The Utah Utes have been one of the most consistent college football programs across the country in the last few years, and are consistently underrated by national outlets, as they have begun each of the last three season unranked and finished all three seasons in the Top 25. The Utah Utes offense is heavily based on the ground game, and they use run pass options (RPOs) as heavily as any team in the Pac-12 to both run and pass the ball. During the 2016 season I wrote about how Utah succeeded with their RPOs, highlighting two of their most common designs. Here, however, I want to look at their bread-and-butter passing play: the go / flat concept.
The design of this concept is simple, as it is a basic two-man route combo to the same side of the field. The outside receiver runs a go route while the inside receiver, most often from the slot, runs a flat route. The flat route is an out route at a depth of about 3 yards, where the purpose is to get outside quickly rather than getting far downfield. While Utah usually has a slot receiver run the flat route, there’s no reason it cannot be run from an inline tight end or even a running back out of the backfield.
The beauty (and simplicity) of this design is in the read it creates for the quarterback. It’s a hi-lo read, generally against the playside cornerback, and the go / flat concept is an ideal zone coverage beater for an offense. The quarterback simply needs to watch how the cornerback reacts to the route combo coming their way to decide which route to target (much like a smash concept). If the corner is playing press man or some sort of deep zone coverage like Cover 3, Cover 4, or Cover 6, then they should be focused on the go route. This would then leave the underneath area empty for the flat route.
Alternatively, if the playside corner is playing an underneath zone in a Cover 2 or trap-type defensive system then they’ll likely squat on the flat route. Then, there should be a hole for the vertical route over the top before the safety can get over to cover.
The first look at Utah running the go / flat concept comes from their game against the BYU Cougars. Faced with a 2nd and 12 at the BYU 45-yard line and just over a minute remaining in the first half, the Utes will run the go / flat concept to the boundary side. X receiver Raelon Singleton (#11) will run the go route along the sidelines while tight end Harrison Handley (#88) will run the flat route from the slot.
BYU shows Cover 2 pre-snap, with the corners aligned near the line of scrimmage and both safeties remaining in the deep part of the field. Utah quarterback Troy Williams (#3) will be reading the playside cornerback, Austin McChesney (#27) to decide where to go with the football here. If McChesney squats on the flat route, thereby confirming BYU is playing Cover 2, then Troy Williams will need to throw to Singleton in the honey hole between McChesney and safety Kai Nacua (#12).
However, BYU is disguising their actual coverage call, as they end up running a Cover 6 zone here, with McChesney bailing at the snap with a zone turn to take a deep quarter of the field.
Williams will open at the snap of the ball for a play action fake, and immediately locate McChesney on this play, reading the corner to decide where to go with the football.
Because McChesney bails at the snap to carry vertically with Singleton, Handley will be open in the flat before the linebacker gets to his underneath zone responsibilities. Therefore, when Williams gets the ball, it should be an easy read to hit the flat route to Handley, and it is.
This is a simple half-field read for Williams, with one defender he needs to locate and react to. With McChesney bailing at the snap to get deep, Williams makes to easy (and correct) read to hit Handley in the flat. He’s rewarded with a 13-yard gain and fresh set of downs on the play.
This next play comes from Utah’s contest against the Washington Huskies, about halfway through the third quarter deep in Washington territory. Utah will run a mirrored go / flat concept from slot formations on each side of the field.
Williams will be targeting the the combo to the boundary side at the bottom of the screen, where Z receiver Siaosi Wilson (#80) will be running a go route into the end zone and tight end Evan Moeai (#18) will run a flat route from the slot. Washington is showing zone coverage here, specifically Cover 2, with the corners aligned on the outside receivers, two deep safeties, and no one directly over top of the slot receivers.
Unlike BYU, Washington will not disguise their coverage here, and will stick with their Cover 2 zone. The one variation they use here is a trap call, where the outside corners are squatting underneath and looking inside to jump an out breaking route like the flat routes from the slot.
At the snap, Williams opens to his right after faking a handoff and immediately locates the cornerback once again. Corner Sidney Jones (#26) initially takes a step with Wilson toward the back of the end zone, but has his eyes turned inside to Moeai the slot receiver and Williams the quarterback in his role as the trap player.
Williams will take advantage of Jones’s eyes looking inside with a quick pause of his body as though he’s throwing the flat route. There’s not time for a true pump fake, not with safety JoJo McIntosh (#14) closing the throwing window to Wilson, but a quick pause while looking at Wilson does the job. Jones bites, and sits waiting for the throw to the tight end while Williams zips it into the gap between the defensive backs for the touchdown pass to Wilson.
Utah’s go / flat concept is one of the most common passing plays in their offense. Often times, they’ll incorporate RPO reads into the play as well, giving the quarterback the option to hand the ball off if a linebacker drops to cover the flat route. While much of their offensive production comes from their run and RPO games, the go / flat concept is one of a few quick passing designs that Utah employs to attack a single defender and provide the quarterback with a simplified half field high-low read.