Monday, August 13, 2007

Introduction: Play Breakdowns

Here at Outside The Sidelines, I've decided to introduce a new column. Each week, I'll be taking a key play, or perhaps two, from the Alabama game (and in weeks Alabama is not playing, another game), and having an in-depth play breakdown, complete with diagrams and explanations.

As the introductory column, I've decided to give everyone a sample by breaking down a key play from the 1993 Sugar Bowl.

Specifically, the play we'll be looking is George Teague's interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The situation is first and ten for the Hurricanes at their own 29-yard line, with roughly ten minutes left in the third quarter. Moments earlier, Miami was trailing 13-6, and Tommy Johnson intercepted Gino Torretta's first pass of the second half. Several players later, Derrick Lassic plunged over the goal line on third and goal, extending the Tide lead to 20-6. The Miami offense needs to respond and narrow the gap.

The following is the play diagram:

And, well, there you have it.

Miami comes out with Torretta in the shotgun. There are trips receivers to the right. Number 3 is an unknown receiver, 36 is Lamar Thomas, and 88 is Horace Copeland. On the opposite side of the formation, there is a single receiver, number 5, Kevin Williams. Also, number 17, tight end Coleman Bell is lined up to the offensive left. As you can see, with four wide receivers and a tight end on the line of scrimmage, no backs are left in to protect Torretta.

Alabama responds with what was made into a legendary package in Crimson Tide lore after this night. Despite Miami spreading the field with dangerous receivers, defensive coordinator Bill Oliver puts all eleven defenders in the box.

In terms of personnel, we respond with:

Four down linemen: John Copeland (94), Eric Curry (80), and two interior defensive linemen I cannot identify.

Four cornerbacks: George Teague (13), Tommy Johnson (10), Antonio Langham (43), and a cornerback lined up over Kevin Williams (5) that I cannot identify.

Two linebackers: Lemanski Hall (11), and Andre Royal (36).

One safety: Chris Donnelly (21).

As mentioned earlier, as you can easily see, all eleven defenders crowd the line of scrimmage. All cornerbacks come up to the line against their receiver, and seemingly it is going to be man coverage with no safety help. Even the two linebackers and the safety are less than a yard away from the line of scrimmage.

Given the heavy blitzes that we had employed throughout the first half, combined with the great natural pass rush from the ends (Copeland and Curry), Torretta knows that he will have to release the ball quickly. Considering the cover package seems to be man on the wide receivers, Andre Royal (36) will likely to have to cover the cover the tight end (17) in man coverage. From there it's simple math, we can quickly blitz six defenders against their five offensive linemen, and you can do the math on that one. Hence, Torretta must work quickly.

Now, all of the background information aside... Torretta lifts his right leg, signaling to his center Tirrell Greene that it is okay to snap the football.

The ball is snapped.

Despite all of the posturing to the contrary, we bring only the standard four-man rush. Royal, as expected, is in to man coverage against the Miami tight end. Chris Donnelly (21) quickly retreats into deep zone coverage. Though the play never develops to the point where we could fully understand his assignment, it seems that Donnelly's role is mainly to give help to the unidentified cornerback covering the explosive Kevin Williams (5). Lemanski Hall (11), too, quickly backs away from the line of scrimmage and appears to be playing zone coverage in the middle of the field. In doing so, he shades slightly towards the far side of the field to put him closer to the trips receivers. Again, though the play never develop to the point where we can fully understand his assignment, likely, Hall's responsibility is to defend intermediate crossing routes.

Still, though Donnelly and Hall drop out into zone coverage instead of rushing the quarterback, it's still a risky call by Bill Oliver and company. The Miami receivers are explosive, and Gino Torretta is less than a month removed from picking up the Heisman Trophy. All three cornerbacks to the defensive left are in man coverage, with no help whatsoever. If they get beat, there is a very high possibility that this play turns into a big one for the 'Canes. Even the unidentified cornerback is a concern. Kevin Williams is one of the most explosive skill position players in the country, and Donnelly -- the transfer from Vanderbilt -- is not particularly athletic. If Williams runs a go route, there is no way that Donnelly will be able to retreat quickly enough to even remotely help the unidentified cornerback in coverage. At bottom, it's a risky call, and there is absolutely no margin of error for the four Tide cornerbacks.

At the snap, the Miami wide receivers quickly release off the line of scrimmage. The two outside receivers in the trips formation to the right quickly surge upfield. Horace Copeland (88) moves to the outside shoulder of Langham, and Lamar Thomas (36) moves to the inside of Johnson in order to release into their routes. Kevin Williams, too, moves to the inside shoulder of Williams and gets into his release. All three receivers surge upfield, but it's highly unlikely that all three of them are running go routes. In reality, the play never develops long enough for us to really figure out where they are going.

As mentioned earlier, the Tide rushes only four. Eric Curry (80) rushes to the outside in an attempt to beat the Miami left tackle off of the edge. John Copeland (94), his fellow bookend, initially rushes to the outside in an attempt to beat the Miami right tackle off the edge, but after charging upfield, he suddenly cuts inside. The Miami right guard and the center both block the left defensive tackle, and that combined with Copeland's rush creates a massive throwing lane for Torretta.

At this point, Torretta is clearly a confused and apprehensive quarterback. His actions are not indicative of a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback with two national championship rings. Upon receiving the ball, Torretta quickly maneuvers it to grip the laces properly, and instantly begins to throw the football. Despite having two fine receivers (88 and 36) isolated in man coverage with no safety help, Torretta never even looks in their direction. The entire time he stares down the inside receiver in the trips formation (3), and throws the ball in his direction as soon as physically possible.

The inside receiver (3) in the trips formation lines up with George Teague (13) immediately in front of him. At the snap, the receiver releases into a shallow crossing route over the middle. But Teague doesn't make life easy for him. He is physical with the receiver, and jumps the route. At this point, the massive throwing lane between the Miami right tackle and Miami right guard has opened, and Teague is a mere eight yards away from Torretta. The confused and apprehensive Heisman Trophy winner is already well into his throwing motion by now, and Teague sees the ball will be heading in his direction. Though he is man coverage, he is staring down Torretta, just waiting for the ball to be released. The receiver (3) seemingly starts to cut back to the outside (confusion between the quarterback and the receiver, perhaps?), but Teague does not budge an inch, and neither does Torretta.

The ball is thrown, and Teague (13) quickly snags the interception and races around the offensive left end. Considering he cut back the outside, the Miami receiver cannot make the tackle. The two receivers on the left side of the formation (Kevin Williams, 5, and the tight end, 17) are now too far down field to come back and make the tackle, and there were no backs to get him. The only one standing between Teague and the end zone is the slow-footed Gino Torretta, and he simply can't chase the speedy Teague down.

Teague darts around the end, races along the sideline, and into the end zone.

Alabama 27, Miami 6.

The Crimson Tide moves one step closer to its twelfth national championship.


Jon said...

My guess is that the unidentified Tide cornerback was Willie Gaston (#22).

dbh said...

Other goofy info only a yahoo like me who watches too much football would know:
• Miami's receiver (3) is Jonathan Harris ... I think.
• The crossing route Harris runs, as Bob Griese explains in one of his few salient points of the night, is likely a hot read — see blitz, break off the route. The fact that Teague was able to beat Harris to the ball is a) a product of superior preparation and coaching; b) due to the fact that Teague is easily a head taller and has at least 30 pounds on Harris, and thus is able to basically push him out of the way. Basically, he's the opposite of Kecalf Bailey.