Florida Gators Passing Concepts

Despite unexpected turnover at the quarterback position, the Gators still boast an impressive passing attack. Mark Schofield turns to the tape to highlight a handful of Florida Gators passing concepts to watch out for this season. 

The Florida Gators begin the 2016 season much like they began their last campaign, with question marks at the quarterback position. Jim McElwain’s team entered last year with Will Grier and Treon Harris splitting time at the position, until Grier solidified his hold on the starting spot with a thrilling comeback performance in Florida’s 28-27 victory against Tennessee, as well as a huge victory over then-No. 3 Mississippi. But he was then suspended for the season after a positive PED test, forcing McElwain to turn again to Harris. After a loss to LSU, the sophomore guided the Gators to a four-game winning streak and the SEC East title. But both quarterbacks have left campus, with Grier transferring to West Virginia, and Harris leaving the school amidst an ongoing sexual assault investigation and a potential move to wide receiver.

The departures create an open competition for the starting QB spot in camp, with Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio (whom McElwain tried to recruit to Colorado State) having the inside track to the job, trailed by true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. But regardless of who takes the snaps, the Florida QB should be able to execute in McElwain’s system, which features some creative ways of attacking the middle of the field as well as some nice variations of basic staples of today’s passing game.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Attacking the Middle

One of the ways that Florida attacka the middle of the field is by using the drive concept, a passing design that has two receivers coming over the middle of the field at different depths. This is a route combination that can be seen on the dusty fields of Texas on Friday nights to the bright lights of the NFL on Monday Night Football. On this first play against Tennessee, the Gators face a 2nd and 15 on their own 30-yard line late in the first quarter. Grier (#7) is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, using a trey formation to the left with a single receiver to the right. The Volunteers’ 4-2-5 defense shows Cover 1, with the Mike linebacker walked outside toward tight end Jake McGee (#83), the inside receiver in the three-receiver formation:


Florida runs the drive concept from the three-receiver side of the field:


McGee runs the deeper dig route, while Brandon Powell (#4) running the shallow crossing route. Because Powell starts from the middle of the trey formation, he is initially matched up against a defensive back. But that defender picks up McGee as the TE works vertically, allowing Powell to work against linebacker Darrin Kirkland (#34):

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The design works perfectly, as it gets Powell isolated on a slower, bigger defender in Kirkland. The receiver works inside of the linebacker, makes the reception, and then is able to accelerate away from the defender to pick up 13 yards on the play. Both the formation and the design allow the offense to create an advantageous matchup – and exploit it.

Against LSU, Harris was able to make a big play in the passing game on this slight variation of the drive concept, which almost looks like a smaller Mills concept. Facing a 1st and 25 on their own 38-yard line, Florida empties the backfield and puts Harris in the shotgun, with three receivers to the right and two receivers to the left. The Tigers respond with their 4-2-5 nickel showing Cover 1 in the secondary:


The Gators again run this concept from the three receiver side of the field. As on the previous play, Powell lines up as the middle receiver and again runs the shallow crossing route. The inside receiver is WR Demarcus Robinson (#11) and he releases vertically, but runs a post route instead of a deeper dig route:


The offense catches LSU running Solo coverage here, a variation of Cover 4. Before the snap you can see the defender over Powell motioning for the free safety to come over and help, as he is responsible for the No. 3 receiver should he run a vertical route – which he does:

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You can see here the linebackers both break on Powell as he comes underneath. But the deep post route from Robinson takes advantage of the mistake in coverage, giving Harris an open receiver and the Gators a big play in the passing game.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Mesh Concept from Bunch

Another staple of Air Raid systems is the mesh concept, currently being run by a variety of teams including Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars. McElwain has brought this design to Florida, and the Gators use the mesh concept and often run it from a bunch formation. Here are two examples of how they execute this design. The first play comes from Florida’s victory against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gators line up using 11 personnel for this 1st and 10 play early in the fourth quarter, with Grier in the shotgun and a bunch formation to the left. The Wildcats have their nickel defense in the game showing Cover 1 in the secondary:


The Gators run a well-crafted mesh concept here, incorporating a wheel route out of the backfield from the running back. By running this out of the bunch formation, the route concept almost looks like a spot concept at the start, and as we will see, that is a scheme the Gators employ as well:


Grier first checks running back Kelvin Taylor (#21) on the wheel route, as that is his first read on the play. But with the weakside linebacker sitting underneath, Grier pulls the football down and then looks to the mesh:

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Hindsight being 20 / 20, perhaps the quarterback would have been better suited by showing a little more patience, as both Taylor and McGee (on the post route) break open after the throw. But given the situation (fourth quarter, first down and a five-point lead) you can understand the conservative decision here. But the play serves as a nice example of the mesh concept being run out of a bunch formation.

