Relying on an offense’s bread and butter works against the cupcakes of the schedule, but when facing the real tests, teams need to lean on the unsung heroes. Sean Cottrell explains how Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines along with motion help propel the N.C. State Wolfpack to a top-tier ACC offense.
North Carolina State had a lot to prove coming into Week 8 showdown versus the undefeated and reigning ACC champion, Clemson Tigers. Coming into the game with a 4-1 record, the team and its fan base knew that they had a good team. The matchup with Clemson in Death Valley, however, would reveal whether or not they were truly ready to compete with the big boys of the conference.
The Wolfpack offense jumped out to a good start to the season and seemed to have made a seamless transition at quarterback, replacing two-year starter Jacoby Brissett with Boise State transfer Ryan Finley, who entered the game having thrown nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. In addition, senior running back Matthew Dayes continued to build off of his 2015 success, averaging 112 yards per game on the ground through his first five games. Even with their early offensive success, though, it would take more than just Finley and Dayes to challenge the Tigers in their own backyard. Enter Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines.
Samuels, the 5’11, 223-pound H-back with deceptive speed and Hines, the dynamic 5’9, 197-pound backup RB add an entirely different dimension to the Wolfpack offense and give first year offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz the ability to use the creative side of his brain by creating mismatches for these players. Throughout the game, the two players totaled 11 catches for 165 yards, providing a great spark to the Wolfpack offense. While their top level athleticism was the primary factor in their success, credit should also be given to Drinkwitz. It was his creativity and use of motion that created the mismatches that allowed Samuels and Hines to do what they do best.
Drinkwitz didn’t wait long to get his playmakers involved, doing so on the second offensive play of the game, where he is able to get Hines (#7) matched up with Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware (#10). Despite being one of Clemson’s best defenders, this is a very favorable matchup for Hines in space. It is 2nd and 7, N.C. State has the ball on its own 28-yard line and align in 21 personnel with Dayes and Hines in a split back shotgun alignment, a single receiver to the boundary and an inverted slot formation to the wide side of the field. The Tigers have their 4-2-5 nickel personnel on the field with two safeties over the top.
Prior to the snap, Dayes (#21), who was standing to Finley’s left, goes into travel motion behind the slot formation and into the flat forcing the Tiger defense to adjust, shifting their LB, slot cornerback and safety out with Dayes to the wide side of the field. Boulware then comes down to the line of scrimmage showing blitz off the edge, but when Finley calls for the snap, he peels off to cover Hines, who releases into the flat. Clemson appears to be in a Cover 2 Man defense, but safety Van Smith (#23) comes down to double team Kelvin Harmon’s (#3) pivot route with CB Cordrea Tankersly (#25). This leaves Hines completely isolated with Boulware out in the flat.
Hines does an excellent job slow playing his route out into the flat. Then, just as Boulware draws even with him, Hines breaks back inside of him into open space. Finley delivers a perfectly timed pass and Hines is off to the races for a 38 yard gain.
Later in the 1st quarter, the Wolfpack have the ball on their own 26-yard line facing a 2nd and 7. They have 12 personnel on the field with Dayes in shotgun to Finley’s left, Samuels (#1) in wing alignment to the left, tight end Thaddeus Moss (#86) on the right side of the line of scrimmage and a slot formation to the wide side of the field. Prior to the snap, Moss motions out over top of slot receiver Ben Grazen (#80) and Samuels motions to a tight slot alignment to the right of the formation. Clemson has its nickel personnel package on the field with two safeties over the top.
When the ball is snapped, Finley turns immediately to his right and throws a lateral screen pass behind the line of scrimmage to Grazen. As the ball floats out to Grazen, the entire Tiger defense, including the deep safety, comes downhill to shut down the play. Meanwhile, Samuels releases vertically on a deep corner route. Grazen turns and throws the ball downfield to Samuels behind the Tiger defense for another big gain for the Wolfpack offense.
While the last play was a bit of a trick play, what makes it interesting is the flexibility that Samuels provides with his alignment pre-snap. His size and strength enable him to stay in and block from a TE or wing alignment, but he also has the athletic ability to burn defenses from anywhere on the field. After he motioned to the tight slot, the entire defense assumed he was trying to seal off the edge of the defense to give Grazen an alley to run the screen but, as Clemson found out, that was not the case.
