Life in the Southeastern Conference can be difficult for a quarterback, especially if you’re playing at a school outside of Tuscaloosa, Athens, or Auburn. This was especially true for Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who over the course of three weeks faced two top-ten defenses in Alabama and Georgia. (In between he faced the 31st defense in FBS last season, the Florida Gators). Not an ideal stretch.
Like many quarterbacks facing such a stretch, there were highs and lows. He threw for three touchdowns against the Gators. He threw for only 18 yards against Alabama. Vanderbilt lost to Georgia at home by 31. But on one drive, right before halftime, against the Bulldogs, Shurmur flashed some traits that might – might – foreshadow some interest from the NFL come next winter.
1st and 10
Ball on Left Hashmark
Obviously, trailing 21-0 at home right before halftime against one of the top ten defenses in the country is not an ideal situation. But that is exactly what Shurmur and the rest of the Commodores face at the moment. Bulldogs’ running back Nick Chubb’s second touchdown run of the afternoon has given the visitors a three-score lead, and the home team needs something just short of a miracle to get back into this game. To make matters worse, they’ll need to accomplish this feat against a defense that has not allowed a touchdown in nearly 10 quarters of football, having held both Tennessee and Mississippi State out of the end zone in back-to-back weeks.
On first down Shurmur (#14) and company just need to get the drive started. They align with the quarterback in the shotgun formation using 11 offensive personnel in a 3×1 formation with the tight end and two receivers to the right and the X receiver alone on the left. Georgia counters with their 4-2-5 defense and they have two safeties deep pre-snap:
This is very similar to a stick concept, with a pair of vertical routes along each boundary, and with curl routes from the tight end and the middle trips receiver. Shurmur reads this from left to right, peeking at the go route first from the backside from the X-receiver, and then working through the matching curl routes.
Here is what Georgia does defensively:
On this play the cornerbacks are on an island – for the most part – against the vertical routes. The CB over the X receiver (on the backside) might get help with a “Cone” call, where the safety will basically help and double-team that receiver. But with three receivers on the other side of the formation, the cornerback over there is left to fend for himself in “MEG” coverage, or “man everywhere he goes.” Something to note pre-snap is the alignment of the slot cornerback: Outside shade over the #2 receiver in the trips. We will come back to that in a moment.
At the snap Shurmur, as expected, peeks that go route. However, he sees the safety rotating over, so he needs to come back to the front side concept. Here is where Shurmur catches a bit of a break. The playside linebacker is reading from the tight end to the middle trips receiver, and he collapses on the tight end’s curl route. As does the backside linebacker. Seeing this, Shurmur flashes his eyes to the curl route from the middle trips receiver, and that is where he goes with the football, taking advantage of the pre-snap alignment:
Shurmur gets to his third option on the play, and by taking advantage of the pre-snap leverage from the slot corner, he gets Vanderbilt seven quick yards to start the drive.
2nd and 3
Ball near Right Hashmark
With the clock running Shurmur immediately brings the troops right back to the line of scrimmage, forgoing a huddle. The offense aligns with the quarterback again in the shotgun with three receivers to the left, and the tight end alone on the right. The running back is shaded to the right of Shurmur in the offensive backfield. Georgia again shows two safeties deep pre-snap:
To the three receiver side they implement a route combination termed in some offenses as “Under.” The #3 receiver runs a corner route, while the #1 and #2 receivers run in-breaking routes working over the middle at shallow depths. To the TE side, both the tight end and the running back release vertically.
Georgia stays in the same basic defense, with some minor tweaks given the different offensive alignment:
As the play unfolds, all three of the vertical routes are taken away. The corner route from the inside trips receiver is double-covered, with the safety working over the top of the #3 receiver and the slot cornerback reading from inside out and getting depth over that route as well. The seam/choice route from the TE is also a no-go for Shurmur, given that the linebacker is carrying that vertically with safety help. Finally, the wheel route from the RB is not an option given that the CB started with a pre-snap cushion and has maintained depth in relation to the running back out of the backfield.
So Shurmur does the only thing he can, which is to hit the first shallow route underneath for a minimal gain:
His receiver tries to put a move on the linebacker but, well, that’s Roquan Smith (#3). He isn’t missing.
3rd and 3
Ball on Right Hashmark
On the first play of this drive Shurmur displayed the processing speed necessary to execute plays at a high level. On this critical third down play, we see timing, rhythm, anticipation, and ball placement in one tight little package. These are all traits that are essential to high-level quarterback play, and traits that many college quarterbacks lack when entering the NFL.
