For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Let’s take a look at Tevin Washington's 52-yard touchdown pass to Roddy Jones in the third quarter of Georgia Tech's 66-24 victory on Sept. 17 to see where KU's breakdown was defensively.
This might be surprising, but Coach says that KU actually has a good defensive play call to defend this pass.
The Jayhawks are set up in a Cover 3 defense.
Let's go over the zone setup.
In a Cover 3, the deep part of the field is divided into three sections. The top cornerback has the deep, top-third of the field; the free safety (just off the screen) has the deep, middle-third of the field; and the bottom cornerback has the deep, bottom-third of the field.
Meanwhile, the four players at linebacker level have their own zones to cover.
Coach says the middle two linebackers cover the hook/curl zones in the middle of the field.
The two outside players cover the flats on their respective sides of the field.
Georgia Tech's routes are pretty easy to diagnose. Both outside receivers run vertical routes, while the A-back Roddy Jones runs a seam route.
These routes are perfect for KU's defense.
"You should have it covered," Coach says, "because your corners are going to take the outside two streaks, and your free safety should be locked on to the seam streak."
So why does this play go for a big gain?
That free safety we've been talking about ... he bites on play action pretty hard.
We barely see him on the screen (and can't see his number because of the camera angle), but the video shows that KU's safety cheats up hard, thinking this play is going to be a run. That leaves him out of position to cover the long pass.
Another important note: A casual fan might think safety Bradley McDougald is the one to blame for this blown coverage.
In actuality, McDougald sees early that KU is in trouble and is simply trying to prevent a big play.
He's unable to chase the play from behind. But just because he's closest to Jones doesn't mean that it's his man.
"That’s where play-action pass out of the option is such a valuable tool, because everybody’s concentrating on stopping the option, making sure they’re playing assignment-sound football," Coach says. "That’s where the play-action pass can really come in to bite you."
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Let’s take a look at Jordan Webb’s six-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to D.J. Beshears on fourth-and-goal against Northern Illinois.
First off, Coach says this is a good play call in this situation, because it gives Webb lots of options.
“(Beshears) and the tight end (Tim Biere), they’re crossing in the middle,” Coach says. “It’s a good man-to-man-beater route because with those two guys crossing, a lot of times, that creates a natural pick. The defenders run into each other or maybe an offensive player runs into a defensive player.”
With the formation bunched like this, Coach says KU runs a pretty typical route combination on the outside, as Chris Omigie runs a corner route while Kale Pick runs a flat route. That route combination gives KU’s receivers plenty of room to work.
Webb said after the game that Beshears was his third read on the play, and Coach says that most likely, Pick was his first option and Omigie was his second.
With Northern Illinois playing man coverage with a free safety, KU’s play call is successful because of the crossing routes over the middle.
“You can’t see it in the picture, but I’m sure that tight end probably created a little natural pick right there to open up the receiver,” Coach says.
When NIU’s cornerback (No. 28) gets caught up in traffic, NIU’s safety (No. 19) isn’t quite quick enough to jump the route and break up the pass.
A couple of other interesting things with this play:
• NIU coach Dave Doeren told reporters afterward that he called a blitz on the final play, but really, this isn’t much of a blitz.
NIU does blitz two players, but it also drops both of its defensive ends to help cover the underneath routes.
Coach says teams typically use this type of defense if the opponent runs a lot of shallow crossing routes.
“It’s kind of an interesting defensive call,” Coach says. “You would think if you wanted to bring more pressure, you would have rushed both those defensive ends and still brought those linebackers. But really, they dialed up a pretty good defensive call here.”
It all was negated, though, because of a lack of discipline from one NIU player.
Notice the top defensive end on this play (No. 90, Alan Baxter)? At first, he drops back to help protect against the crossing routes.
But when Webb isn’t pressured, he panics. The defensive end makes a late break toward Webb at the end of the play.
“I think if he would have just sat back and had his head and eyes on a swivel,” Coach says, “he would have saw the receiver coming from the other side and been able to break on the ball better.”
Webb essentially ends up throwing the game-winning touchdown pass exactly where Baxter was standing earlier — and where he should have still been standing at the end of the play.*
If he stays there, Baxter most likely knocks the ball down. That, or Webb would have been forced to look elsewhere and perhaps might have been sacked.
This just shows what it means when football coaches talking about players being disciplined. A defense meant to guard against shallow crossing patterns was beaten by a shallow crossing pattern — all because one player didn’t stick with his assignment on the play.