The next play occurred just a few minutes later in the same drive. With the ball on the Clemson 19-yard line and a fresh set of downs to work with, the Wolfpack come out in 13 personnel. Finley is under center in a singleback set with one TE up on the line of scrimmage, another beside him in wing alignment to the wide side of the field and Samuels split to the opposite hash.
Prior to settling under center, Finley calls for Samuels to motion and line up on the opposite wing, creating a double wing formation. Clemson, now with its base 4-3 personnel on the field, adjusts its alignment by shifting the LBs and safeties left and bringing cornerback Marcus Edmond (#29) in tight to the formation in response to Samuels’ movement. Edmond’s primary coverage responsibility is now one of the two TEs to the left of the formation.
When the ball is snapped, Finley opens to his right and hands the ball to Samuels who races laterally toward the wide side of the field while the two TEs pull out front of him to lead block and seal off the edge of the defense. Samuels wins the edge and is able to pick up eight yards before being forced out of bounds.
The play was called back on a somewhat questionable holding call but that doesn’t take away from the excellent play design and use of motion by Drinkwitz. With the defensive adjustments to the pre-snap motion by Samuels, the two lead blocking TEs were able to get outside and seal the edge which wouldn’t have been possible if the LBs and CB had remained in their original alignment.
The final play we will highlight came late in the 3rd quarter. The game is knotted up at 10 and N.C. State has a 3rd and goal from the Clemson 19-yard line. The Wolfpack put their 11 personnel package on the field in a shotgun formation, with bunched twins to the wide side in a 2×1 alignment and Samuels in wing alignment to the right. Clemson, just trying to hold the Wolfpack to a field goal, responds with the 3-2-6 dime personnel package and a soft prevent shell.
Prior to the snap, Dayes goes into a tear motion, moving from Finley’s left side out in to the flat on the right. As he moves out into the flat, the Tiger’s playside LB and safety move with him.
Finley then calls for the snap, turns and looks to Dayes before turning back, drawing the pass rushers towards him, then proceeding to loft the ball over their heads to Samuels, who is quietly releasing to the left on a screen with three linemen and a WR out in space to pave his path.
Unfortunately for N.C. State, the Clemson playside defenders do an excellent job working through the blocks to bring Samuels down for no gain and force a field goal attempt which was blocked. Despite the results, this was another excellent design by Drinkwitz. With only a three-man rush and Clemson playing a prevent type of defense, throwing toward the endzone was an unnecessary risk while already in field goal range in a tight game. In addition, throwing short and hoping the runner can find his way through several defenders for a touchdown is also a tough ask. That is where the tear motion comes into play. The RB motion out to the right got Clemson to commit four defenders to the right to cover the three Wolfpack players. This gave N.C. State a numbers advantage on the other side of the field as they were able to get four blockers (3 OL and 1 WR) out in space on four defenders. The blockers were unable to execute in this scenario but the design of the play was about as good as it could get given the situation.
N.C. State ultimately ended up losing the game to Clemson in overtime in heartbreaking fashion, after missing a potential game-winning field goal as time expired in the 4th quarter. Before the game, Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren told reporters that he thinks the team is still one year away from where they ultimately want to be as a program. After narrowly escaping the jaws of a season altering loss, however, Clemson may disagree with that assessment. The ACC Atlantic Division is a tough place to make your bones as an up and coming football program in 2016. But, with an offensive core comprised of Finley, Dayes, Samuels, and Hines along with the creativity of Drinkwitz, the Wolfpack could be a major factor in how this conference shapes up over the next two months.
Follow Sean on Twitter @PhllyDraft. Check out more of Sean’s work here, such as on what Dorian Green-Beckham can do for the Philadelphia Eagles, how coach Bronco Mendenhall gets to the quarterback, how Carson Wentz did in his first preseason game,what Justin Fuente brings to the Virginia Tech Hokies offense, and on Mark Richt and the triangle offense in Miami.
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All film courtesy of ESPN.