Louisville, which has a projected first round cornerback in Jaire Alexander, a top-100 wide receiver in Jaylen Smith, and an offense that averages 567 yards per game (good for 4th in the country) and 38.1 points per game. Oh, and the reigning Heisman winner in Lamar Jackson.
And Boston College, which is … well, Boston College.
How did the Eagles do it? They relied on the run game, with true freshman AJ Dillon carrying the ball a whopping 39 times for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns. But to beat Louisville they also needed a few key plays in the passing game, especially off the play action opportunities that the performance of the 240-pound bruiser opened up.
The key on a lot of the play action passes for Boston College was a “slam release” which I wrote up as a glossary entry because of how often the Eagles used it in this game. It involves a tight end selling a run block while moving with the run fake, then stopping, pivoting and running in the opposite direction for a passing route. Most of the time, it’s a simple flat route off the fake block, but it can be other routes as well.
Here’s a basic look at the slam release:
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So let’s see just how the Eagles beat the Cardinals with the slam release.
Here’s the first example on Boston College’s first offensive play of the game. They have 12 personnel on the field, with trips to the left and a single tight end to the right. They fake a jet sweep to the slot wide receiver as he motions to the left.
The tight end at the top of the screen, Tommy Sweeney (#89), executes the slam release from a wingback position. He starts inside, by down blocking the defensive end nearest him before turning and running to the flat. The Eagles set up a flood concept off a play action bootleg, where they fake a power run going to the left with wide receiver Kobay White (#9) running a go route, and the other tight end, Chris Garrison (#81), running a deep crossing route.
The slam release works exactly as designed, as box safety Dee Smith (#11) moves towards the line of scrimmage at the snap from the slot area, and buys the run fake after seeing Sweeney’s initial release. He takes a few shuffles to the offensive left, and that’s all Sweeney needs to get open in the flat. It’s an easy completion and the tight end picks up 18 yards and a first down.
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The next example comes about halfway through the third quarter, with BC facing a 2nd and 6 from the Louisville 34. They have 13 personnel on the field, with a single tight end to the right, with two tight ends and a wide receiver to the left. Sweeney (#89) is the inline tight end on the left, and Ray Marten (#86) is to Sweeney’s left in a wingback position.
BC fakes an outside zone run to Dillon (#2) to the right, before booting QB Darius Wade (#4) back to the left. Marten runs to the flat immediately at the snap, but Sweeney executes a slam release before releasing to trail Marten.
Louisville is in man coverage, with safety TreSean Smith (#4) matched up with Sweeney.
Sweeney doesn’t even engage on a block during his release, but still begins by moving with the zone action. However, once he reaches the defensive end he spins off of contact to get to the outside as an outlet for Wade. That split second of inside zone blocking from Sweeney fools Smith, who jumps inside to help with run defense before recovering to chase Sweeney to the flat.
Smith’s pursuit is out of control because he fell behind early, so Sweeney is able to cut back inside and get vertical to avoid Smith, en route to a gain of 8 yards and a first down.
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Late in the third quarter, BC and Louisville are knotted up at 21 and BC has the ball deep in Louisville territory. Facing a 2nd and 5 and showing 12 personnel, the Eagles send slot receiver Thadd Smith (#18) in jet motion, faking a sweep, before running a play action power play. Sweeney, the tight end to the left of the offensive line, again executes a slam release to get to the flat.
Louisville runs Cover 3 on defense, and box safety C.J. Avery (#9) is tasked with covering the flat that Sweeney is running to. However, the run fake and slam release fool him, and he’s late to make his drop.
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Avery’s hesitation allows Sweeney a free release to the flat, and open ground after he makes the catch. Avery is forced to chase and Sweeney is able to stiff arm the safety off, stay balanced, and rumble down to the 6 yard line for a gain of 20 yards.
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That play set up a touchdown on the next play for the Eagles, giving them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Finally, with under nine minutes remaining in the game and holding a seven-point lead, the Eagles look to run the ball and chew up clock to prevent putting the ball in the hands of Lamar Jackson any longer than is necessary.
With 12 personnel on the field, aligned with a single tight end to the right and trips to the left, BC fakes an outside run to the right before booting Wade back to the opposite side of the field.
Garrison (#81) is the tight end on the left, and executes a slam release here. On the right, while not really a read in the passing aspect of the play, Sweeney also executes a slam release before running a flat route to further sell the run fake.
Garrison sells the run incredibly well here, engaging the defensive end with the left tackle. The key, though, is the amount of time he holds onto the block. Safety TreSean Smith (#4) is blitzing off the edge, and because Garrison holds the block until Smith passes him, he’s able to release to the flat undefended as Smith pursues the run fake hard.
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Courtesy of a powerful run game, play action with slam releases, and a bit of luck, the Boston College Eagles won. They’re a very young team and AJ Dillon looks incredibly impressive as a true freshman. Keep an eye on the Eagles.