* — More frustrating for NIU has to be that its other defensive end (No. 95, Sean Progar) stays disciplined on the play, not moving from the spot where he's assigned to be. If Webb would have tried to throw to Biere, the pass most likely would have been knocked down.
• KU also comes away with a touchdown despite less-than-ideal blitz pickup.
Though NIU only rushes four, one blitzer runs untouched towards Webb at the bottom of the screen.
“No. 74, the left tackle (Jeff Spikes), he needs to not get locked in on this linebacker blitzing right here and realize the guard is going to be able to pick up the linebacker,” Coach says.
Because KU’s center, Jeremiah Hatch, blocks the defensive lineman in front of him, and KU’s left guard, Trevor Marrongelli, takes the middle linebacker, Spikes’ responsibility should have been to take the blitzer on the outside.
Luckily for KU, the NIU player slips, which gives Webb the time he needs to win the game.
For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Here's video of KU's longest running play against McNeese State: a 47-yard run by true freshman Tony Pierson. Let's go a little more in-depth to show why it was successful.
Coach says the offensive line's blocking changes depending on the front that McNeese State is showing.
Coach calls this "covered-uncovered."
The basic idea is simple. If an offensive lineman is "covered," or has a defensive player directly in front of him, then the lineman's job is to block that player.
If an offensive lineman is "uncovered" with no defensive player in front of him, his job is to pull.
In this instance, the center Jeremiah Hatch has a player directly in front of him, so he simply blocks him. The left guard and left tackle, Trevor Marrongelli and Jeff Spikes, have a defensive lineman in front of them as well, so they double-team him.
But notice that right guard Duane Zlatnik (No. 67) is uncovered. That means he will pull on this play to block the defensive end on the opposite side.
As we can see, he does his job well.
In case you were wondering, if McNeese State's defensive tackle (No. 98) had lined up across from Zlatnik, then Zlatnik would have blocked him, and the center, Hatch, would have been responsible for pulling.
Tight end Tim Biere blocks a linebacker to set the edge, and Pierson also gets plenty of help from his receivers.
He gets the most help from true freshman JaCorey Shepherd, who is the slot receiver on this play. His assignment is to block the safety.
"He does a good job," Coach says. "He’s got his aiming point at the guy’s outside shoulder, and he’s got his hands inside and doesn’t hang onto him long enough (to get a holding penalty)."
Had Shepherd's hands been on the defender's outside shoulder pad instead of in his chestplate, Coach says that Shepherd would have almost surely been called for a hold.
As it was, his good hand position allowed him to make a legal block without drawing a flag.
KU's outside receiver (it appears to be Christian Matthews) also blocks a McNeese State cornerback well enough to allow Pierson to get by.
"Those two guys are doing a pretty good job," Coach says. "You’d like to see the outside receiver have that cornerback covered up a little bit better. You see how the cornerback gets inside of him a little bit there? But at least those guys are being physical at the point of attack and springing their back for some extra yards."
At this point, the blocking has helped Pierson to an eight-yard gain.
The next 39 yards can mostly be attributed to him.
Once Pierson gets to the second level, he makes a defender miss in the open field.
Recently, KU fans haven't seen their running backs make that kind of a move often, as the Jayhawks came into game with just two 30-plus-yard runs from running backs in their previous two seasons.
"That’s just on the back being a playmaker and going and getting extra yardage," Coach says. "That’s a nice run."
Coach also says he's impressed at the end of this run by KU receiver Kale Pick.
"This is what you like to see out of your backside receiver as well. Good job by him," Coach says. "You like to see that as a receivers coach, as an offensive coordinator, as a head coach, that guy hustling downfield to try and get the back some extra yardage."
Though it might go unnoticed to most, Coach says the blocking from KU's receivers — and especially Shepherd — had a huge impact on this long running play.
"It looks like it’s something that (the receivers) have probably worked on since last season," Coach says, "just trying to cover guys up and be more physical, use their hands better and use their feet."
According to Kansas coach Turner Gill, the competition for the starting quarterback job is pretty much down to two candidates: sophomore Kale Pick and freshman Jordan Webb.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of both from a coach's standpoint? That's the question we're going to look at in this segment of "The Breakdown."
For help with this blog, I have consulted a Division-II defensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach" in this blog.
I edited video of KU's football spring game to show only the plays where KU's top two QBs threw a pass or had a QB draw. The videos are below.
I then sent that tape to Coach, who took a look at it along with the wide-receivers coach on his staff — one that has experience as an offensive coordinator at the college level.
