Reader Jay Miller passed along some great info from TCU’s victory over Clemson. Clemson’s defense this year has been stout, holding Georgia Tech’s flexbone below their averages and then completely crushing Boston College in one of the best defensive performances in recent memory. (Clemson held BC to 54 yards for the entire game.) Against TCU, however, in an otherwise solid defensive effort the Tigers allowed TCU’s quarterback Andy Dalton to rush 19 times for 86 yards, many of them on key conversions. After the game, Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele appeared flummoxed — or at least very caught off guard — by one spread-option variant in particular that TCU used:
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton found almost all of his success on the ground on Saturday by employing a new play that the Clemson coaching staff had not seen on film, and Dalton seemed to run almost at will through the line of scrimmage and beyond. . . .
Steele said that the play with Dalton carrying was really the only play the Tigers had not seen on film as they studied the Horned Frogs last week.
“They ran just one play that we hadn’t seen on film – but it was a good one,” he said. When one reporter asked Steele why the zone read was giving his defense so much trouble, Steele explained the difference between a true zone read and what Dalton was running on Saturday.
“Not to get too technical, but on the zone read, the quarterback fakes to the running back going this way and the quarterback goes the other way,” Steele said. “What they were doing was faking zone read one way, the quarterback would step like he was going this way but they would pull the guard and chase it the other way. It was a new look. We got over there and drew it up, got it adjusted out, but we were doing it on the fly and adjusting it on every call.
“I don’t know if it’s just luck or if they are just that smart, but there were a couple of those calls that we really needed something to happen and we didn’t. The ones that were base defense calls against, we got it stopped. But the ones where we were trying to have some pressure and make something happen, we maybe should have just left those calls alone and just base defended it. “
Clemson linebacker Brandon Maye said the play was causing trouble because of TCU spreading receivers across the field.
“They were spreading us out and forcing us to play one linebacker and forcing that one linebacker to play two gaps,” Maye said. “All you can say is they did a good job scheming us up.”
I’m going to disagree with the description of the play as a variant of the zone-read, though all of these plays fall within the same spread option family. Indeed, this is a play I’ve seen Florida and Urban Meyer use before, though the pulling guard is a nice wrinkle. I call it an “inverted veer.”
In the typical veer play from a spread set, the line blocks down and double-teams the defensive linemen on up to the linebackers. They leave the defensive end unblocked (except when they run midline veer, in which case it is a defensive tackle) and read that man. If he steps down for the runningback, the QB just gives the ball and steps around him. It is just the old first-read of the triple option adapted for spread sets.
But TCU ran a variant, one I’ve seen other teams use. They just “inverted” the runningback and quarterback: The runningback runs a sweep or outside zone action laterally. If the defensive end takes him, then the quarterback shoots up inside the defensive end. If the defensive end sits for the QB, the runner should be able to hit the corner. Remember, the defensive end is often the hardest guy to block, and especially so when you want to “reach” him to seal the corner.
In that way I disagree with the characterization of the play as a fake-zone read where the QB then runs back to the other way. You can see the runner is taking a wide angle. That said, I don’t know what TCU’s read was, but this is a play I’ve seen at least for a few years. And again, Meyer uses it at Florida with his fast runners heading outside and Tebow, the better inside runner, going inside. Below is video of TCU using it against Clemson. (Again, thanks to reader Jay Miller.)
Finally, the one wrinkle TCU has is the pulling guard. I think that was just designed to get better blocking at the point of attack, though TCU had them so crossed up he didn’t even end up blocking anyone. This scheme has a lot of similarities with how teams block the shovel play.
I suppose the reason Steele and Clemson had so much trouble with this hinges on what his linebacker’s reads were. I take it they were reading the quarterback and thinking backside with the zone read. If they read the pulling guard, for example, there wouldn’t be an issue with where the play was going. (This is one reason the veer blocking works so well, because the line steps one way and the play hits the other. The pulling guard can give this away.) It is just like on the famous counter trey play: if the linebackers read the pullers there are no issues with stopping it (though they may be weak to some other play), but if they read the fullback blocking away they can get crossed up.
It’s all a cat-and-mouse game. Point in this one to TCU.