Mississippi State and Prescott Goes Vertical

Mississippi State kept their very slim SEC West hopes alive with a 31-13 victory over the Missouri Tigers on Thursday night. Mark Schofield looks at the Bulldogs use of go routes as Dak Prescott goes vertical.

In the rain, Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott threw for four touchdowns and became just the sixth player in SEC history to account for 100 or more TDs. The senior quarterback got Mississippi State off to a quick start with a beautifully-executed four verticals concept.

On their opening drive of the game, the Bulldogs face 2nd and 10 at the Tigers’ 36-yard line. They line up with the QB in the shotgun and 11 offensive personnel in a 3×1 alignment, with trips to the right. Wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson (#1) is the single receiver on the left. The trips formation consists of WR Fred Ross (#8), tight end Darrion Hutcherson (#84) and WR Fred Brown (#5), from inside to outside. The Tigers have five defensive backs in the game showing Cover 2:CFBReview10MSUStill1

The Bulldogs run four verticals here, with each receiver releasing straight down the middle of the field:CFBReview10MSUStill2

Off the snap of the football, Missouri blitzes weakside cornerback Kenya Dennis, and they roll coverage to Cover 0, with the slot CB settling underneath and reading the quarterback:CFBReview10MSUStill3

This requires linebacker Michael Scherer (#30) to cover Ross’s vertical route. At the snap of the football, Scherer’s eyes are elsewhere ‒ specifically, in the offensive backfield. Prescott and running back Brandon Holloway (#10) meet at the mesh point on a run/pass option look. This freezes Scherer for a split-second, allowing Ross to eliminate the pre-snap cushion between the two players. By the time the LB opens his hips to turn and run with the WR, it is too late:

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Here is another view of the route from Ross:

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When teams run four verticals from a 3×1 formation, team can employ the wrinkle of having the inside trips receiver bend his route toward the middle to truly “stretch” all of the zones. Splitting two high safeties, or running right at a single-high safety can cause momentary hesitation and open up one of the other routes, or expose a hole opened by those other routes. His landmark is usually to end up on the opposite hashmark:


Here, the single-high safety now faces a vertical threat on each shoulder. Ross stays straight on his release and route, with the receiver possibly reading the inside LB and maintaining leverage on the route.

Meanwhile, Prescott executes this play perfectly. The senior QB is a tricky, sometimes frustrating player to evaluate for the upcoming 2016 draft. Prescott is a very athletic football player with upper level play strength for the quarterback position, but at times he misses plays in the passing game, whether due to a failure to identify open receivers during plays, or because of a lack of accuracy throwing the football.

Former West Virginia defensive back David Igono recently conducted a deep dive into Prescott’s struggles with accuracy, in a very well constructed article that you should check out.

After carrying out the fake, Prescott opens his eyes to the left and single-receiver. He recognizes the corner blitz, as well as the weakside safety rotating over to cover Wilson. The QB does not panic, trusting the blocking scheme and staying in the pocket, as he works through his next set of reads.

Finding Ross, he executes a perfectly-placed throw. The quick score gave Mississippi State the early lead, and they would cruise to the 31-13 victory as heavier rain rolled in during the 2nd half. While they have a very, very slim chance of catching Alabama in the SEC West, they have yet to be eliminated. Continued execution like this in the passing game from Prescott will keep their chances alive from week to week. And for the senior QB, his next touchdown will tie him with some SEC royalty: Peyton Manning and Chris Leak.

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.

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