After watching the film, the two coaches wrote down observations about each quarterback.
Here are Coach's notes from the film, starting with Pick.*
* — It is important to note that our two assistant coaches could only evaluate from what they saw on the tape. The spring game is often labeled as a "glorified practice" and is one of 15 practices during the spring. Therefore, KU's coaches will have had many more opportunities to evaluate the two QBs.
“On the film that you gave me, (Webb) didn’t play as well as Pick did," Coach admitted.
• “He seems like he’s a pretty good ball-handler, especially with fakes to running backs. He has the ball where you want your quarterback to have the ball ... in a good throwing position on the pass drop.”
• “He’s a pretty accurate passer. When I say accurate passer, that’s a pretty general term for the outside public, that you can throw it within a however-many-yard circle, and the receiver can catch it. Sure, but it goes a little bit deeper as well. It gives your receiver a chance to run after the catch. Throwing the ball out in front of the receiver and giving him a chance to run with the ball after the catch.”
• “In the pocket, it seems like he has pretty good feet and uses good footwork and fundamentals with his footwork. Whether it’s a three-step drop or a five-step drop, getting your depth on your drop, then trusting that your offensive line is going to create that pocket for you, and being able to step up and throw that accurate pass.”
Last year, all of KU's snaps came from the shotgun, so I asked Coach how Pick seemed to be handling the transition to taking snaps under center.
“He looked pretty comfortable with his drops. The other thing about that is, (quarterbacks) are not getting hit in the spring game, either. That sure can make a guy feel a lot better when he knows, ‘The pass rush is coming at me, but they’re not going to kill me if one guy comes unblocked.’"
• “It seems like he has pretty good arm strength. Obviously, neither one of the guys is Brett Favre, because nobody is, but it seems like he has pretty good arm strength.
“There were a couple specific plays on there where the receiver was — I hate to say covered — but the receiver had a defender very near, and he threw the ball with enough zip and with enough accuracy. Let’s say a defensive back was covering me on my left shoulder behind me. Well, he knew how to throw it to my right shoulder and throw it in there with enough zip so the ball’s going to get there before the defender can make a play. He made a couple nice throws like that.”
• “He looks pretty fast and agile in the pocket.”
• “When they ran the bootleg stuff and got him out of the pocket, he seemed to have pretty good feet and was pretty fast. You could really see (the coaches this season) getting him on the move.”
• “It seemed like he might be holding on to the ball a little bit too long. There are certain situations where the defense is going to get you. They’re going to have your receivers covered. Well, you’re going to have to throw the ball out of bounds or throw the ball way too high for a receiver to catch. Sometimes, throwing the ball away is not a bad throw.”
• “Another time, he had a receiver who had a defender very near, and he threw the ball out of bounds and didn’t give the receiver a chance to make a play on the ball (2:34). If you throw the ball four yards out of bounds, your receiver’s not going to be able to catch it. Well, throw the ball basically right on the out of bounds line, and give your receiver a chance to catch the ball and get one foot down before he goes out of bounds."
• “He does have a quick release. He got rid of the ball on time. Instead of having a long, extended delivery, when you see a receiver open, you are able to get the ball out of your hands with good timing. Like a pitcher’s windup. It doesn’t take you a long time to put a lot of oomph on the ball when you get it out of your hand."
Coach also brought up the well-documented problems with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's release, as in college, he dropped his arm down to hip before releasing the ball.
Coach said that Webb did a good job of having the ball high and getting it out quickly, which is what you want from a quarterback.
• “He did make a couple of really nice throws when he was on the move, especially on the touchdown throw. It was a pretty accurate throw on the run.”
• “A lot of times, he would throw with all arm and not step into his throw and put a lot of zip on his throw. More falling away from the throw than stepping into the throw. You’re not going to have as much velocity on your throw.”
• “A couple of times, he threw to covered receivers when he had other players that were uncovered. He took a deeper throw when he could have made a shorter throw and it would have been a better completion.”
One example of this was at the 2:44 mark of the video.
While Webb's eyes are downfield towards a receiver, tight end Bradley Dedeaux appears to be open in the flat.
Webb delivers the ball downfield into traffic, and his pass — intended for a blanketed Johnathan Wilson — is deflected and falls incomplete.
“It seems like sometimes he kind of tries to force the ball into his receiver," Coach said, "maybe even though his receiver might be covered."
