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Rest of the Pac Breakdown - Washington Huskies 2014

Petersen's Laws of Motion, Special Teams and Play Makers: the Washington Huskies have new leadership and some familiar faces and new schemes.

Steve Dykes

Football is said to have three phases of the game: Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.  I will touch on all three in this breakdown of the Washington Huskies.


Chris Petersen is the latest head coach to have entered the ranks of the Pac-12.  Before coming to Seattle, Petersen was the Head Coach and before that the Offensive Coordinator of Boise State from 2001-2013 during which time the team won 145 games and lost only 23 (that rounds out to and average record of 11-2 per season over 13 years).

This post on the Michigan State blog The Only Colors explores a concept in the then Boise State offense the author calls Chris Petersen's Three Laws of Motion. It is a great post and it must have taken a lot of time with all the play charting.  I will illustrate its basic conclusions:

Petersen's First Law: A man in motion will tend to stay in motion

That is, once the player motions across the formation, there will rarely be any doubling back to his original position, or motioning again to another spot on the field. Once they motion, that's generally it.

This play is a read triple option.  The motion man is the middle of the trips receivers at the bottom of the screen.  His motion will cause the Stanfurd defenders to shift to follow.

The Furd shift has vacated the area where UW wants to run (red circle.

At the moment of the read, the Huskies have a double team block with the Right Tackle and Guard on the Furd Defensive Tackle and the Center is going to the second level to block the Middle Linebacker.  The Washington Quarterback, Cyler Miles, is reading the two unblocked players circled in white.  The first read is the Defensive End, does he crash down to stop the Running Back or does he come upfield to keep contain on the Quarterback...  The Defensive End "stays home" which essentially means he does neither...  He stays in position to try to make a play on either the Running Back or the Quarterback which means he is not in a position to make a play on either.

The second read is of the Outside Linebacker: Does the Linebacker stay in pass coverage on the motion Receiver or does he crash down on a QB or RB run?  If he crashes down then Miles would pass to the motion Receiver, but the Linebacker stays out in coverage and Miles hands the ball off...

UW picks up 13 yards on the play because the pre-snap motion caused the Outside Linebacker to vacate the area where the run went.

Petersen's Second Law: A man in motion will be followed quickly by a snap

There are also very, very few instances where one player will finish his motion, then another player will start another motion, or the QB will take his time to scan the field. It is almost always motion-and-go, and once the player is in his new position, the play will start in an attempt to minimize the amount of time the opponent has to adjust.

Washington is going to run a version of the Fly Sweep.  UW has two Tight Ends on their left to help block and the motion Receiver (in purple) will get the ball.  By putting the receiver in motion before the snap, he has already accelerated before anyone else has moved.

The Stanfurd defense has done their scouting and they know from the formation and motion that the Fly Sweep is coming.  The player circled in yellow points out the motion and play while the safety gets ready to get into the backfield to keep contain.  The Outside Linebacker has started to crash toward the line of scrimmage to blow this play up before it starts.

All of Furd's preparation is for naught as the Tight Ends both make superb blocks and the Huskies pick up 10 yards (to be nullified by a holding penalty).

Petersen's Third Law: A man in motion will almost never be the focal point of the play

Though he will block, create space for other players, force defensive changes or reveal information about the the QB. In a solid number of analyzed plays, the Boise QB is often not looking towards the man in motion once the ball is snapped, and is throwing him the ball even less.

For this one we are going back to UW's first game of the year at Hawaii (must have been a nice vacation for the boosters).  On 2nd and 7 on Hawaii's 20 yard line Washington lines up in a Diamond Formation.  One of the backs motions to the left making this a power running formation toward the top of the screen.

At the snap the motion back and Fullback block to their left, the ball is handed off to the Tailback who follows his blocking backs.  The entire Hawaii defense persues the Tailback for what looks like a loss of yardage.  Until he flips the ball to #1 John Ross who is the salmon in this Bay to Breakers-like Reverse.

Interesting that none of the linemen hold their blocks for more than a fraction of a second.  The play functions almost like a Screen.

I have not charted the motion in every UW play this year but it is far less than the 61% Boise was using in 2011.  This leads me to believe that Chris Petersen has not installed his full offense yet.  That might explain their boom and bust offensive possessions this year.  Here is a play outside of the Laws of Motion theory:

This is an ingenious play-action pass.  Washington will fake a Read Option, going as far as leaving the Defensive End unblocked.  But this is a passing play, one designed for the running back.  As the Defensive End must be blocked on a pass and the Running Back is the primary receiver, someone else will have to make that block: the Right Guard in this case, who will pull and take up the pass blocking position.  The play side receivers run Go routes allowing for a big play if the Furd Defensive Backs bite on the run fake.  The backside receivers run slant routes as secondary options.

But as I said, this pass is designed for the running back.  The RB fakes the handoff, then he hesitates faking a pass block.  After that hesitation he heads into the flat.

This could have been a big play if Furd Linebacker A.J. Tarpley had fallen for the run fake.  It ends up being a 5 yard play as it was likely intended to be.  (Tarpley made a number of plays in this game to foil the UW offense, the Golden Bear Linebackers are going to have to play a disciplined game on Saturday to shut down the Huskies).

Special Teams

Special teams can have a huge impact on the game and last week showed how important special teams were across the Pac-12.  I have not done a Breakdown of Special Teams before and there were some good examples of basic concepts as well as some team tendencies from the Washington-Stanfurd game.

Kickoff Coverage

Kickoff Coverage is fairly standard team to team.  The first premise is that the field is 55 yards wide and the coverage team has 11 players.  The coverage team divides the field into "lanes" about 5 yards apart and has one player cover each lane.

