When you see an amazing, almost too easy, touchdown in a big game during an important drive, is it great coaching or an act of luck? I think most offensive coordinators would say that their playbook, scheme, and play calling philosophy are designed to get favorable match-ups and bait the defensive coordinator and his players into a false sense of security, before hitting them with a Mike Tyson like counter-punch to the jaw. Counter punches are risky, because they require you to let down your guard enough to lure them in, but they can work as depicted in these instances. In this article I am going to discuss games I’ve seen and coached in, where a coach’s philosophy to set up a big play rather than go straight for it was the difference between a drive and the drive.
The first play that comes to mind is the Alabama vs Auburn game in 2013. Auburn get the ball down 7 with 2:30 to go in the 4th quarter. Guz Malzahn goes against the usual trend during a 2 minute drill, which is to throw the ball and get out of bounds. Instead, Coach Malzahn calls six straight read-option plays attacking the teeth of the Alabama defense and driving the football past midfield. Then, he calls a packaged play which includes a zone-read option with the X receiver (who has a 1-on-1 match-up) running a sit down route once he gets behind the zone. As you can see on the film below, the constant pounding of the football all game (and all season) results in a wide open receiver that Marshall can lob a duck to that results in a 28-28 tie.
In my career, I have been involved in a couple of games where coaches have set up a chess match against defensive coordinators, at times resulting in near panic before seeing the end result work out with flying colors.
Another example comes from early on in my coaching career as a measly little freshman coach who assisted the varsity staff on game days up in the press box. I watched Coach John Flath (Southeastern University) set up the Winter Park HS defense in 2003 with power and outside zone runs before finding himself down 7-21 in a district game. Coming out of halftime, Coach Flath dialed up his play-action pass he called “Cowboy.” Cowboy (pictured below) had the QB boot off a play-action with a pulling guard as his protection. The X runs a comeback, the slot runs a drag, the backside Z and Y will run verticals. This route combo will pull the safety towards the trips leaving LB’s to cover the drag and a 1-on-1 for the X. Once the drag was hit a few times the safety moved to mid-field and the Seam to the inside slot was wide open. The Cougars roared back (pun) and pushed the game into overtime. UHS defeated WPHS 48-47 in overtime with Kyle Israel (UCF) converting the 2 point try with a QB sneak from the 1.
In 2013, my Ducks were forced into a tough position after a 31-7 kick off classic victory. We came into week one without our starting QB who was a running threat as an option QB. Without him, we traveled to a tough opponent and were squashed by 50 points trying to run the same offense with our younger more pass heavy back-up. The next week we vowed to be better prepared for our freshman QB’s 2nd start. We decided to exploit a cover 2 scheme that played their safety 15 yards off the slot with our check-to bubble screen called “money.” On our first offensive play, our bubble was picked for a touchdown and we had two choices: scrap the gameplan or tweak it.
We went with a tweak that worked wonderfully. I dipped into the playbook I ran five years before at Melbourne HS where I served as the freshman Head Coach and OC. I threw a bubble/go combo into the playbook on the fly. As you can see in the video posted below, after luring them in with the bubble, the bubble/go combo worked like a charm for almost 100 yards of passing. Then, to top that off, after drawing the safeties out wider to split the slots and flankers we went with our backside post for a touchdown to pull the score to 12-7. We lost 12-7 but it was the kind of game that showed we could win under adversity, and we finished the season 5-5 which was a big step up from 2-8 in 2012.