In this two-part series we will look at how Sonny Dykes used the diamond formation in the red zone throughout the shootout between Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. In Part One we will focus on how the diamond formation can put players into advantageous one-on-one situations.
Before we break down specific plays, let's first take a look at this formation. (FYI Chris Brown of Smart Football has an excellent introduction to the diamond formation as well as other pistol-eqsue formations.)
The formation gets its name from diamond shape formed by the center, the QB, the RB, and the two fullbacks (usually the QB is directly between the two FBs, but LA Tech's version is close enough for rock and roll). Here LA Tech has two receivers split wide (they almost always do this in the diamond). One of the unique aspects of the diamond is its versatility. It's a balanced formation so the offense can just as easily run plays to the left or to the right. With seven blockers (5 O-linemen + 2 FBs) this is an excellent formation for running the ball (particularly for power running). It also works well for passing. As long as the ball is on one of the hash marks, one WR will always have half the field to operate (here it's the WR at the top of the screen). A safety cannot feasibly provide coverage on that top WR without taking himself out of position to help with the run defense. As a result, the WR will usually be single-covered. If the receiver commands double coverage (like Keenan Allen or DeSean Jackson), the running game will have one fewer defender to worry about. If an offense is loaded with skill players, this is can be a lethal formation.
Let's take a look at how Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin used it in the red zone against Texas Tech.
First play: 3rd and 1 at the 11
The first play takes place during Louisiana Tech's second drive of the second quarter. As the score indicates, the offense has struggled early on. They did not manage a single first down during the first quarter, but the offense has begun to pick up steam in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs have a 3rd and 1 at the 11-yard line. The LA Tech offense shows its diamond formation.
Because it's 3rd and 1, Texas A&M expects a run. The Aggies are in a standard 4-3 look with man coverage on the LA Tech receivers. All three linebackers and both safeties are within four yards of the line of scrimmage. That's 9 defenders in the box.
Let's see what Tech will do.
The two fullbacks are going to block the linebackers on either side of the defensive line. The Bulldogs also pull the left guard to help clean things up on the right.
Sounds like a recipe for a run play, right?
Meanwhile, that pulling left guard and right fullback back get ready to block the defensive end and linebacker on the boundary side of the formation (the side closest to the sideline). On that same side of the field WR Quinton Patton starts a route that is immediately preceded by a double move.
It's a playaction fake! The combination of Patton's double move and the playaction gets the cornerback to bite.
The CB takes a quick step towards the middle of the field--just enough for Patton to get some separation.
QB Colby Cameron throws the fade.
And General Patton hauls in the pass for a touchdown.
Here's a video clip of the play followed immediately by a slow-motion replay (click the gear-shaped button to get a clearer look and/or the full screen button to embiggen the video):
Patton would go on to haul in 21 passes for 223 yards and four touchdowns (cue the old Patton quote "May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won't")
Maybe A&M should bite the bullet and double-cover Patton...
In our next play, we'll see what happens when A&M respects the pass out of the diamond.
Second Play: 3rd and Goal at the 6
Our next play takes place on the following possession. The Tech offense has moved down the field and is once again in the red zone. On 3rd and goal from the 6th the Bulldogs show their diamond formation again.
3rd and 6 suggests this will be a passing play. The fact that the Aggies were burned for a Patton TD grab on the previous red zone possession is further encouragement for them to respect the pass.
Look who stopped crowding the line of scrimmage! Texas A&M is in a standard 4-3 look with man coverage on the Bulldog WRs. The boundary side safety shades Patton. The other WR is again in a one-on-one situation.
Did you notice anything interesting in that previous image? Take another look, and pay attention to the number of players in the box.
With one safety shading Patton and another way out by that "O" in the end zone, A&M has 7 players in the box. Remember, the diamond formation allows LA Tech to use 7 blockers. 7 blockers taking on 7 defenders is an excellent matchup--who's going to take down the running back?
However, Dykes and Franklin aren't happy with a one-man advantage. They want to shift the numbers even more in their favor. That field side outside linebacker (the one closest to the center of the field) will be unblocked. This gives LA Tech 7 blockers on 6 defenders.
Just like the first play, LA Tech pulls a left guard to take out the boundary side outside linebacker. The right tackle will briefly double team a nose tackle with the right guard before moving on to the middle linebacker. The fullback on the right will block the defensive end and the fullback on the left will clean up any stragglers for RB Kenneth Dixon.
Cameron hands off to Dixon and the charge begins.
The three-man cavalry (left guard and two fullbacks) gets ready to pave the way for Dixon.
So far the blockers are taking care of business.
The circled defensive end (on the bottom left) crashes hard into the backfield. The fullback does a fantastic job of using the end's momentum against him to take him completely out of position to make a tackle. Meanwhile the field side safety and outside linebacker are in no man's land and will be unable to get anywhere near the RB.
The fullback (#89) serving as Dixon's lead blocker helps the other back seal the edge. If all the blocks hold, Dixon will only have one man to beat, the boundary side safety.
Uh oh, that middle linebacker sheds the tackle's block. Also that safety is trying to get in position to tackle Dixon.
Fortunately Dixon's lead fullback (#89) should take out one of these defenders to give him one man to beat to get into the end zone. The Bulldogs are a missed tackle or a juke away from a touchdown.
#89 has other plans, however.
He blocks the middle linebacker into the safety to take out BOTH defenders.
Dixon is free to cruise into the end zone.
Here's the video clip:
So what have we learned? This is a great formation to force numerical advantages. In the first play the Aggies sold out to stop the run and left Patton single covered. LA Tech ran a playaction to get the defense to bite on the run. Patton then dispatched the lone cornerback for an easy TD. In the second play Texas A&M kept more defenders back for pass defense. This left LA Tech with seven blockers against Texas A&M's front seven. Better yet, the Bulldogs negated the backside middle linebacker, thus leaving seven blockers to take out six defenders (plus the safety). With a credible passing attack and running game, LA Tech makes this formation difficult to defend. It takes a very disciplined defense to avoid getting burned by all the deception Franklin and Dykes wrap into this seemingly simple formation. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at how they use this formation to deceive the defense.
Who's excited to utilize this formation? Can you imagine Bigelow, Lasco, and Yarnway lined up as backs with Harper and Treggs as the WRs? All three backs can carry the ball or catch a pass in the flat, or the QB can try to get a lone receiver in open space. Sonny Delight should have plenty of options to use this formation to terrorize opponents next season.