Teams change as players leave through the draft or or can’t play for whatever reason, but schemes and concepts may remain the same. Here, Mark Schofield delves into an SEC staple: Arkansas’ play-action boot pass.
The University of Arkansas overcame a rocky start (1-3 with three consecutive losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M) to finish 7-5 in the regular season, including a victory against Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. While the Razorbacks return nine starters on the defensive side of the football, there will be new starters at many positions on offense, including quarterback, tailback and three of the offensive line spots. But two concepts in particular will return to the offensive scheme: Power runs to the edges and play-action boot passes off of those run fakes. These designs will be crucial as head coach Bret Bielema and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos break in new starters at some key skill positions.
Power runs to the outside, whether via a handoff or a toss, form the backbone of the Arkansas running game. On this first example from last season against Toledo, the Razorbacks run a power play to the left edge. Using 11 personnel, Arkansas lines up with slot formation to the right and a pro style look to the left, with quarterback Brandon Allen (#10) under center. Tailback Alex Collins (#3) is alone in the backfield, lined up 7 yards behind the football. The Rockets’ 4-2-5 nickel defense lines up showing all five defensive backs at a depth of 6 yards away from the line of scrimmage:
Here is the design that the offense employs on this play. Tight end Hunter Henry (#84) and left tackle Denver Kirkland (#55) execute down blocks, with Hunter taking the defensive end while the LT makes his block on the defensive tackle. These allow left guard Sebastian Tretola (#73) to pull to the outside. On the backside of the play, both center Mitch Smothers (#65) and right guard Frank Ragnow (#72) fire off the line of scrimmage and head to the second level, to block the backside linebacker, with Ragnow ignoring the DT lined up across from him. Right tackle Dan Skipper (#70) handles the backside DE:
Collins takes the handoff and follows Tretola to the left edge:
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The blocking comes together well, with both Smothers and Ragnow flowing to the second level to handle the backside LB. Tretola executes his block on the playside linebacker, and Collins cuts behind this block and into the secondary, before he is tackled by the strong safety after an 8-yard gain.
The Razorbacks also toss the ball to the edge with blockers in front of the ball carrier, and on this play against Toledo they add a little bit of deception. Facing 2nd and 5, Arkansas lines up with 11 personnel and trips to the right, with Henry lined up on the left edge next to Kirkland. Allen is again under center with Collins the lone running back. Toledo’s nickel defense shows Cover 1 in the secondary:
The Razorbacks use a pin-pull sweep concept here:
On the playside, both Henry and Kirkland have a defender aligned on their inside shoulder, so they will block down on the play. With Kirkland blocking down, Tretola is free to pull to the edge in front of the run. On the backside, Smothers has a defender on his right shoulder, so he is also free to pull to the left edge. This means that Ragnow must execute a reach block to fill the center’s spot, to protect against any stunt or pressure through that gap. Right tackle Skipper executes a hinge block, first stepping inside with his left foot to protect the B Gap before opening up toward the outside to prevent any backside pursuit. Adding to the play is the fact that Allen shows a bubble screen to the trips side of the field, before tossing the ball to Collins heading to the left side:
The scheme works to perfection:
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As the two offensive linemen turn the corner, they encounter a lone cornerback on the edge. Tretola and Smothers are able to handle this defender with ease, and as the center finishes the block the guard works to the third level. Collins follows behind, and scampers into the front corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Like many teams, Arkansas uses the run and plays like these to set up the play-action passing game. For the Razorbacks, they love to use these blocking schemes to set up boot action plays with the quarterback flowing to the backside. On this play against Kansas State from the Liberty Bowl, the offense shows a run to the left edge, before sending the quarterback to the backside to throw. Facing 1st and 10, the Razorbacks line up with 21 personnel in the game, with Allen under center and an inverted slot formation to the left, with Henry lined up next to the RT on the right side of the field. Collins is the deep back in the i-formation. The Wildcats’ 4-2-5 nickel defense shows Cover 6, with the cornerback to Henry’s side of the field down on the edge across from the TE:
Arkansas shows a run to the left edge, but Allen keeps the football and peels back to the right side of the field. Henry releases to the flat while slot receiver Drew Morgan (#80) runs a deep over route:
The play works to perfection. As Allen completes the fake and wheels to the backside, he has an easy throw to his TE in the flat. Henry makes the catch just 2-yards downfield, but without a defender within 5 yards of him:
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The tight end turns upfield and picks up more than 15 yards by the time the Kansas State defenders are able to bring him to the turf.
Arkansas can also show a defense boot action off the toss play. On this play the Razorbacks face a 2nd and 6 on the Wildcats’ 33-yard line. Using 12 personnel, they line up with Allen under center and three receivers to the right, including both tight ends, Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle (#83):
The offense shows toss to the right side, with Collins peeling in that direction and the offensive line flowing in unison to the right. Allen reverse pivots here, opening to his left before faking the toss to his running back. Sprinkle, who starts in a wing alignment between the right tackle and Henry, cuts across the formation, behind the line of scrimmage, before releasing into the flat:
Watch the linebackers flow to their left, and away from Sprinkle:
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Again, this is a fairly easy throw for the quarterback to execute. After carrying out the fake, Allen peels back to the left. A defensive end tries to apply pressure, but the QB can simply flip the football over the DE to his tight end, who is wide open. Sprinkle races down inside the Wildcats’ 10-yard line, setting up a 1st and goal.
Now, Henry and Allen have left campus for the NFL, but Sprinkle returns to the Arkansas huddle for his senior year, and looks to be a focal point of the offense in 2016. Replacing Allen is his younger brother, Austin, who was recently named the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback. If the spring game was any indication, Enos looks to use boot action in the passing game to give Austin Allen some easy throws, and get Sprinkle involved.
On this example, Allen aligns under center and the White Team offense has 11 personnel on the field, with slot formation on the left and a tight pro alignment to the right. Sprinkle is the tight end on this play. The offense fakes a run to the left edge, before Allen keeps the football and peels backside to throw:
Sprinkle sells this play very well, flowing to his left with the rest of the offensive line, before breaking back toward the backside in unison with his QB:
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Again, the design of the play and the execution up front in selling the run gives the quarterback an easy throw to a wide open receiver, much like the examples from the 2015-2016 season. So despite the changes in the offensive coaching staff, and the signal caller, look for Arkansas to continue what they do on offense. The Razorbacks will run the football to the edges, and use that to set up the boot play-action passing game, a staple of their aerial attack.
Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.
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All film courtesy of DraftBreakdown.
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