Scheme sizzler: FSU and Jimbo Fisher’s bootleg with receiver motion

ponderingThe Hurricanes edged out the Seminoles 38-34 in last night’s wonderful, if unexpected, coming out party for Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder. Mark Whipple, Miami’s new offensive coordinator, is — for the moment, at least — the new offensive genius in the state of Florida, and I will definitely cover his Jacory-led-West-Coast-offense-meets-the-Greatest-Show-On Turf-Attack in the near future. (I could swear that he had a section of his callsheet called “Instant thirty-yard gain off a play-action pass — for First Down use only.”) But Jimbo Fisher, FSU’s offensive coordinator, called a pretty nice game himself, and until the final drive Miami’s defense showed little ability to stop FSU quarterback Christian Ponder, who had just shy of 300 yards passing. Fisher gashed Miami’s defense several times with a bevy of plays, including a could wonderful, if not unlikely, quarterback draws with a lead back and a pulling guard.

The best call of the night was maybe Christian Ponder’s twenty-one yard bootleg pass to Taiwan Easterling that extended the Seminoles’ lead and set the score at 23-14. The play itself was simple, but Fisher had set it up previously: The ‘Noles aligned in a basic “trey” set (tight-end and two receivers to the same side; single runningback; single receiver backside) and motioned the slot receiver into the formation. The first time or two Fisher just called a simple inside zone play to the tight-end side. But down the stretch he called the counter, diagrammed below:


The video below shows the true flavor. Again, the ‘Noles had run the play already, so the defense was ready to jump all over the run play to the frontside. And, further, the man (apparently?) responsible for Easterling, Miami’s #24 Chavez Grant, plays the motion slow and doesn’t follow Easterling full speed. Thus when the linebackers all crash down for the run play — and Ponder makes a nice play to deliver the ball — no one is anywhere near Easterling. See the video below; the bootleg is the second play in the clip. (The first play just appeared to be defeating man coverage; I could not see what any safeties were doing.)

Of course, as good as Fisher’s calls were he wasn’t able to guide his offense into the end zone at the end, and Miami walked away with a victory in one of the best (read: most entertaining) games I’ve seen at least since last year’s Texas Tech-Texas masterpiece. In terms of predictions for both teams, I can only add a few words: If the offenses can keep it up, the difference between BCS game and mid-level bowl will hinge on the defenses; that upcoming Oklahoma-Miami game has taken on a far different complexion than it had just a week ago; and this game may just be a prelude to an eventual Canes-Noles ACC Championship game.

  • Eric

    Fisher got the team down there – Ponder just forgot he was a QB and not the closer on a baseball team.

  • Nice Chris – indeed, Miami’s protections were one step ahead of FSU’s pressure all night long. Great coaching there…

  • James

    FSU could not stop three verticals. There was always someone open, either deep or on the crossing route underneath. I really question FSU’s defensive philosophy for most of this game. Zone defense would have really saved some points.

  • jake

    I love the fact these teams are back. FSU playcalling joined the rest of the nation’s spread fever.

  • jake

    I agree. I believe FSU lost the game more then Miami winning it. If they play for the ACC championships. I expect FSU to win

  • Justin S

    Thanks for the Breakdown Chris. Really interested to see what is written about the Miami O, was lots of fun to watch.

  • Thanks for the kind words. Still looking for better video on Miami. They did a lot of nice things.

    One thing that Whipple did a couple of times — missed it on a key third down early but would have been a huge play, and later hit it for a solid gain on the game winning drive I think — was use the Texas concept from a one-back set. It almost exactly mimicked a set Mike Martz used to use a lot. Trey set with the RB aligned to the TE side. TE ran a seam or deep Texas route while the RB ran the angle. Not sure on the outside, maybe just curl/flat. QB missed the RB on 3rd down the first time — it was a man blitz and would have been a huge play. Later hit it for about an eight yard gain. I expect to see that kind of thing a lot because Whipple clearly likes throwing it to the RBs.

    The other thing Miami did a nice job of were specialty routes — stop and goes, shake type routes, “jerk” routes like I described previously. A bunch of those big plays were routes that were designed to go that far, and to protect Harris Whipple did some nice half-rolls, etc. That’s something Petrino has done well with.

    P.S. Tomorrow I’ll have up a bit about BYU vs. Oklahoma and a blitz beater BYU used.

