On Saturday, the Memphis Tigers had the Houston Cougars right where they wanted them, down 20 points. However, a well orchestrated drive in the fourth quarter helped spark a comeback. Mark Schofield breaks down the key plays from the critical drive.
The Houston Cougars hosted the Memphis Tigers Saturday night in a critical American Athletic Conference West Division matchup. The Cougars entered the game 5-0 in the conference, with a 9-0 record on the season, good for a tie with the Naval Academy. To keep pace with the Midshipmen, Houston would need to defeat Memphis, the team right behind in the standings sitting at 4-1 in the conference and 8-1 on the year. After three quarters, it looked like Memphis would pull even with Houston in the standings, as the visitors scored a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter extending their lead to 34-14. To make matters worse for the Cougars, starting quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was on the sideline with an injury, leaving the quarterbacking duties to sophomore Kyle Postma.
Following an incompletion on first down, when the sophomore QB was forced to throw the ball away, Houston faces a 2nd and 10 on their own 25-yard line. They line up with 11 personnel on the field with Postma in the shotgun and dual slot formations. Memphis has their 4-2-5 nickel defense aligned in Cover 1, with the slot cornerbacks using off man technique and the outside CBs in press alignment:
Houston runs a switch concept on the left. Wide receiver Linell Bonner (#15) runs a curl from his outside alignment while tight end Tyler McCloskey (#45) runs a wheel route bending toward the sideline. On the right side of the formation, both receivers release vertically:
After Postma and running back Javin Webb (#25) meet at the mesh point, the QB turns his head to the left side to read the coverage over the switch concept, while Webb flows to the right flat. But pressure off the edge flushes Postma to his right, where he finds an outlet in his running back:
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Webb catches the ball with room to maneuver. Linebacker Leonard Pegues (#53) closes down on the RB, but Webb is able to juke the defender and pick up additional yardage, before Pegues finally pushes him out of bounds after a 10-yard gain and a first down.
With a fresh set of downs at their own 35-yard line, the Cougars stay with 11 personnel in dual slot formations. The Tigers also stick with their 4-2-5 nickel, but this time show a soft Cover 2 before the snap:
The Cougars utilize a designed roll-out to the left here, moving the pocket to the left as Postma moves toward the sideline. They try a smash concept, with the inside receiver running a corner route while Bonner runs the short curl route:
As this play develops, Postma really waits and lets the deep route develop. But with time running out and the sideline closing fast, he is forced to dump the ball down to Bonner on the shorter hitch route:
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Bonner makes the reception and tries to cut upfield, but is quickly thumped out of bounds by cornerback Arthur Maulet (#8) after a nine-yard gain.
Now facing 2nd and 1 at their own 44-yard line, the Cougars stick with the personnel and formation that has worked so far this drive. The Tigers also stay with their 4-2-5 personnel, but this time line up in Cover 1 with the outside corners in press alignment.
Houston runs four verticals here:
Facing Cover 1, Postma will choose between the two inside vertical routes run by the slot receivers. McCloskey, the tight end, runs the vertical route from his starting point in the right slot. The receiver who lines up in the left slot is Demarcus Ayers (#10), a speedy WR who is one of the more dynamic offensive threats and kick returners in the conference.
Postma casts his lot with the wide receiver:
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Sometimes in football, as in life, you have to shoot your shot. Postma looks to Ayers the entire play, and his throw is to the outside shoulder of the receiver. Ayers has beaten his defender and makes a tremendous adjustment on the pass, securing the throw as free safety Reggis Ball (#39) arrives to deliver a shot. Ayers holds on for a huge 40-yard gain.
From this angle, you can see how Postma takes the snap and immediately looks to Ayers. You can also see how Ball cuts to the left initially, then is forced to recover and work back towards the right sideline and Ayers:
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Now inside the red zone, the Cougars change things up a bit. Facing 1st and 10 at the Memphis’ 16-yard line, they stay with 11 personnel but now use trips on the right, with a single receiver split to the left. The Tigers stay with their 4-2-5 personnel, but show a Cover 3 scheme before the play with safety DaShaugn Terry (#32) dropped down in a Robber technique:
Houston runs a quick screen to Ayers on the right here:
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The WR picks up blocks from both his tight end and fellow receiver Chance Allen (#21). Only the work from Terry, who identifies this play quickly and reacts to the screen action, holds this to a six-yard gain instead of more.
Houston has 11 personnel on the field, but use an unbalanced look. McCloskey lines up as a tight end on the right, but has three other receivers outside of him. Running back Kenneth Farrow (#35) checks into the game as well, and with Postma in the shotgun the RB stands to the right of the quarterback. To the left side of the formation the Cougars have only a guard and tackle.
Looking at the defense, Memphis has a 3-4 look in for the play, and before the snap, the backside cornerback, Maulet, stands right in the middle of the field, outside of the LT’s alignment.
LT Alex Cooper (#60) executes the key block here, by simply letting the edge rusher burst upfield, and then riding him around toward the outside. Farrow takes the handoff from Postma and cuts into this created hole, and the only defender with a potential angle to stop him from scoring is Maulet. But since the defensive back has slid to the inside before the snap, Farrow has the advantage, and shortly enough, the touchdown:
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The touchdown cut the Memphis lead to 34-21. While Houston still had a long way to go to complete the comeback, this efficient touchdown drive was the answer they needed following the Tigers’ late-third quarter TD. The Cougars would finish the job, scoring two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 35-34 lead late. A missed field goal with seconds remaining sealed the victory for Houston. With the win, the Cougars kept pace with the Midshipmen, keeping these two teams on track for a pivotal matchup set for Thanksgiving weekend.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.