Dana Holgorsen has proven adept at tuning his scheme to different quarterbacks’ skill sets. His offense has become a consistent top 25 attack, placing at an average of 23rd in total offense during his six years in charge. That is less surprising given the wide-open nature of the conference, but the Red Bull-swigging, visor-donning, sideline-ranting head coach has shown himself to be a masterful schemer.
In the spring game, Florida transfer Will Grier displayed a lot of the traits that Holgorsen looks for in a signal caller, most notably a strong arm and athleticism. The junior impressed on his way to completing 12 of 18 passes for 202 yards.
A run pass option/adapted triple option play emphasized both Grier’s arm and legs and was evidence of Holgorsen’s keenness to incorporate these tools into his gameplan. The play contains the read element of a more conventional triple option, but the quarterback keeper is followed by an option to pass rather than an option to pitch.
The offensive line blocks the play like a typical inside zone, though they must stay relatively disciplined in regards to blocking downfield. The quarterback reads the end man on the line of scrimmage. If this defender stands still and plays the quarterback, the ball will be handed off to the running back.
However, if the defender crashes inside and plays the running back, the quarterback will keep the ball. He then has a second read to make. If the second defender stays in coverage or runs inside to the tailback, the quarterback will run the ball himself.
If the defender comes downhill to tackle the scrambling quarterback, the ball will be passed to either the slant over the middle or the screen to the outside. The quarterback works his way from the middle of the field to the sideline. It is a natural progression, considering that is the direction he is running.
The spread nature of the formation, with a trio of wide receivers to the open side of the shotgun formation and a running back and isolated receiver on the closed side, means that the defense has to pick their poison. They will either give the offense favorable numbers in the box or on the perimeter. It is therefore an excellent look to run an option play from.
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In this first example, the defense is showing a heavy blitz, with six men in the box pre-snap. The pass defense appears to be two deep. Instead, following the snap, the defense drops the three linebackers who were sugaring the C gap and A gaps and sends just three rushers. Meanwhile, the coverage in the backfield appears to be West Virginia’s Tampa 2, with safety Toyous Avery (#16) acting as what would conventionally be the deep middle linebacker, as he rotates to cover the middle third.
Grier correctly decides to pass to the outside wide receiver. He reads the man on the end of the line of scrimmage; Adam Shuler II (#88) clearly crashes. He then reads the defender responsible for the alley – linebacker Hodari Christian II (#44) – who comes down aggressively. After quickly processing this, Grier scans the middle of the field and sees that the “spur” safety – Jovanni Stewart (#9) – is covering the slant run by Gary Jennings (#12).
Grier therefore bullets a pass on the run out to the wide receiver screen. This is left open due to both the defensive backs on that side of the field – Marvin Gross Jr. (#18) and Hakeem Bailey (#24) – being indecisive and more concerned with the quarterback run. Receiver David Sills V (#13) has blocker Ricky Rogers (#85) to run behind while Bailey, due to his Tampa 2 deep coverage assignment, is eight yards away from the play. Thus, Sills V easily picks up the first down.
In the second instance of this play, the defense shows a less aggressive look with just the boundary “bandit” safety showing blitz from a “tom” alignment. They also have a clear deep safety, Jovanni Stewart (#9), and show Cover 1 or Cover 3. In reality, they drop their boundary bandit safety – Toyous Avery (#16) – and rush three, playing a form of their Tampa 2 defense again.
Once more, the man on the end of the line of scrimmage – Reese Donahue (#46) – plays the running back, committing inside. Grier keeps the football while working his way to his first read. He has plenty of time like in the first case, and that is partially due to the defense’s 3-3 front – even if this is achieved with a safety dropping into the stack and a linebacker, in a “walk” alignment, over the trio. The second level defender, “mike” linebacker Adam Hensley (#45), is the pitch/pass read, and he starts five yards off from the play.
The slant is wide open, because: Hensley, the alley defender, has started to crash down hard to Grier; the free safety has too much depth to make a play; and the “ram” linebacker over the bunch, Hodari Christian II (#44), has either: 1) not played his zone tight enough in relation to the receiver’s route or; 2) been assigned the hook curl and is expecting someone else to take that seam area. It is clear evidence of the isolations and dilemmas in space that the Air Raid scheme creates.
Consequently, it is unnecessary for Grier to continue his rollout. Instead, he sets his feet and throws off a solid platform, hitting open receiver Gary Jennings (#12) up the seam for a9 -yard gain.
So, the early signs – of Holgorsen working his magic and Grier looking skillful – suggest it would be foolish to rule West Virginia out. Grier has greater talent than previous starter Skyler Howard, a man who became increasingly unpopular amongst Mountaineers fans. He has two years to win some bowl games with WVU and develop for the NFL. Under the mentorship of Holgorsen, anything is possible…