The remnants of Hurricane Patricia swept across Texas this weekend, bringing floods and providing a gloomy and wet backdrop for the non-conference tilt between the Army Black Knights and the Rice Owls. Mark Schofield looks at Rice driving late in the rain.
While conditions were far less than optimal, the two teams provided the brave fans and family members in attendance with a thrilling contest and exciting finish. After the Black Knights kicked a field goal to tie the score at 31, the Owls took over possession at their own 25-yard line with one timeout and a little more than two minutes remaining, setting the stage for the climactic final act.
On first down, Rice comes out with 11 offensive personnel and quarterback Driphus Jackson (#6) in the shotgun, a trips formation to his right. Army has a sub package on the field, using 4-2-5 personnel showing Cover 0:
The Owls setup a bubble screen to the right, with the QB showing run/pass option at the mesh point. The inside trips receiver bends to the outside on the potential screen while the middle wide receiver sets up a block downfield. But the outside WR runs a vertical route. Meanwhile, the Black Knights roll their coverage to Cover 3:
Jackson makes an aggressive decision and tries to hit his receiver running the go route:
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The signal-caller gets enough on this throw to work the football through the rain, over the cornerback, and into the waiting arms of Temi Alaka (#12). For his part, the WR does a tremendous job of high pointing the football with his hands and getting a foot down before falling out of bounds. The 17-yard gain sets Rice up with a fresh set of downs at the Army 42-yard line.
Following a short run on first down and an incompletion on second down, the Owls face a crucial 3rd and 7 at the Black Knights’ 45-yard line with 1:05 remaining. They line up with 20 offensive personnel, using trips to the left and splitting a single wide receiver right. Running back Luke Turner (#35) is the second RB on the field and sets up wide as the inside trips receiver. Army keeps their 4-2-5 nickel package on the field and show Cover 2 in the secondary, with one linebacker in blitz posture:
The Owls run a variation of the all-curl concept. The trips receivers all run curl routes of varying depth, while the single backside receiver runs a corner route. The Army secondary settles into Cover 2 while upfront the defense blitzes one linebacker and drops the strongside DE into underneath zone coverage:
Turner finds the soft area of the Cover 2 scheme:
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The RB settles into an area between and behind the underneath zone defenders, working deeper than the underneath coverage but shallow enough to avoid the deep safety. The throw-and-catch gives Rice a fresh set of downs in Army territory.
The first down stops the clock momentarily, but the Owls choose to hold on to their final time-out for the potential game-winning field goal try and hustle to the line for the next play. They stay with the same personnel and formation, as do the Black Knights:
Rice returns to the design used on the first play of the drive, setting up a bubble screen to the trips side of the field,while Jackson and RB Darik Dillard (#1) meet at the mesh point on the run/pass option. This time, the QB hands the football off and the running back looks to execute the inside zone:
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When Dillard cuts toward the sideline, Wright is in perfect position to seal off freshman cornerback Brandon Jackson (#28). With the edge secure, the RB angles to the outside and is finally knocked out of bounds at the Black Knights’ 24 yard line. The 20-yard gain puts the Owls on the cusp of field goal range for freshman kicker Hayden Tobola, whose longest FG on the season is 37 yards. More importantly, by managing to get out of bounds, Dillard stops the clock.
The Owls line up again with Jackson in the shotgun again with an 11 package in the game. They deploy trips left and have tight end Cole Hunt (#82) lined up tight to the formation on the right. Army now brings 3-3-5 personnel into the game, using linebacker Alex Aukerman (#21) as a defensive end over Hunt and showing Cover 6 in the secondary:
Rice tries a power running play here to the left, with right tackle Caleb Williams (#75) pulling in front of Dillard:
But off the snap, Aukerman beats Hunt to the inside and knifes into the backfield. This forces Dillard to make a decision behind the line of scrimmage:
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The RB takes the handoff and cuts just behind the crashing LB, avoiding the tackle behind the line. Dillard is then able to get vertical quickly enough to avoid the tackle attempt of the CB. Then Dillard puts a spin move on safety Xavier Moss (#9) before he is dragged down from behind. But the nifty cut and spin combination from the running back picks up 12 yards.
After the run the Black Knights use one of their remaining time outs, allowing Rice to regroup. They line up for the 1st and 10 play with the same 11 group in the game, pro formation right and slot alignment left. Army now has their base 3-4 defense on the field, using Cover 1 and putting both outside linebackers on the LOS:
As Hunt curls outside, Wright brings his defender into traffic on his post route. This creates the chance for a rub play – which is exactly what happens:
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Freshman CB Jackson is in trail coverage behind Wright and, as he tries to close down on the receiver, he bumps into the defender over Hunt and gets knocked to the turf. Wright cuts into the end zone with nary a DB in sight and Jackson just needs to drop the throw in through the driving rain. As the receiver said after the game: “It was the ugliest, most beautiful ball I’ve ever seen. I thought he punted it.”
But the throw counts same as a laser in the scoring book.
The touchdown gave the Owls a seven-point lead, and although Army was able to get the ball into Rice territory on their final drive, the final play of the game was an incompletion. The win improved the Owls’ record to 4-3 on the season, keeping them in contention for a bowl game. The Black Knights dropped to 2-6 with the loss.
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 FOX Sports.