otton managed to screen off Trojan SS Isaiah Pola-Mao initially, but wasn't able to actually turn the big safety and Pola-Mao broke free and took a good angle to eventually make the tackle. With just a little bit better block from Otton, McClatcher might have had a bigger gain, but probably not by much--there were two more Trojans to clean up the play a few yards beyond where Pola-Mao made the tackle.

One concern here is that the personnel groupings the Huskies are using on offense are beginning to really tip our hand in terms of the play call type. When the Huskies bring on receivers beyond the starters, the play call has become very skewed to the run. Here you can see McClatcher and Bynum and it is a run call. If I am noticing this, you can bet opposing coaches are too.

Why Do We Do This?

On the same drive the Huskies were in second down and two at the Trojans' eight yard line following a Hunter Bryant reception. The Huskies are again in 12 personnel, with Skinny under center and Salvon Ahmed lined up at RB at six yards deep. The TEs are lined up as double wings and the two WRs (Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia) are lined up on the LOS in tight.

I don't like this formation and personnel grouping on this spot on the field. Lining up with both TEs as wings and with the WRs in close brings so many Trojan defenders in close to the ball, either in the box or just outside of it. I just don't understand the utility of bringing two receivers (and two that are not very good blockers) in close.

You can see the overloaded box even more clearly on the clip below, where the Huskies lined up essentially the same way (thought the receivers and TEs are flipped).

The play call in both cases looks like an inside zone slice. You can see LT Trey Adams by pass the man lined up over him and attempt to climb to the second level. The right wing TE crosses the formation and seals the man who was lined up over Trey. The play call itself is sound, running behind Trey is never a bad idea, and there is an exploitable crease created in both cases.

Both plays are technically "successful", as Ahmed gains a first down on the first and the Huskies end up scoring a TD on the second, in the scariest way possible. But I still really question the logic behind the choice of formation and personnel grouping inside the ten yard line.

Just How it is Drawn Up

This is an example of a play working precisely the way it was drawn up on the whiteboard. Unfortunately, in this case the play was USC on offense and the result was a 60 yard run for Trojan running back Stephen Carr.

I don't know enough about the individual run fit assignments on this defensive call to make specific critiques of how everybody did their job on defense, but I think it is a safe assumption to say: mistakes were made. Husky OLB Ryan Bowman is the left EMLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage) in this tight odd front and he wasn't able to set an edge. Washington Safety Myles Bryant flew up and to challenge the lead blocker, but wasn't able to do anything more than get pushed outside. It looks to me like ILB Brandon Wellington should have covered that gap, but he seemed to drift into the USC Right Tackle as if caught by a tractor beam.

That left a clear alley for Carr to angle outside and assured the Trojans an explosive play. A not so great angle by freshman Safety Cam WIlliams probably allowd Carr to gain 35 more yards than he might have otherwise.

Below is the end zone view of the same play. The one thing that stands out here is that ILB Kyler Manu is able to come through the backside unblocked, but between another not so great angle and Manu's lack of foot speed he has no impact on the play at all.

A Happier Outcome

On the same drive, USC was threatening with a 2nd and 4 on the Husky 10 yard line and lined up in 11 personnel with two receivers and the tight end on the right, and WR Michael Pittman isolated on the left side. Washington CB Keith Taylor was lined up over Pittman and the Huskies were in a Nickel, one high safety look.

Pittman ran a slant and had Taylor beat to the inside, but USC's alignment didn't force UW Nickel Elijah Molden to worry about anything other than watching QB Matt Fink's eyes. And Fink did us a favor by never looking anywhere but Pittman's direction, setting up an extremely easy interception by Molden, who was in position to undercut the slant without even moving his feet very much. This was a pretty critical play, especially given what happened a couple plays later...

Salvon is RB1

For whatever reason I still hear and read some Husky fans suggesting that Salvon Ahmed isn't a "true running back" or that Richard Newton ought to be starting ahead of him. This is nonsense and I really have to wonder what kind of weird thought process leads one to come to that conclusion. Salvon didn't do much in the glorified scrimmage against EWU and sat out the BYU game with an undisclosed lower leg injury, but has been otherwise balling out in his opportunities as a true RB, dating back to late last season.

Following the Molden pick reviewed above, the Huskies were facing 2nd and 3 on their own 11 yard line. The Huskies came out in a bunch formation to the left with a single WR isolated to the right, Eason under center, and Salvon lined up at RB. I can't tell exactly what kind of run play was called, but it looks like it was some kind of zone run targeting the left side A- or B-gap.

Whatever the play call was, the plan went out the window immediately as the Trojans sent at least two LBs on a blitz and completely gummed up the left side of the line with extra bodies. But it didn't matter as Salvon recognized it, made a lightning fast jump cut three yards deep in the backfield and took the run through the backside A-gap. The combination of some really lousy angles by the Trojan defense and Salvon's track speed took him 89 yards to the west end zone of Husky Stadium all but untouched.

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