Each week, Pylon University’s Mark Schofield looks at the Offensive Plays of the Week, highlighting great performances, great efforts, and great players.
Ever since Dwight Clark leapt off the Candlestick Park grass on a grey Sunday in San Francisco, completing “The Catch” and propelling the 49ers to their first Super Bowl, the play known as “Sprint Right Option” has been a staple of nearly every offensive playbook. On Saturday night in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah used this play to complete a last-minute drive and defeat the University of Southern California, and Travis Wilson may have reclaimed his starting quarterback job in the process.
Prelude: Setting the Stage
Facing a three-point deficit with 2:08 remaining in the contest, Utah took over possession of the football on their own 27-yard line. Last week Wilson had been benched for poor play in his team’s game against Oregon State, before returning this week to lead the Utes to a double-overtime victory. On this night against USC, he guided the offense on a 73-yard drive culminating in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay.
Before we look at that scoring sequence, let’s examine a play that came two snaps earlier ‒ with Wilson’s legs putting the Utes on the verge of the end zone. Facing a 2nd and 3 at the Trojan 19-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in the game, the quarterback dropped back to throw but did not find an open target downfield. Wilson rolled to his left to buy time for his receivers ‒ and instead found an alley on that side of the field:
The junior was able to dance down the sideline and nearly scored on the play; his 18-yard scramble set Utah up with 1st and goal on the Trojan 1-yard line. Following a run on 1st down that was stopped for no gain, it was time for Sprint Right Option.
Bill Walsh, the genius behind the West Coast Offense, used a simple “high-low” concept when designing the Sprint Right Option. The play often has two receivers in the pattern with the quarterback rolling out to the right side of the field. One of the receivers will break toward the right rear of the end zone while the other heads toward the front pylon. If neither receiver is open, the option aspect of the play allows the quarterback to tuck the ball and try to beat the edge defender into the end zone for the score.
On this drive-capper, Wilson is in the shotgun and the Utes have 11 personnel on the field. USC has their goal-line package showing Cover 0 in the secondary. Utah will send Clay (circled in white) in motion from the left to the right. Freshman defensive back John Plattenberg of the Trojans (circled in red) will attempt to follow Clay across the formation:
As the ball is snapped, Clay is in perfect position to run the shallow out route just inside the end zone. Plattenberg, however, is about four yards deep in the end zone trailing his receiver, awful position to cover this route:
The cornerback gets a jam on the outside receiver, which only creates more traffic for Plattenberg to navigate. Meanwhile, Clay is coming out of his break and Wilson (circled in yellow) already has the receiver in his sights:
The split receiver now moves toward the back corner of the end zone, but the action is near the front pylon. The motion man simply has to make the catch and the Utes have themselves a big victory:
Running through the play you can see how the pieces fit together:
This offensive play call is perfect for this situation. The defender is put behind the proverbial eight ball by the motion and the route from the outside receiver. The beauty of this design is that had USC tried to have the defenders switch assignments, the corner route would have been open instead. Plattenberg already trailed the play because of the pre-snap motion; had the cornerback jumped Clay’s route, Plattenberg would still have been out of position to deal with the outside receiver’s corner route. Finally, Wilson would still have that third option to tuck the ball and beat the edge defender to the goal line. As it turned out the quarterback did not need to go beyond his first read on this play. His throw completed the comeback, giving his team a win ‒ and himself a little job security.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.