Here’s one more example of this concept in action, from Florida’s thrilling comeback victory against Tennessee. Facing a 3rd and 3 early in the fourth quarter, the Gators line up with Grier in the shotgun and bunch to the left. The Volunteers’ nickel defense shows Cover 1, with cornerbacks in press coverage both on the weakside, as well as over McGee in the bunch formation:


Florida again runs the mesh concept out of this formation, this time with McGee and Robinson crossing underneath as a WR executes the deep post route. Taylor runs the wheel route:


Tennessee stays with Cover 1, and as the route comes together, some of the switches in the secondary are effective, while others are not:

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The route by the TE creates some traffic over the middle, and prevents linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (#21) from staying on Robinson as the WR cuts across the field. Grier hits his WR and the Gators convert the third down, keeping their drive alive.

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Spot Variants

As illustrated in the previous section, the way that the Gators run the mesh concept out of a bunch formation has the added benefit in that looks a lot like the spot concept shortly after the snap. A triangle design that is run at all levels of football, the spot concept is a route scheme that is often run out of bunch formation. But the Gators utilize a few variations of the spot design itself, creating some options in the passing game.

On this first example, the Gators face a 1st and 10 on their own 23-yard line and use 11 personnel lined up with Grier in the shotgun and three receivers to the right side of the formation. Tennessee’s nickel defense shows Cover 2, with the weakside cornerback lined up down near the line of scrimmage over the tight end:


Here is the route concept that Florida runs on the play:


As you can see, the play starts out looking very similar to the spot concept. The outside receiver releases vertically, and the middle receiver cuts to the inside, and you might expect him to run a snag route. But after a few steps to the inside he breaks vertically and then comes over the middle. The third receiver starts his route to the flat, again what you would expect in the spot concept, but then he quickly breaks vertically on a quick out-and-up route.

The Vols are in a Cover 2 look, and Grier is able to find the receiver over the middle between the safeties. But the out-and-up route is open as well, with the receiver working against a linebacker:

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Here is another variation off the spot concept which can be very effective working against underneath coverage. Trailing by 13 and needing a spark in the third quarter, the Gators line up for a 4th and 6 play on the Tennessee 25-yard line. Grier is in the shotgun and the offense has 11 personnel on the field, lined up in the bunch formation to the right. Tennessee has its 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game and shows Cover 4 before the play:


Florida runs a route that looks almost identical to the spot concept, but with one major twist:


McGee, the tight end, releases vertically and runs the corner route. Antonio Callaway (#81) starts from the outside of the bunch and comes across the middle on the snag route. The third receiver in the bunch, Powell, starts from the inside and runs his route to the flat. But he will break back to the inside after reaching the flat on an under route:

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The route is run to perfection. Powell is able to get defensive back Malik Foreman (#13) to overcommit to the out route, and then break back inside. Foreman tries to recover, but Powell has the advantage and Grier hits him in stride for a huge gain. This design is beautiful to run with a quick receiver who can change direction on a dime, and spin his defender into the turn as Powell does on this play.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Y-Option

The final route concept to illustrate is Florida’s Y-Option, which is another design that many teams are running from pro to college and even in high school. This scheme is beneficial in that it gives the quarterback and the offense a few different options depending on the coverage, and the QB knows he should at least have the TE open regardless of what the secondary runs. This is not just a hopeful thought, it is a coaching point of McElwain’s. As he stated during his presentation at the 2016 Nike Coaches’ Clinic: “What I am going to tell the tight end is an interesting concept. I am going to tell him to ‘get open.’ He cannot be covered.”

Here is this play in action. Against Kentucky the Gators face a 1st and 15 inside the red zone. Using 11 personnel the offense empties the backfield, sending the running back in motion to the left to create a trips formation, and using an inverted slot formation on the right side. The Wildcats show blitz, dropping a defensive back down onto the line of scrimmage outside the right tackle:


Here is the Y-Option design:


McGee runs the option route, which means once he reaches a depth of 8 yards he finds a way to get open. “He can hook in, hook out, or run outside. If it is man coverage or a zone with no outside defender, the tight end can break outside,” said McElwain at the clinic. “He wants to run away from man coverage or run into green grass versus zone coverage.”

Here, the defense settles into a Cover 3 look, with two linebackers underneath. Both LBs gain a bit of depth in their drops, so McGee simply hooks in, finding some green grass underneath and between the linebackers:

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As this still from the moment of the pass indicates, settling into this little area of space is the best option available to McGee, and he takes it.

On this play against LSU, McGee reads man coverage from the linebacker, and breaks to the outside:

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The Tigers’ defense does a very solid job on this play, as the linebacker passes the TE off to the cornerback, who explodes toward McGee from the outside to put a big hit on the tight end. But he cannot prevent the completion, and the Gators pick up a hard-earned 5 yards.

How well the Gators do in 2016 will be determined in large part by how well their offense performs. They return six starters on defense, including defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, cornerback Jalen Tabor and linebacker Jarrad Davis, all of whom are All-America candidates. But on offense, they need to find out who will be pulling the trigger for McElwain’s offense, but the concepts outlined in this piece provide a road map for whoever the quarterback is to find success in the passing game.

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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