  • James

    Chris, maybe you can address this in your article tomorrow, but why do you think OU had some much trouble with the same fire-zone blitz against BYU? I counted 4-5 times that BYU ran it throughout the game, with the same players, and I couldn’t understand how OU did not adjust their protections. The same linebacker came through clean almost every time they ran it.

  • Hokiefan

    Great stuff again. You never disappoint.

    I know you generally focus on what teams do right on the offensive side of the football but I was hoping you could take a look at Virginia Tech’s offensive performance in recent years, and more specifically their performance vs alabama this past weekend. Most VT fans contend that OC Bryan Stinespring is inept at drawing up plays that work. I, on the other hand, feel its less to do with the individual plays that are being run but its more an overall failure to place the VT players in position to use their skill sets most effectively.
    If you feel uncomfortable, or bored of, with the idea of pointing out the deficiencies of a particular coach I would also thoroughly enjoy your thoughts on the role of individual plays vs overall scheme when gameplanning.

  • Justin S

    How do you define frontside vs backside. I believe frontside is where the ball is supposed to go right? But how is that defined, by play calling?

  • OldSouth

    Awesome as always. Did anyone else think both teams’ secondaries looked gassed at the end of the night?

    Also, I had no idea Graig Cooper was so good, he looked great

  • Alex

    Chris, here are some of the Miami hilights:

  • Displaced Cane


    Longtime reader, first-time commenter. It looked to me like WLB Sean Spence (last year’s ACC defensive newcomer of the year) had an awful game. Nearly every big FSU run play went to his side, where he was either out of position or engulfed by a blocker. And he got burned more than once in coverage. Any thoughts? And how do you think UM’s performance on D bodes for their next game against GT? (Wincing, because I fear the Paul Johnson.)

  • James


    Not Chris, but it looked like FSU did a great job in getting their linemen up to the next level after their combo blocks on the defensive line. FSU’s zone scheme can be hard to deal with for an undersized linebacker when the defensive line can’t hold the PoA.

  • Great game it was! I enjoyed it. I was very impressed with Miami’s QB. I think he is a winner, and he came back from the injury. FSU dropped the winning TD pass, so they very well could have won. All things considered, the game was played at FSU, so a game on a neutral field would be intriguing.

    Did you notice that Fisher used the “pistol” some? I was surprised. I guess he took a trip to Nevada during the summer! lol

    Both teams made a lot of mistakes, but you can tell they have play-makers, and, I think, may be the best of the ACC.

  • Mike

    Love Jimbo and his offensive approach, but the series were the kicked the field goal to go ahead (after which Miami scored to take the lead) I think he made a mistake. Going from memory here, but as I recall they ran the ball about 4 times in a row for 2 first downs, it looked like the o-line was taking it to the Miami d-line. What often happens in zone running is not much early in the game but in the 4th quarter it begins to dominate as defensive players tire and the o-line is on to their flow. After those 2 (maybe 3?) first downs running it appears he decided time to throw some, missed on 1st and 2nd and was left with 3rd and long, time for the field goal.

    If I were Trickett I’da been ticked, my guys were getting it together, we were moving the ball, things were happening as you want, your eating up clock, and then we get away from it.

    Also there was clearly one second left on the clock when the ball was dropped, FSU should have gotten another play, but they had plenty of other chances.

  • Co-ach

    Just remembered seeing that diagram on your blogspot site.

  • Co-ach
  • Lao

    That first play in the video (Miami’s first TD) breaks down like this:

    1. Collier (Miami’s WR) hides behind the TE, pretending to look inconspicuous.
    2. Noles’ CB and safety start pointing at him and yelling, taking the bait.
    3. Play starts, CB covers Collier, safety panics and ignores his zone assignment to go help.
    4. On the other side of the field, The Nole CB Mangum covering Miami’s WR Benjamin doesn’t realize his safety wasn’t going to be there, and plays to take away the outside, giving away the middle of the field.
    5. Benjamin scores off a deep post wide open where the safety should have been.
    6. Mangum yells at the safety.

  • The Dude


    Mangum is a Rover so I’m not sure that analysis holds up, unless he was in a man assignment against Benjamin. That would be a bonehead move, but I wouldn’t put it past Mickey Andrews’ aggressive man-to-man scheme.

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