Now, if that was all there was to it, then the Return Team would only have to block one player for a touchdown, so there are some specialized roles in the coverage team.  The first, of course, is the kicker who will kick to a spot on the field, usually left or right which decreases the real estate the coverage team has to cover.  The kicker's second job is to be a Safety, in fact he will be the tackler of last resort because he made the team due to his right leg, not his ability to make a tackle.

The next job is Contain.  The player with the widest lanes on either side MUST make sure that the Return Man cannot get outside and around the coverage team.

The last job is Safety.  Lou Holtz says (every Saturday it seems) that to prevent a big return you must have three Safeties on your coverage team.  The Kicker is the first, but two more trail the play on Washington's coverage team to make the play if no one else can make the tackle.

The Contain is well established but a man (in yellow) is out of his lane and there is a Safety on the ground with two blockers laying on top of him...  Think the Kicker is a little scared as Ty Montgomery jukes the UW coverage team out of their cleats?

Incredible that this was not a touchdown.

Kickoff Return

The Kickoff return team is faced with a number of challenges:

First is the area of field into which the kickoff team can kick the ball, 9075 square feet of space.  To cover all this space the Washington Kick Return Team has lined up in three rows.  Row 1 is 10 yards away from the ball on the Furd 45 yard line.  There are here to defend against the surprise onside kick.  The kicking team cannot recover an onside kick until the ball travels those 10 yards.  Row 2 is lined up to recover a short or squib kick, while the third row are the Return Men for a deep kick (one for each side of the field).

The next challenge is blocking the Kickoff Team.  The spacing for fielding the kick is not very good for blocking, so a scheme has to be prepared.  Row 1 will retreat 20 yards down the field, then turn and block.  Each man on the return team has a man on the Cover team to block, they determine who that is before the kickoff.  The first row has a further challenge of blocking Furd players running at full speed while the blockers are slowing and turning to make their blocks.  The second row head to their right to form a wall.  The return man camps under the ball.

John Ross is the return man, in yellow.  UW makes their blocks, they don't have to hold long...  #27, Freshman Christian McCaffery (yes, son of Ed), abandons his lane (in white) heading directly towards the ball carrier instead.

Although Contain is preserved this hole is all that Ross needs...

... for a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead on the Cardinal.

But a holding penalty wipes out the return and UW loses 20-13...  That TD sure would have been nice...

Punt Team

Washington, like most programs these day has two types of punts in their repertoire: the traditional booming punt and the rugby-style punt.  The traditional punt is designed to have lots of "hang time" or time on the air to allow the coverage team to run down the field and tackle the punt returner.

The Huskies will line up with three Gunners, whose job it is to get down the field ahead of the ball and tackle the Punt Returner as soon as he catches the ball; 5 linemen, who are usually linebackers or running backs and who only block for a handful of seconds before releasing into lanes down the field similar to Kickoff Coverage; two deep blockers who will hold their blocks longer and then become Safeties; and the Punter who is the tackler of last resort.

The Blockers/Safeties are to either side of the Punter on the traditional kick.

In the last 10-15 years just about every team has added a rugby-style kick.  This kick is a low line drive: little hang time but lots of forward momentum and designed to bounce and roll a long distance.  This kick will reach the return man faster but is more difficult to catch than a traditional punt and cannot be fair caught once it bounces.

For this kick the punter will take a few steps to the side of his domanaint leg (right in this case) and then kick the ball.  To help block during the punter's movement the deep blockers (in purple) are lined up to his right.

Ty Montgomery is the most (only?) explosive player on the Farm.  UW does not want to lost this game on a punt return so they try to disguise the type of punt as long as possible so that Montgomery does not know where to receive the ball.  The Huskies use multiple pre-snap movements to obscure their intent on the following punt:

UW shows 2 Gunners to the Left, with Traditional Punt...  Then Traditional Punt with 2 Gunners to the right...  And finally Rugby Punt Formation.

The Fumbled Snap

The perfect field goal or Point After Touchdown (PAT) goes Snap, Hold (Laces Out!), Kick.  Last week in Pullman Cal learned how important the Hold part of that can be when a fumbled WSU snap led to a missed field goal from chip shot distance.

What does a PAT team do when the snap is fumbled so bad that a kick is not possible?

This is not a Fake, but a Fire Drill.  The snap and hold were off so the Holder, who is usually a backup quarterback, yells "FIRE".  That is the signal for the Tight End to block and release into a pattern and the Kicker to follow the Holder as a possible pitch target.  The Holder will attempt to score a 2 point conversion.

Of course, it is better to execute the Snap, Hold, and Kick...

Play Makers

#1 John Ross is tied for the team lead in touchdowns with 4 and we have seen what he can do in the plays above but he is not the only play maker on the Huskies.

Jaydon Mickens

#4 leads the team in receptions with 23 (as many as the next two receivers combined).

Shaq Thompson

A name that readers of CGB know well because of his brother who was a standout on the Cal defense for years and for the coach who recruited him.  Thompson has become the player on the Washington squad who most often turns the momentum of the game.  #7 is tied for the most touchdowns on the Huskies, here are all four...

The Scoop and Score of a Country Fumble

Forcing the fumble and returning it for a touchdown against Furd

Returning an Interception for TD vs. Illinois

And scoring on a run with the offense against Eastern Washington

Washington has struggled at times this year but they have also dominated at times.  If not for a penalty and a botched snap on a PAT they would be undefeated.  They are improving as the offense is installed and they have had two weeks to practice how not to get caught holding and how to defend a Hail Mary.  Of course there seems to be little than can be done to fully prepare for the Bear Raid.  Saturday's game in Berkeley promises to be another exciting one.  When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.  Can Cal stay the Kings in the North?