• “One time, he scrambled into the rush. It didn’t necessarily look like there were necessarily any receivers open, but instead of scrambling to where it could have been a better opportunity for him to get a few yards, he kind of scrambled right into where the rush was coming from."
Coach also made sure to point out that Webb also could have been affected by playing with KU's No. 2 offensive line.
• “A lot of times, it seemed like he telegraphed his pass. That’s not a good thing for your quarterback to be doing obviously. Just staring down his receivers instead of looking them away.”
I also asked Coach what he felt were the best throws of the scrimmage.
He came up with three.
I'm sure many fans would have expected Pick's 72-yard touchdown pass to Chris Omigie to be one of the top throws of the day.
Not so, says Coach.
“The one on the sideline, that’s a throw that mainly any average Joe citizen can throw," Coach said. "You expect your fifth-string quarterback to be able to throw that pass when the guy’s wide open."
One of the three best throws according to coach was the aforementioned pass by Webb, who rolled away from pressure to hit tight end Tim Biere for a 25-yard touchdown.
The other two throws were from Pick.
The first throw actually was an incompletion when Bradley McDougald couldn't hold on for a long reception (00:30).
“The guy was covered, but (Pick) threw it over the defender and threw it right in the perfect spot for the receiver," Coach said. “That was one of the best throws of the whole scrimmage right there. Puts it on the line right over the top of that safety’s head and didn’t give him a chance to make a play on the ball. That’s a catch right there ... if you’re a Big 12 receiver, you’ve got to make that catch every single time.”
The other throw was one that Pick made to Biere between three defenders (00:15).
“He threw it just exactly where the receiver was going to be the only one who could make the catch," Coach said, "and the receiver made a nice catch on the ball as well.”
Coach said Pick diagnosed the play well and made the throw with the accuracy that it had to have.
“You see the receiver right below KU, on the bird? He could maybe fit the ball in right there as he lets the receiver clear the linebacker. But see how the linebacker kind of continues to chase that receiver, well that’s what they want," Coach said.
"They want the linebacker to chase the under route so you can throw it right behind his ear. The defense actually covered it pretty well, but it’s a pretty good throw and catch by the quarterback and tight end. That was a pretty good stick right there.”
It seems like every week, when talking about correcting things, we hear Kansas coach Mark Mangino preaching about fundamentals.
By now, it seems cliche. Of course KU needs good fundamentals. Every team does.
Very rarely, though, do we talk about what happens when players don’t play fundamentally sound. We’ll get a small glimpse of that this week in our “Breakdown” blog.
This week’s topic will be Kansas State’s option play late in the fourth quarter on third-and-4. With a stop, the Jayhawks could had forced a KSU punt and still had a conceivable shot at making a comeback with about two minutes left.
True to form, Kansas State didn’t do anything flashy. Instead, the Wildcats pulled out a simple speed option play and executed well enough to get the first down.
Let’s get a little more in-depth.
Like the previous weeks, I have consulted a Division-II defensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach" in this blog.
Here is the replay of KSU’s option run. You can also click back to this video as you read later in the blog if you need to.
I started off by asking Coach the most effective way to stop the option.
His answer sounded like something straight from Mangino.
“The best way to stop the option is everybody on defense has to do their job,” Coach says. “ ... You really have to play assignment football against the option to make sure you’re going to get it stopped.”
Let’s start with some fundamental talk.
Coach says the K-State offensive linemen are executing “stretch” or “reach” blocking to the right side. This means every offensive lineman is going to first take a step with his right foot, then reach for a defender in front of him. Perhaps not surprisingly, each of KSU coach Bill Snyder's linemen is in step.
“It looks like they’ve been coached up pretty well there as far as their footwork goes,” Coach says. “No false steps. Everybody’s stepping laterally first with their right foot and trying to reach and run hard (to) stretch that line of scrimmage.”
The most important player on this option play for KU is outside linebacker Justin Springer (No. 45).
Coach says that Springer executes what is called a “run-through,” which means he sees a seam and cuts through it to try to get to the quarterback.
“What you tell your linebackers is if he takes that gap and takes a run-through right there, he absolutely, absolutely has to make the play,” Coach says.
Springer’s play is definitely a gamble. If he runs through the seam and doesn’t make the tackle, he completely takes himself out of the play. If he does make the tackle, it’s a loss for KSU and KU will have forced the fourth down that it needs.
Before we continue with Springer, let’s take a closer look at KU defensive end Maxwell Onyegbule (No. 90).
On an option play to his side, Onyegbule’s job is to stretch the play as far out to the sideline as possible. Not only would this make Springer’s job easier, it also would allow KU’s backside players more time to get to the other side of the field to make the tackle.
