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Why Texas Tech's draw plays worked so well against KU
Welcome back to "The Breakdown," where we'll look at some KU plays each week and try to go a little more in-depth into why it did or didn't work.
I promise we'll get to some successful KU plays in the future. But for this week, I wanted to look at what made a pair of Texas Tech draw plays work so well against KU.
Like last week, I have consulted a Division-II defensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach" in this blog.
Here is the replay of Texas Tech's two similar touchdown runs on draw plays. The first TD has two replays afterwards, while the second TD has one replay following it. You can also click back to this video as you read later in the blog if you need to.
First off, Coach says that draw plays are going to be extremely difficult to defend against teams like Texas Tech.
The reason? Because the Red Raiders are so pass-happy.
Consider this: Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in pass attempts with 455. KU is second in the league with 330.
"Your linebackers and your secondary and your safeties are thinking about pass, and they are thinking about their pass drops," Coach says. "So what’s a good play to run? Show the pass, and then hit them with the run."
So what has to happen to stop a well-executed draw play?
"It’s essentially a play that your linebackers are going to have to do their best to stop," Coach says, "but the way that (Texas Tech) blocked it, it’s also going to fall on those guys getting help from your defensive line."
We also need to understand this will be a more difficult run to defend because of Texas Tech's wide splits between its offensive linemen.
Because there is so much space between the offensive linemen, KU's defensive linemen are spaced out far apart and need to try to stand their ground so the gaps between them don't become any larger. The linebackers, then, have the responsibility of coming up to fill those gaps to make tackles on running plays.
Let's break down the second rushing touchdown before we get to the first. This play starts at 32 seconds in the video.
For this play, we're going to focus mainly on the line play. As you can see, KU is in its 4-2-5 set (four defensive linemen and two linebackers).
Texas Tech effectively runs what is called a "fold block."
In a fold block, one offensive lineman blocks to his left or right, and another lineman next to him "folds" behind him to make another block.
As we can see from the photo above, the center cuts to his left to block No. 71 John Williams, while the left guard folds around him to find a linebacker, in this case No. 49 Drew Dudley.
"That’s a pretty good way to run your draw," Coach says, "because it’s going to be hard for that linebacker to see that block."
As we can see from the next two slides, the left guard does a great job with this block, clearing Dudley out of the way to clear the hole.
So how could KU have defended this better? Let's examine it person-by-person.
Coach says Williams, No. 71, does a pretty good job of holding his ground. In fact, he's in a position to make a play even with Texas Tech's center grabbing him*.
* — And perhaps holding him.
Coach says much of the responsibility for stopping this play rests on KU's linebacker No. 34 Huldon Tharp, even though it is a difficult play for the linebackers because of the way it is blocked.
When the play first starts, Coach says Tharp's read is through the guard straight to the running back.
When Tharp sees the left guard kick out to his right, the linebacker should know immediately that this is a running play.
Tharp's responsibility then is to fill the hole in between KU's two interior defensive linemen to force the back to make a lateral move.
According to Coach, a bad first step costs Tharp on this play.
Notice that Tharp starts the play on the seven-yard line. Once he reads run, his next step is forward with his left foot, as shown in this slide.
"See how his footwork takes him up toward the line of scrimmage and not moving laterally?" Coach says. "Instead of going laterally ... what you want to do with that (pulling guard in front of him) is you want to take one step laterally with his left foot and then come straight downhill and fill the hole."
Tharp's two steps toward the line of scrimmage take him two steps closer to the left tackle, who is able to get to him and block him easily.
As you can see from the slide above, Tharp would have made himself much harder to block if he would have been moving laterally at the start of the play and cut to the running back up the hash. Instead, his over-pursuit of the play has put him in a tough spot.
There's also something interesting going on with KU's defensive ends.
Coach says that on running plays, ends use two basic techniques: either anchor technique or bend-and-run (chase) technique.
In anchor technique, an end stays to the outside just in case the quarterback keeps the ball and runs to his side. In bend-and-run (chase) technique, the defensive end chases the running back to the inside to try to make the tackle.
Let's take a look at Jake Laptad on the right side of the screen.
He would appear to be playing bend-and-run technique, as he follows the back into the hole and nearly makes the tackle.
It's interesting, though, if you look at the other defensive end, Maxwell Onyegbule.
In the slide above, you can see him straighten up during the running play.
"See how he squares up and patters his feet right there?" Coach says. "That to me tells me that he’s playing anchor technique."
Coach says it's tough to know why Onyegbule would play anchor technique in this situation. Against a mobile quarterback, it would make sense to stay to the outside, just in case the quarterback faked the run and took off to the right. But Texas Tech typically doesn't have running quarterbacks, and Taylor Potts is not known as a rushing QB.
Either way, it would have been an extremely difficult play for Onyegbule to make.
There's only one other player with a chance at stopping TTU running back Baron Batch, and that's No. 13, KU safety Lubbock Smith.
"That’s tough when you’re covering receivers," Coach says, "but you’d like him to take a three-step burst and try to get (Batch) on the ground at the two-yard line."
Instead, Smith takes a more direct angle at Batch, opting to head straight up for him at the five-yard line. He has no chance at getting the speedy Batch by using that route.
"Just a fundamental thing. It doesn’t look like he took a very good angle to the ball," Coach says. "That would have been a tough play for him to stop, but if they’re farther out in the field rather than on the 10-yard-line, he’s got to take a good angle at that back if it does squirt through the line of scrimmage, he basically just has to get him on the ground 10 or 15 yards from the line of scrimmage."