Vanderbilt puts Shurmur in the shotgun again, this time using a 2×2 alignment. Georgia stays with their 4-2-5 nickel defense and now show a single-high safety look, and they indeed run Cover 1 in the defensive backfield:
The success of this route is more dependent upon execution than design. Whether facing off or press coverage, the receiver needs to sell the CB on the vertical route and make him commit to depth before stopping and making himself available for the football. As a quarterback throwing this route you need hefty amounts of anticipation and trust. If you hesitate throwing this route, you’re dead, as you just give the defender time to recover, click, and close on the football. But throwing the football when it needs to be thrown requires you to trust that your receiver is going to get the separation he needs on his break, and will ultimately win the football at the catch point:
Shurmur is about to release the ball here, and look at the relation between his target and the defender. There is no indication, other than trust, that his receiver is going to get separation out of the break. But Shurmur cannot wait to confirm, otherwise the play will not have a chance to succeed. So he does what he needs to, which is anticipate the throw, and trust his receiver:
1st and 10
Ball on Right Hashmark
Now with Vanderbilt on the cusp of Georgia territory, Shurmur brings his teammates right to the line of scrimmage for the next play. The Commodores’ offense again uses a 2×2 alignment with their QB in the shotgun, and the Bulldogs obviously stay with their 4-2-5 personnel. This time, they show a two-high safety look in the pre-snap phase of the play:
To the right side of the formation Vanderbilt runs a pivot/post route combination, with the inside receiver running a pivot route while the outside receiver executes the post route over the top. Unfortunately, we cannot see what the other receivers run, but thankfully Shurmur throws to this side of the field. Defensively, things are a bit different on the play-side from what we have seen earlier in the drive. The corner drops while the linebacker looks to carry #2 vertically, but reads from #2 to #1. The safety reads the release of the outside receiver, reading outside-in:
With two-high safeties pre-snap, Shurmur’s first look (I believe) will be to that post route trying to split the safeties. A “middle of field open” read if you will. That seems to be confirmed given his field of vision at and after the snap. But if he wants to throw this route, he will face a tight window depending on how the linebacker and safety play the post route.
At the moment he makes up his mind, you can see just how tight that window will be:
This is right before the QB starts his throwing motion. You can see the post route (the receiver who is calling for the ball with his arm up) bracketed by the corner and the linebacker. The LB reads this right and passes off the pivot route to get under the vertical route from the #1 receiver. Shurmur does not need to worry about the CB, but he must worry about the safety over the top, who likely sees the route coming together, and is breaking on the post. So if Shurmur wants to throw this route, he needs to get it out quickly, with velocity and precision accuracy.
Which is exactly what he does:
That’s as close to an NFL throwing lane – and an NFL throw – as you might see on college football Saturdays. There is little room for error on this pass and Shurmur delivers, giving Vanderbilt a fresh set of downs.
1st and 10
Ball near Right Hashmark
“We have achieved our position through poise, precision and audacity, to this we must add resolve…”
My apologies. Was having a flashback to “The Rock…”
The Commodores now find themselves in scoring territory thanks to processing speed, anticipation and accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field from their quarterback. But as any patron of the Inside the Pylon draft guide will tell you, there are three components to the accuracy picture: Short, Intermediate and Deep. It’s time to test that third aspect.
With the football near the right hashmark, Vanderbilt puts Shurmur in the shotgun and aligns their skill players in a 3×1 formation, with the X receiver alone on the right:
Georgia stays with their 4-2-5 package and shows two-high safeties again.
Vanderbilt runs one of everybody’s favorite plays: Four verticals:
Shurmur will face another combination coverage here, with the boundary corners in man or MEG coverage on the outside. That gives the QB a chance to hit one of the boundary routes, provided his receivers can get a step of separation on their route. Another thing he has to be concerned with is the safety lurking, particularly on the weakside of this play. That safety is going to be reading the release of the receiver to his side and potentially taking him over the top, or at least remaining in position to help on the vertical route. The other safety will be helping the linebacker with the tight end on that bender route over the middle.
But if there’s something Shurmur can do with his eyes to at least get that safety frozen for a step before he rotates over the top of the X receiver, he can put himself in a better position to make the throw down the field.
Shurmur takes the snap and stares down the safeties in the middle of the field, before flipping his field of vision to the boundary at the last possible moment to throw the vertical route. And throw it he does, as he drops in a perfect bucket toss on the deep ball into his receiver’s hands, who steps out of bounds just shy of the goalline.
On the next play a Vanderbilt running back would punch in a short touchdown run to get the Commodores on the board.
As with the rest of the upcoming quarterback class, there is a lot of development ahead of Shurmur before we can consider him a top-flight, draftable prospect. But as these plays show, there is something there, and Shurmur could put himself right into the mix for 2019 discussion if his senior season plays out more like this drive.