Downfield passes as the “pitch phase” of the read-option, as run by Russell Wilson, Gus Malzahn and many, many, others

Since the invention of the zone read from the shotgun, coaches have dabbled with creative ways to add a third option for the quarterback. Early on, teams added a second runningback or receiver looping around for a traditional pitch, while others have added bubble screens where the receiver can either get the ball right at the snap as a pre-snap read or as a late option after the quarterback has kept it.

And for at least the last six or so years — but probably more like ten — teams have given their quarterback the ability to throw downfield as part of the pitch phase. I don’t know who was first, as some say it was Rich Rodriguez, others point to the Todd Graham era at Tulsa when he had offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, but I first saw the play back in 2007 and it seemed to gain some momentum in 2011 as Graham at Pittsburgh and a flurry of high school teams scored touchdowns with it. But there’s no doubt the play hit the national consciousness when Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team scored their penultimate touchdown against Alabama in the Iron Bowl with the play.


When Auburn ran the play they ran it with as many as four options for the QB, though my understanding is they also sometimes just called it as a called keep for the quarterback where he could either run it outside or throw it downfield. The purpose of this wrinkle isn’t really to just hit an easy touchdown pass when the defense falls asleep — though it does that too, just ask Alabama — it’s to create real run/pass conflict for a cornerback who is a run “force” defender to the backside.


Against teams that use the QB as a run threat, like Auburn, defenses need to get secondary players involved in run support. Sometimes that means safeties but other teams a corner will be the “force” defender whose job it is to set the edge and funnel runs inside, as with Cover 2. The traditional bubble or pitch concedes the edge of the defense to the force player, while these concepts put him in what is essentially a high/low bind: either he stays with his man and gives up easy yards to the quarterback or he comes up and gives up big yards behind him. In Cover 2 it’s the safety’s job to get over to the receiver, but that’s why the WR doesn’t fly upfield on a streak route. Instead it’s a “hole” throw, just behind the corner and before the safety can get over.

This isn’t the basis for an entire offense and doesn’t represent any kind of football revolution, but it is a sound concept, which is why I’m not surprised the NFL has taken notice. Last night Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a TD pass against the Packers on this very concept (h/t SBNation):


After the game, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll copped to getting the play from Malzahn and Auburn:


Pete Carroll explains how his Seattle Seahawks team tackles better and with reduced risk of head injury

I don’t think I need to explain how crucial tackling is to football, nor do I need the explain the serious concerns our developing knowledge about brain and head injuries poses to the future of football. Recently, the USA Football, with the support of the NFL, has begun putting out a series of videos and other materials about “Heads Up” or “safe tackling” — though the reality is there can never truly be such a thing — but the method they propose is not much different than what has traditionally been taught and the head is still front and center in the tackle. And it’s not necessarily the easiest way to get a moving target to the ground, so defenders end up resorting to more haphazard methods just to get the tackle made.

Pete Carroll, one of the best coaches in all of football, has a video with HUDL explaining his team’s tackling techniques, which is based on a rugby style “shoulder-to-thigh” approach. You can watch the video below using the password “dominate“. (Hat tip to Brophy.)

There are good coaches who aren’t big fans of the “Hawk” tackle, particularly for the secondary, though the “Profile” tackle included here more or less covers the remaining bases. But there’s no doubt about the effectiveness of the techniques Carroll shows in this video, and while the tackling isn’t “safe” per se he is right that these techniques put less stress on the head (and neck) than some other tackling techniques. This is just a tremendous video on tackling technique, and an important one as well.

USC’s late touchdown vs. UCLA: fair or foul?

From ESPN:

When Matt Barkley kneeled down to end Southern California’s (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) victory in the final minute, UCLA defiantly stopped the clock with a timeout.

So the Trojans let ‘er rip, throwing a long touchdown pass and then celebrating it with a taunting ferocity that brought the Bruins onto the field on the verge of a brawl.

The last 90 seconds of Los Angeles’ 79th crosstown showdown had more action than the first 58 1/2 minutes, even if it was just a few extra fireworks at the close of USC’s workmanlike 28-7 victory Saturday night.

See for yourself the setting:

So the question is: Was that cool for Pete Carroll to do? Was it cool for Neuheisel to call the timeouts? What is the proper response?

Big balls Pete Carroll

petecarrollThat’s the title of the new profile of USC’s Carroll in Esquire. Lots of interesting stuff, but here are two of the best bits. The setting for both anecdotes here is during USC’s summer camp for high school kids, some being recruited by USC, others just there to be coached for a week by Carroll and co.

The [coaching] staff met in the War Room. (In a culture so steeped in tradition, everything has a fancy name.) The mood there always seems part frat house, part locker room, part battlefield HQ. There’s much scathing humor and shit-giving, bro love in its highest form. Around the rectangular wood table are fourteen high-backed leather swivel chairs; each of the coaches takes the same chair every time, with Carroll at the head. Behind them, a hodgepodge of stools and folding chairs for the graduate assistants — some of them former players, some manager types who never played a down. Two walls are dominated by double whiteboards; panels slide to reveal depth charts of players and recruits; another whiteboard lists the name of every offensive play and the number of yards the play averaged last season. With desks occupying two corners and video-projection equipment in a third, the room is tight. Deep into a session you will find some of the larger guys reclining so far back they’re practically in the lap of a GA.