As we see from this frame, Onyegbule is blocked by KSU’s Clyde Aufner (No. 75).
“No. 75 has him cut off. (Onyegbule) really needs to take his left hand and punch through 75’s right shoulder and get this thing strung out to the sideline,” Coach says. “That way it makes it an easier job for (No.) 45 to get right through there and make a play.”
Coach says Onyegbule doesn’t do a great job of moving his blocker. Instead of being where he is, Onyegbule needs to work his blocker farther laterally down the line of scrimmage (toward the hash), which would force KSU quarterback Grant Gregory and running back Daniel Thomas to have to go more toward the sideline.
Let’s go back to Springer, who has decided on the do-or-die play of a run-through.
Coach points out one main problem: Springer doesn’t take a good line to the quarterback.
“See how he kind of took a bad angle?” Coach says. “He needs to continue to, instead of coming straight downhill right there, he needs to really scrape right off the back of No. 90.”
Instead, Springer comes too far upfield and isn’t able to corral Gregory.
The gamble of the run-through doesn’t pay off. KU has to try to make the tackle on this play one defender short.
Now, KU's defenders are outnumbered.
Take a look. With Springer on the backside of the play, Gregory now only has to worry about two KU defenders. And one of them (No. 41 Arist Wright) should be easily blocked by KSU’s No. 37, Braden Wilson.
This creates a two-on-one situation for Gregory. He and Thomas now are running to the right with only one KU defender to beat: KU’s Lubbock Smith (No. 13).
Even with this ideal setup, K-State still isn't guaranteed success.
Let’s fast forward a bit. Notice No. 37 Wilson doesn’t get a block on Wright. In fact, the KSU fullback doesn’t even really touch Wright.
The problem for KU is that neither Smith nor Wright are in a position to make the play. In short, both players over-run the play.
Perhaps it was because Daniel Thomas ran the ball well all day, but both of KU’s defenders clearly are expecting a pitch. Both players position themselves to the outside shoulder of the quarterback.
“The way that we play it is we try to get the ball pitched as soon as possible, and that way, we can rally and have the rest of our defenders get to the pitch,” Coach says. “ ... You really have to play it inside-out and you have to play assignment football versus the option. It’s going to be hard to tell off the video who’s got the pitch man and who’s got the quarterback, but when you’re running outside like this, you really have to do a good job taking those guys inside-out, because you’re always wary of a cutback in option football.”
Coach says instead of trying to run through Gregory's outside shoulder, the KU defenders should instead be positioning themselves to run through Gregory's inside shoulder.
Gregory most likely sees Smith has gone to the outside expecting the pitch, and he cuts it upfield instead, expecting Wilson to block Wright.
When Gregory cuts, both Smith and Wright have a shot at him.
Neither one can get him to the turf, partly because they are too far to the outside.
There is one more aspect to this play, and that is the reaction time of KU’s linebackers to the running play.
Coach says that Wright does a good job of reading the running play and getting into a location where he can make the tackle. His read is the left guard, and when he sees the left guard firing at him upfield, his correct reaction is to go toward the line of scrimmage, then to move laterally with the running back.
“He gets over there in time,” Coach says. “He just has to break down and make a play.”
One person who isn’t involved in the play but could have been is KU’s backside linebacker Huldon Tharp (No. 34). Notice that he starts the play on the yellow first-down line.
On this play, Tharp’s read is the running back. His footsteps should mimic those of the back. If Thomas goes downhill toward the line, Tharp should go downhill toward the line as well.
Instead, Thomas’ first step is laterally.
See what happens? Just like last week’s “Breakdown” blog, Tharp has taken a false step forward toward the line of scrimmage.
Once again, it costs him, as he gets caught up in a block and also in other traffic because he comes too far forward towards the line of scrimmage.
Ideally, Tharp’s first step should have been lateral, not forward. Instead of running up the 40-yard line, Tharp should be running up the yellow first-down line, which would have cleared him from some of the blockers and other traffic he encountered.
“Now is he going to make the play for a zero-yard gain? No,” Coach says. “But he’s going to be in the mix and have a chance to stop a first down. I’m not saying he’s going to make the play, but he’s going to have a better chance than what he does do.”
It sounds like such a small thing: a true freshman taking one small false step forward at the beginning of the play.
On this play, though, it’s small fundamentals that might have that cost the Jayhawks one last shot at a victory against their in-state rivals.
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.