ITP Glossary: NCAA Concept

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

NCAA Concept

NCAA concept is a three-receiver design that gives the QB two high-low reads. The three routes are a post, a dig and an underneath drag or shallow route. This concepts has a number of variations, depending on the formation and which receivers run the given routes in the play.

One of the variations that Washington runs is the NCAA Mills design, which combines the Mills concept, which contains a post and a dig, with the third route, the underneath crossing route.

In their game against the Buffalo Bills, Washington faces 1st and 10 on the opponent’s  32-yard line. They line up with Kirk Cousins in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field, with DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed in pro alignment to the left, while Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon are in an inverted slot to the right. Buffalo has their 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field with a single-high safety look. One cornerback is in press alignment over Garcon:


Jackson runs the post route, while Reed runs the dig route. This is the Mills aspect of the design. Crowder adds the third element, executing the shallow crossing route from left to right:


This sets up a high-low between the post and the dig ‒ Jackson and Reed ‒ as well as between the dig and the shallow ‒ Reed and Crowder. Cousins can read from high to low, working from post, to dig, to shallow crosser in order.

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Buffalo drops into Cover 1 at the snap, giving the receivers man coverage to work against. Jackson uses the dino stem on his route, angling outside to the corner before breaking back to the inside. He and Cousins look to make the same, slight adjustment on the play, as the throw keeps Jackson on the vertical and away from the free safety. It pays off in a big way, resulting in a nice gain for Washington.

On this play from Mississippi State’s 2014 game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Bulldogs face a 2nd and 7 on their own 23-yard line early in the third quarter. The visitors trail 19-3, and line up with 11 personnel on the field with a bunch to the left and a single receiver split to the right. Alabama has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game and they show Cover 2 with both safeties deep and the cornerbacks down in press alignment to each side of the field:


This is the route structure Dak Prescott (#15) works with on this second down play:


The single receiver runs a straight vertical route, and this will be Prescott’s first read. The quarterback will again peek at this route, and see if he can make a big play in the passing game. If the coverage is solid, he will move to the left side of the field and the bunch formation. The Bulldogs run an NCAA concept here, which is a passing combination that puts together a post route, a dig route, and an underneath crossing route. This is usually seen from both sides of the field, with the post route on one side and the two in-cuts coming from the other side of the field. The goal is to create a hi-lo on the single-high safety, forcing him to commit to either the post or the dig, with the QB then throwing to the other route. Here, the Bulldogs run all three patterns from the same side of the field, giving the Crimson Tide a different look at the route structure. This is a high-to-low progression read for the QB, who will first look at the post, then the dig, and finally to the underneath route. Prescott’s final option is the running back, who swings to the right, the single-receiver side of the formation.

On this play the coverage is still sound, so Prescott makes the smart decision and checks the ball down:

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The QB dumps the ball off to RB Josh Robinson (#13), and the running back cuts inside of safety Landon Collins (#26) and then outside of linebacker Trey Depriest (#33), and picks up the first down with a nice gain on the play.

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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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