Big 12 Spring Takeaways: How Shane Buechele’s Texas Will Use Backfield Action to Surprise Defenses

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Matty Brown continues his mini-series looking at some scheme and player takeaways from the Big 12 Spring Games.

Though not yet “officially” announced as the starting quarterback by new head coach Tom Herman, Shane Buechele will be looking to build on his impressive true freshman year at Texas. The sophomore is a true dual-threat quarterback, but it is his pass-first nature and pocket presence that makes him especially dangerous.

Buechele’s development is important in the spring and summer. He was invited to the Manning Passing Academy in June, and Herman sounded impressed with the quarterback’s growing leadership skills at the Big 12 media day: “Shane has done a marvellous job of coming in this summer and really trying to be more of a leader.”

Only two scholarship running backs were available in the Spring Game, with first string back Chris Warren still missing time with a knee injury he suffered last year. That did not stop Texas from creatively using action in the backfield to develop unexpected passing concepts from the offense’s initial look. Buechele executed this very comfortably in the spring, albeit against the second team defense.

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Across the Formation for Unexpected Sail Concept

Pre-snap, the defense is showing a Cover 1 off look. Post-snap, it transpires the defensive backs’ coverage is not as simple, with a number of reads and keys being made. The field side cornerback, Donovan Duvernay (#27), is reading the #1 / outside receiver, if he goes vertical he will stick with him. The slot cornerback, Antwuan Davis (#7), is reading the first outbreaking route. The safety, John Bonney (#24) is there to carry any seam route, with the tight end appearing to be the most threatening.

Here, Texas manages to run a  sail concept in 13 personnel with their two receivers on the opposite side of the formation to the running back. This is thanks to their intelligent play design. They have the running back, Toneil Carter (#30), run a route into the flat across the formation. This route, combined with the deep out, creates a dilemma for the slot cornerback. He assumes that the safety assigned to any seam route will carry the slot receiver, Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (#17), going deep. However, the slot receiver is not running a seam route, he is running a deep out.

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By this point, the slot cornerback believes that the running back’s flat route is the first out route and the safety’s attention has also been occupied by this. This leaves the deep out wide open, and is a great example of the sail concept killing a defense. From a defensive perspective, they need to communicate better and the safety should have had the awareness to follow the deep out.

The offensive line and tight end down block to the left, making the linebackers play the run hard and creating room to the right and the field side for Buechele to extend the play with his legs. Buechele pump fakes to the left, further halting the second level defenders, scrambles right and throws a perfect pass to the wide open Hemphill-Mapps.

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Orbit Motion for Unexpected Sail Concept

Texas also displayed another way of creatively generating a sail concept via the backfield, this time utilizing wide receiver motion and action in the backfield to confuse the defense.

The defense shows a Cover 2 / Cover 4 off look pre-snap. Meanwhile, the offense is in 10 personnel. The offense moves their slot wide receiver, Armanti Foreman (#3), towards the backfield on an orbit motion call.

Once the ball is snapped, the defense rotates one safety to the deep third and one safety, John Bonney (#24), down into the hook / curl area underneath. They also blitz two of their linebackers, leaving the other, Hank Coutoumanos (#41) to pick up the flat. It is a well-disguised blitz and, with the offensive line down blocking to the right, the blitz from the left should get home. However, the inside zone play fake to running back Tim Yoder (#26) and Buechele’s fake hitch to the boundary side throws off the blitzers, leaving the quarterback with plenty of room and time to scramble left.

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Both the linebacker and the safety are focused on the receiver from the backfield in the flat. Buechele encourages this by using his eyes and pump faking to the man in the flat. The target he actually wants is the deep out from the field side slot receiver; Devin Duvernay (#6). This has been completely ignored by the safety. Meanwhile, the outside cornerback has been pushed out of the play vertically by the outside receiver’s deep post route. Buechele throws away from his body, opening himself out and squaring his hips on the run to complete the pass. Once again, the creative sail works to perfection.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Tear Motion for Unexpected Running Back Screen

Texas likes to push their running back out to throw a screen behind the line of scrimmage, or to ease the identifying of a defense’s coverage for the quarterback. Here, the re-occurring theme of this article, a back going across the formation, continues.

Due to running back Toneil Carter (#30) aligning on the weak side of the formation, the screen call is an unexpected one for the defense. It is also one that favors the offense. They have three blockers to go against three defenders to the field side. Furthermore, two of those three defenders are at least seven yards off of the line of scrimmage.
Contrast this with a potential running play inside the box. The defense has six men in the box for the offense’s five. The screen is the more favorable call.

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The running back motions out to the strong side of the formation by using tear motion, runs the swing route, and catches the pass. He does a great job running through the initial penetration before making the free man miss — Hank Coutoumanos (#41) who has shifted across the formation to cover him — and then takes the ball for around a 5-yard gain and the first down.

Longhorns fans should be excited to see how they move their running backs and backfield around pre-snap and during the play to create unexpected passing concepts versus opposing defenses. Though the second-team defense was overly aggressive against the run and demonstrated a lack of awareness in the spring, top Big 12 defenses will still have difficulty against these sorts of disguises.

More importantly, the overall progression of Buechele is promising as Texas attempts to finally be “back.” As Herman said; “Our job [is] to show them what Texas is capable of, what Texas has been in the past, and what we’re planning on being again in the future.”

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matty’s other NFC West post-draft work here, such as why Seattle drafted three safetieswhat Gerald Everett brings to the Rams and how the versatility of Haason Reddick and Budda Baker fits in Arizona.

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