Armed Forces Bowl Review: Part V: TD Pass to THA1

[Ed Note:  Hydro is kinda busy getting married to Nate Longshore, so it might take him a bit to respond.  His internet access is spotty when locked in Nate's delightful embrace.]

In this fifth installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at Riley's famous TD pass to Desean Jackson.  In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, Part II, Part III , and Part IV .

Let's begin.

Here's the pre-snap situation (picture below).  1st and 10, with Cal just inside Air Force territory.  Cal is utilizing 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB).  The formation below should be familiar to you.  The TE (Stevens) is right, thus the strength is right.  The RB (Forsett) is left, thus weak because he is on the opposite side of the TE.  The WRs are in trips opposite of the TE.  This formation should look strikingly similar to the formation we covered previously in Part IV.  In fact, it is the same formation.  So I ask you again, what two plays are the most likely to occur out of such a formation in a Tedford offense?  Your answers should be zone read and bubble screen.  Those two plays are what should immediately come to mind when you see such a formation. 

But this is not to say that Tedford doesn't call regular pass plays out of such a formation either.  I'll spill the beans now and tell you that it's a regular pass play - which sort of makes sense.  Why?  Because Tedford already showed this formation previously and ran a zone read (which we saw in Part IV), and it got stuffed for a loss.  Tedford is probably hoping to catch Air Force sneaking up for the run by showing the same formation.  So Tedford will pass. Note that Air Force is this time defending with their base 3-4.  They have moved over their WLB over to the trips (note the AF WLB who is just about lined up over the inner most slot WR).  AF appears to be showing a zone pre-snap.  Note how their RCB (right cornerback) is not lined up directly over Cal's outer-most WR.  Also note AF is showing a two-deep safety look (the red dots on the right of the screen).  Assuming AF is playing a regular cover two with two deep safeties and five underneath zones, Cal's trips WRs should be able to overload the zone.  Note that AF only has three defenders towards Cal's trips (AF only has the WLB, CB, and deep safety in that direction).

Cal_e1_medium

The play is a pass play (duh), since this is the play where Riley (and by the way, Riley is now the QB) threw a TD bomb to THA1 (Desean Jackson).  I've shown THA1's route.  It's an inside-release go which pushes towards the safety to his side.  Note that this pass play is a playaction pass play (shown by Forsett's blocking route).  The playaction sucks in both the AF SLB (strongside LB) and SILB (strong inside linebacker) who then drop back into zone coverage (depicted by the red arrows).  AF also blitzes their LCB (left cornerback) whom is picked up by Forsett. 

Cal_e2_medium

The picture below shows what Riley is seeing just before he needs to decide whom to throw to.  Air Force is indeed playing a basic cover 2 defense with 2 deep safeties and 5 underneath zones.  I have put red dots on the five AF defenders who are playing the underneath zones.  Off the screen to the right AF has two safeties playing deep coverage with each one taking half of the field.  One of the holes in a cover 2 defense is deep between the two safeties and over the underneath zones; and deep down the sidelines outside of the safeties and over the underneath zones.  Riley sees that THA1 will be in that hole.  But first Riley has to side-step to the outside, the AF RE (right end) who has gotten inside of Cal's LT (Teofilo).  I've shown Riley's path below with the blue arrows, and the AF DE's path with the red arrows. 

Cal_e3_medium

Riley looks downfield and prepares to throw (depicted by the green vision cone).  The AF RCB (at the very top of the screen) sees Riley's eyes and knows that Riley is going to hit THA1 in the hole of the cover 2 defense.  The AF RCB vacates his zone and attempts to catch up to THA1 (depicted by the red arrow).  

Cal_e4_medium

As you can see in the picture below, the AF RCB is way too late (he's the guy on the bottom left of the picture below).  The only AF defender with a chance to stop the play is the AF safety who is closing on THA1.  I've highlighted the ball yellow.

Cal_e5_medium

Riley places the ball to the outside of THA1, thus THA1 is between the ball and the defender.  Thus, it is incredibly hard for the AF defender to swat the ball without going through or committing pass interference on THA1.  Essentially, by placing the ball so the WR is between the ball and the defender, the WR can shield the ball from the defender with his body.  

Cal_e6_medium

THA1 contorts his body and makes a diving catch.  Touchdown Bears!

What have we learned in this play?  After Tedford had called a zone read out of this same formation in the first quarter (which resulted in a loss of yards), he calls a playaction pass play out of the same formation to catch Air Force off guard.  Tedford is building success off of failed plays and setting up the defense. 

Furthermore, I wouldn't be totally surprised if Riley was already pretty certain where he was going with this ball prior to the snap.  I'm sure Riley saw that Air Force was showing a cover 2 (with 5 underneath zones) and knew that THA1's route would take him right into the seam (hole) of the defense.  It's important to note that THA1's route was an inside release which pushed towards the safety to his side.  This keeps the safety to his side of the field more towards the center of the field.  If THA1 had taken an outside release, the safety probably would have started to come over earlier (or more) to help provide deep coverage and THA1 would have been less open thus making for a tougher throw.  So by pushing towards the safety, it keeps the safety playing towards the center, so THA1 has more room to the outside to receive the pass. 

Now, I want to go back to the 3rd picture where Riley is getting pressured from the RDE.  I know in previous posts I have suggested that Longshore should throw the ball away when pressured, but this by no means that Riley must do the same.  The test for when one should throw the ball away is whether the QB can complete a pass or scramble for yards.  If the QB can safely complete a pass or scramble for yards, he should do so and not throw the ball away.  If the QB cannot safely complete a pass or scramble for yards, then they should throw the ball away.  Because Longshore is not as mobile as Riley, he often cannot scramble for yards when no receiver is open.  Thus, Longshore is required to throw the ball away more often.  But for Riley, because of his mobility, he is not required to throw the ball away as much.  The tests for the two QBs is the same, but the standard used for the tests is different.  So should Riley have thrown the ball away in this play?  Only if he felt he couldn't safely complete a pass and he couldn't scramble for yards.  Obviously, Riley felt he could complete the pass and thus he threw the ball - an excellent one too.  But by no means, is every QB required to throw the ball away just because they are pressured.

The final thing to note about this play, is that this play, and the play where Riley scrambles for a first down (not covered by this series), are the only plays where Riley gets pressured.  Both plays occurred in the 2nd quarter.  In fact, they occurred back to back (so right after this TD pass play on Cal's next possession, Riley scrambles for a first down).  It's interesting to note this because from here on out, in the plays covered by this series, as well as the plays not covered by the series, the OL gives Riley excellent protection.  This is not meant to detract from Riley's awesome performance (and make no mistake about it, it was an awesome performance.  He only threw two incomplete passes!  I'm not counting the incomplete hail mary), but it's certainly worth noting that the OL pass blocked pretty flawlessly for the remaining 37.5 minutes of the game.

Check back in a few days for Part VI.

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