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How a two-hand tug and a positioning error helped Texas convert on fourth and six
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
This week's Breakdown will look at Texas' fourth-and-six conversion against Kansas in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 21-17 victory. Video is below. (Note: Lubbock Smith's interception is at the end of the YouTube clip, but we won't be discussing it).
KU elects to rush three on this play while dropping eight into coverage.
Let's start by looking at KU's defensive line, which Coach says does a decent job.
If you look, Texas — after using its running back to help block — has six players in protection.
That essentially means each of KU's rushers are double-teamed on this play.
Despite this, Coach says KU still is able to get some pressure.
KU's left defensive end Josh Williams is able to get upfield to condense the pocket for Texas quarterback Case McCoy.
Meanwhile, Texas center Dominic Espinosa — after getting early double-team help from right guard Mason Walters — isn't able to stop penetration from KU defensive tackle Keba Agostinho.
Agostinho gets his hand up to deflect the pass, and the only thing that appears to stop him from doing that is a two-handed tug by Espinosa.
"It looks like (Agostinho) gets held just a little bit right there at the end of the play," Coach says. "He does a nice job."
Coach even notices that Espinosa, at the end of the film, puts both hands up as if to say, "I'm innocent."
"That's the last thing you want to do, really," Coach says, "because that's an indicator of, 'Hey, you did just do something.'"
Let's take a look at the back end of the defense, as Texas has four primary receivers to go against eight KU defenders in coverage.
Coach says this is a Cover 2 zone defense from KU. This means the cornerbacks cover the flats, the safeties have the deep halves of the field, the outside linebackers have the "hook/curl" zones on the outside and the two inside linebackers have the two middle holes zones in front of the safeties.
Here's basically what this should look like, using a video-game screenshot from Domerdomain.com.
The goal of dropping eight into coverage is to make it difficult for the offense to find any place to throw the ball.
Texas still finds a soft spot in the zone behind KU inside linebacker Huldon Tharp and in front of the safeties.
Coach says Texas is running four vertical routes here, with Jaxon Shipley bending to the middle to find an opening in KU's setup.
Remember, Texas had a little extra time to come up with this play, as receiver Mike Davis was hurt after third down.
"If it's a third down and long or fourth down-type of play, you might expect to find a Cover 2," Coach says. "That's what you prepare for throughout the week (when you) understand a team's tendencies."
Coach says in a Cover 2, teams want to attack the middle of the field. The reason for this is because the linebackers are there, who tend to be the least athletic when it comes to coverage.
Though Tharp is technically in the correct area, Coach says he could have done a better job or reading the play.
"He should really work with the eyes of the quarterback right here," Coach says. "See, he's got a corner out to his outside. You see No. 33 (Tyler Patmon) is the corner on his outside? When that receiver starts to work to the middle of the field, and the quarterback's eyes are going with that receiver to the middle of the field, now you can start to squeeze it down, because you know you've got a corner on your outside to help. That way you make this throwing lane a lot tighter for the quarterback and the receiver."
We get a great view of it with the end-zone camera angle, as McCoy never takes his eyes of his primary receiver Shipley.
Coach says one of the big advantages of playing a zone defense is that defenders can "see the ball off" — watching the quarterback and reading him to help make better decisions.
In this case, Tharp got out a little bit too wide in his zone based on the information he had.
"Try and close this throwing lane down by using your eyes, seeing the quarterback and also feeling the receiver behind you," Coach says. "You're not going to see the receiver cut behind you, but you just have to feel him coming to the inside by where the quarterback's looking."
When I asked Tharp Wednesday about that particular fourth-and-six play, he admitted that he wasn't happy about it after going through film sessions with the linebackers.
"Like they always say, 'Football's a game of inches.' That's very true," Tharp said. "You can be a little bit out of position and end up — especially against athletes in the Big 12 — you can end up looking a lot worse than you thought you might end up looking.
"But that's definitely one I wish I could have had back. But you learn from it."
When talking about the final drive in general, Tharp said that KU's defense would be better prepared for a situation like that in the future.
"Looking back at the film, you just kind of hate yourself for seeing some of the stuff that you gave up," Tharp said. "But there's always room for improvement, and that's something we can build on."