At one minute before seven, one of the GAs walked in with two giant sacks of Egg McMuffins.

“All right!” somebody screamed. “The hockey pucks are here!”


“Go Pens!” hollered BC [Carroll’s son, an assistant coach].

A feeding frenzy ensued. Large men reached and grabbed for the various bottles of hot sauce and mini containers of jelly that live permanently at the center of the table.

“It’s time to get ready for some football around this muthafucka,” yelled Ken Norton Jr., son of the former world-champion boxer, himself a former All-Pro linebacker. Norton had retired after thirteen seasons when he happened to meet Carroll; things just clicked. Now he’s going into his fifth year with USC. Nobody gives him shit for being a UCLA alum, particularly at noontime basketball, where he’s been known to let out the monster, playing Shaq to Carroll’s Kobe. Since the last NFL draft, when three USC linebackers were scooped up in the first two rounds, people have begun joking that USC, once known as Tailback U, needs to be renamed. Norton’s Egg McMuffin appeared tiny in his giant paw. His rocklike mandible made quick work of it. He helped himself to another.

Carroll entered from his office across the hall, McMuffin in hand. His mouth was full, he was chewing, he was wearing the silly/happy expression of a guy who’s just come to work after his morning surf. “What’s happenin’ boys?”

“A little camp today!” hollered the defensive coordinator, Haruki Rocky Seto, “Rock” to his friends, a second-generation Japanese American named for the boxer Marciano. (His brothers are named after Sonny Jurgensen and Johnny Bench.) An undersized junior-college fullback who made the Trojans as a walk-on, Seto entered the coaching ranks as a video assistant, filming practices. When Carroll came to town for his first USC press conference nine years ago, Rocky was the kid who picked him up at the airport. Now he’s in charge of Carroll’s first love: defense.

“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” hollered offensive-line coach Golden Pat Ruel (his actual full name). He’s known Carroll since 1977, when they were both graduate assistant coaches making $172 a month at Arkansas. Like most of the veterans in the room, he’d coached in the NFL. He chose to work for Carroll for less money. “How many people do you know who enjoy driving to work every morning?” he’d testimonialized at the chalk talk.

Carroll talks a lot about his coaches “growing up in the program.” He likes grooming his own people instead of bringing in established stars. He is proud of the fact that former assistant coaches, like Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, who recently departed for Pac-10 rival Washington, have gone on to head-coaching jobs themselves. “I want guys to come to the program knowing that I’ll do everything in my power to get them the job of their dreams at some other place,” he says.

Carroll gulped down the last of his sandwich and took his chair; the GA in charge of statistics fired up the iPod. Carroll ran the meeting briskly, a stylized form of controlled chaos. And then a few final words:

“Let’s come out of our shoes today on these kids, man,” he told his staff. “Let’s just coach the shit out of these guys. I want lots of enthusiasm. I want you frickin’ screamin’ and yellin’ and makin’ ’em feel it. Make it memorable — but don’t abuse anybody.”


Breakdown of USC’s multiple D versus Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor

Read the whole thing over at Dr Saturday. I discuss Pete Carroll’s move to more of a Cover 1 man look against mobile QBs, and at a few of the plays that OSU might use to counteract that. One I didn’t get into is one shown in the video below, a pretty nasty QB draw/counter play Ohio State used last season with Pryor.

For help I want to thank Art of Trojan Football Analysis and Jerry Gordon for their insights, and the invaluable Brophy for the game film that launched a thousand (or more) words. And for more nitty gritty, TFA has a nice series. See parts one, two, three, and four.

Bill Walsh on USC, Pete Carroll, Oklahoma and Stoops

After USC pasted Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl to win the National Title, Bill Walsh had a little column in the Los Angeles Times. I only remembered this because I happened to be in L.A. that week, and happened to buy a copy (I know, no one buys newspapers anymore). If you want to refresh your memory about what happened in the game, see the video below, but many of Walsh’s comments still resonate years later — and further, all of us are fans on some level.

So much for all the rhetoric that Oklahoma and that part of the country has the best football. . . . The Sooners looked good on their opening drive. But after that, it became obvious that USC was clearly a better football team in every facet of the game — from the coaching to the play-calling to the talent on the field and the confidence that they had.

The Southern Cal players just played smarter, more mature football. Oklahoma came unraveled after about 20 minutes, to the point where it wasn’t really the Oklahoma team we were looking at. The Sooners were a shadow of the team we saw this season.

I give a lot of credit to USC’s coaching staff for that. Pete Carroll is the most dynamic coach in all of football right now. He’s able to motivate men and bring them together, assemble a top coaching staff, and he has so much enthusiasm and energy. He also has incredible knowledge of the game. He’s been one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL, and he’s got a great football mind.

When you combine Pete with what Norm Chow does as USC’s offensive coordinator, it forms the heart of the best coaching staff in college football — and probably the best in all of football.

The best coaches take care of the smallest details. For instance, the slipping and sliding of some of the Oklahoma players was probably due to the wrong cleats on that surface. That’s how the details can kill you. Oklahoma gave away points because their receivers slipped. . . .


My breakdown of USC’s offense through Chow, Kiffin, Sarkisian, etc

My weekly bit is now up at Dr Saturday. Check it out there. And, after the jump, is a video clip I made of some quick game concepts USC used under Chow that got cut from the main article for space reasons.