In a huge SEC battle this weekend, the Florida Gators travel to Death Valley to take on the LSU Tigers on Saturday night. Mark Schofield looks at the matchup and how the Tigers need to improve their execution for the LSU play action passing game to thrive.
The two teams lead their respective divisions, with the Gators off to a 6-0 start (4-0 in the conference) while the Tigers enter the game with a 5-0 mark (3-0 in the SEC). The winner remains on the inside track to the SEC Championship Game and a playoff berth, while the loser will need help down the stretch.
We all know about LSU’s ability to run the football, with sophomore running back Leonard Fournette currently leading the nation with 1,022 yards on the ground, the only player currently over 1,000 yards on the season. In last year’s meeting, the freshman RB picked up 140 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, in the Tigers’ three-point victory.
Given that the Florida defense is stout against the run, LSU will need to open up the passing game. But if LSU is to come out of Saturday night with a victory, they will need better execution, particularly on play action plays, than they had last year and through the early part of this season.
Deep Post Concept
In last year’s game, LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed only 10 of 21 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and the offense left a few passing plays on the field. On this first play, the Tigers face a 1st and 10 and have the QB under center with 21 offensive personnel on the field, in an i-formation with slot alignment to the left. The Gators have a base 4-3 defense in the game, showing Cover 3 in the secondary with the talented Vernon Hargreaves III (#1) in a deep alignment before the snap:
The fake works to perfection, drawing not only the linebackers forward, but moving Hargreaves out of his zone initially. Wide receiver Malachi Dupre (#15) is able to get a step on the coverage behind Hargreaves:
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But Jennings misses the throw.
This year, the Tigers have Brandon Harris center and the sophomore QB has done a decent job of executing the passing game. But on this play against South Carolina last weekend, the offense uses a similar deep post passing route off of play action, and the quarterback misses a chance for a big play:
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Harris is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with trips formation to the left. The Gamecocks have a 4-2-5 nickel package in the game, using Cover 1 in the secondary. Harris fakes an outside zone run to the right, then has a chance to hit Dupre on the crossing route, but overthrows his target.
Another concept the Tigers use in the play action passing game is to flow receivers out to the sideline, and bring an underneath shallow route in towards the middle of the field. This design tries to move defenders to the outside, while freeing up space for a receiver back over the middle. On this play from the 2014 meeting, LSU has Jennings under center with 21 personnel in the game. The Gators have a base 4-3 look on the field, showing two-high safeties in the secondary:
Prior to the play, WR Trey Quinn (#8) comes in motion toward the football, setting up a stack slot formation:
The inside receiver releases vertically before breaking to the outside on a corner route, while fullback Melvin Jones (#49) cuts to the flat. This sets up a smash route concept on the outside, with the WR and FB trying to high-low the coverage. But Quinn runs a shallow drag underneath the linebackers, who are flowing to the outside in response to the play:
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Jennings tries to hit the underneath crosser, but the WR drops the throw.
Against South Carolina the Tigers use a similar concept. Harris is under center with a 21 package in the game and the wide receivers in a stack slot right. The Gamecocks have their 4-3 defense in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary.
On this play, the tight end runs a deep out while the receiver runs a deep crossing route. This is designed to free up room underneath for WR Travin Dural (#83) on the shallow crosser:
Harris fakes a run to Fournette, before looking to hit the crossing route. The fake works to bring the second-level defenders forward initially, before the scramble to recover depth in response to the passing play. This, combined with the play design, gives Dural space underneath:
But the throw from Harris is just off the mark, and the pass is dropped. Fournette’s positioning after the fake might have played a role:
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Working the Sideline and the Stick
While the previous concepts failed last season and against South Carolina, the Tigers and Harris have been able to execute some plays this year in the play action game. Specifically, LSU has used the stick concept, and attacked the sidelines, to gain yardage through the air.
On this play against Syracuse, Harris lines up under center with with 22 offensive personnel on the field. The offense has an i-formation in the backfield, and a pro formation left with the second TE lined up next to the right tackle. The Orange have their 4-3 defense in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary with the cornerback across from the WR using press alignment:
Harris carries out a play fake to Fournette heading left, before looking for Dupre on a deep out to the left:
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The connection is made for an easy gain of 12 yards, and a fresh set of downs. On this replay angle, you can see how the receiver sets up the route using a fake to the inside, before wheeling around toward the sideline:
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Now, on Saturday night the cornerback across from that route will probably be Hargreaves. Fear not LSU fans, the Tigers also can spread the formation and attack the sidelines off of play action, as they do on this play:
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Harris starts the play under center, with an i-formation in the backfield. LSU has 21 offensive personnel in the game, with TE DeSean Smith (#89) and Quinn in a slot formation to the right. After carrying out the run fake, Harris is able to find the WR along the sideline for another easy 12-yard gain and a first down.
Working the Stick
Finally, a scheme that LSU uses in the passing game, often with play action, is the stick concept. This is usually run using a three-receiver formation, incorporating a vertical route on the outside with two underneath routes, usually a route to the flat, and a stick route, where the inner receiver runs a very quick curl route.
Notice the nickel cornerback is lined up on the hashmark and splitting the inner two trips receivers. This is the player Harris reads. Should this defender break on the route from the middle receiver, the QB will throw the inside route. But if the defender breaks on the stick route, the QB will throw to the flat:
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Harris hits John Diarse (#9) with a quick throw, and the timing and execution of the play have the WR in position to pick up yards after the catch.
Of course, Fournette will see the share of the workload on Saturday night. But if the Tigers are to win this game, they need to open up the defense a big in the passing game, and prevent the Gators from crowding the box and clogging running lanes. Better execution on play action passes might just be the trick.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.