All right, let's go back to the first play. First, let's diagnose what KU is doing defensively.
As you can see from the top of the screen, Texas Tech is facing a third-and-4. This is a passing down for most teams, and almost positively a passing down for the Red Raiders, who came in as the 118th-ranked team (out of 120) in rushing.
Knowing this, the KU coaches gamble and bring a blitz. The linebacker standing among the defensive linemen (No. 41 Arist Wright) is blitzing, along with safety Lubbock Smith (No. 13), who is at the 11-yard line. This puts KU in a Cover 0 defense, meaning every cornerback is matched up man-to-man, with the back safety, Darrell Stuckey, covering the back out of the backfield.
Notice KU also has a different alignment up front, as the nose guard, Richard Johnson Jr. (No. 97) is playing directly across from Texas Tech's center.
Once again, Texas Tech executes a fold block. This time, the center folds around the left guard.
According to Coach, this is going to be extremely hard for Johnson to defend because he is beat by alignment. The left guard has the angle on him, and he is able to execute his block.
Because KU is pass blitzing, the center has an easier job as well.
Wright is trying to get upfield to get to the quarterback, and his momentum carries him past the play. From there, the center simply has to seal him off and make sure Wright can't cut back to get to the running back.
"That’s essentially just a well-designed play against this defensive front," Coach says.
This leaves two players left to make the tackle: KU's safeties Darrell Stuckey and Lubbock Smith.
Stuckey's role in this play is both complex and fascinating.
Once again, in the Cover 0 defense, Stuckey's duty on a passing play is to cover the running back out of the backfield.
Coach says it's a bit more complicated than that, though.
Because KU is blitzing, there's a good chance that the running back will help with the blitz pickup and stay back to block. If that happens, Stuckey can once again turn into a safety, helping out any of the KU defensive backs that are playing in man-to-man coverage.
The first thing Stuckey has to do, though, is read if the play is going to be a run or a pass play.
How does he do that?
Coach says the safety has to get a "high-hat" or a "low-hat" read from a Texas Tech offensive lineman.
If Stuckey sees an offensive lineman fire off the ball and go low for a block — or with a "low hat" — he knows it will be a running play. If he sees an offensive lineman pop up to pass block — with a "high hat" — he knows that it will be a passing play.
Let's take a look at TTU's offensive linemen to get a pre-snap read.
Coach says that Stuckey would be taught by his coordinator to read either the tackle or the guard on his side. I've highlighted both of those.
If Stuckey was reading the tackle, he would have seen him pop up high in pass coverage. See his high helmet? This is a "high-hat" read.
"That’s a tough read on a draw play, because watch the right tackle on a draw play," Coach says. "A lot of times on a draw play, tackles will pass set. They know the defensive ends are going to be rushing upfield."
Even if he was reading the right tackle, Coach says the hope is that out of his peripheral vision, Stuckey would have noticed the right guard.
See him? His helmet is at a KU defender's waist. This couldn't be a much more obvious "low-hat" read. Seeing this, Stuckey should know it's a draw play.
If Stuckey reads run, Coach says his job is to get straight upfield as quickly as possible to become a run-stopper.
Unfortunately for KU, Coach says Stuckey doesn't get a good run-pass read.
From the slide above, we can see Stuckey back-pedaling as if it is a pass play. An instant later, Batch has the ball, and Stuckey has still not made his way back onto our TV screen.
All of this seems like small stuff, of course. It's hard for us to think that a read coming a split-second slow can change the course of a play.
But let's fast forward.
Let's say instead of taking a step back to start the play, Stuckey quickly reads the right guard and takes a step forward. In essence, he is two steps closer to the running back. Let's assume each step he takes puts him a yard closer to the running back.
In this photo, without the one back-pedal, Stuckey would be two steps closer to the back, perhaps making it all the way to the end of his shadow.
"Is he going to make this tackle in the backfield for a loss? Probably not," Coach says. "But he’s got a good chance to get him on the ground before the first down."
Compounding the problem is that Stuckey has to make a choice early on. Stuckey's direct route to Batch is impeded by the umpire, so he has to choose which way to go around him.
Stuckey elects to go to the left of the umpire but isn't able to catch up to Batch.
Because Stuckey didn't (or couldn't) take a good angle to the back, a six-yard gain instead turns into six points for Texas Tech.
Stuckey wasn't the only player with a chance at tackling Batch, though, as Smith also had a chance to corral him.
When blitzing through the B gap (the gap between TTU's guard and tackle), Coach says Smith would automatically use a bend-and-run technique. If the run were to come outside, the defensive end (No. 90 Onyegbule) would have run-stopping responsibility.
Notice that Smith does something similar to what Onyegbule did in the first running play we discussed, as he patters his feet as he approaches the line of scrimmage.
"Instead of breaking down, he should bend and run and really chase the running back down from the back side," Coach says. "He might get him on the ground if he can stick his left foot in the ground and really cut hard. He could probably get this on the ground for a one or two-yard gain."
The hesitation costs Smith. Though he is one of KU's few unblocked players, he can't make up for lost time and is late getting to Batch.
This isn't meant to pick on KU's defenders. The Jayhawks' defense made more than enough plays to win against a dangerous Tech offense last week.
Oftentimes, though, split-second decisions on defense can end up being the difference between third-down stands and go-ahead touchdowns.