ITP Glossary: Honey Hole

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From oskie call to shadow roster, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Honey Hole

Honey hole is a colorful term that refers to one of the soft areas presented by Cover 2 defenses. These zones are deep along the sidelines, behind the cornerbacks and away from the two-deep safeties.

Here is a diagram provided by former Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan at a 2015 Nike coaching clinic breaking down Cover 2, and illustrating the Honey Hole.

Offenses commonly attack this area with a vertical route. In Week 3 of the college football season, the California Golden Bears took on the Texas Longhorns. Late in the first half California trails by 10 following a strip-sack that led to a Texas touchdown. But Jared Goff (#16) has shaken off the fumble and has the Golden Bears driving, facing a 1st and 10 at the Longhorn 26-yard line. The quarterback is in the shotgun with 10 offensive personnel on the field, with Kenny Lawler (#4) a single receiver split wide to the right. Texas has their 4-2-5 sub package on the field, showing Cover 2 in the secondary.

Lawler goes deep:

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The play-side cornerback sinks under the vertical route and the safety rotates over, constricting the throwing window once more. But Goff takes his shot, and fits this throw between the two defenders and into the honey hole for the touchdown.

Michigan State exploited the honey hole in the Big Ten Championship game with a victory against Penn State. Early in the second half the Spartans have possession at the Penn State 29-yard line. The football is on the left hashmark and Michigan State has 11 personnel in the game with pro alignment to the left, and an inverted slot formation to the right. Connor Cook (#18) stands in the shotgun with running back Gerald Holmes (#24) standing to his left.

The Nittany Lions have their 4-2-5 nickel package on the field and the secondary shows a Cover 2 look before the play. Cornerback John Reid (#29), a true freshman, lines up in catch man technique over the pro side of the formation, across from Z receiver Aaron Burbridge (#16). Safety Marcus Allen (#2) is the safety shaded to that side of the field:CFBReview12MSUStill1

The Spartans use play-action here, with Cook and Holmes meeting at the mesh point, but this is a pass all the way. Burbridge releases vertically as does the slot receiver on the right, R.J. Shelton (#12). The outside receiver, Macgarrett Kings Jr. (#85), runs a deep out route:CFBReview12MSUStill2

As indicated, the defense rolls coverage into Cover 6, keeping the Cover 2 look to the pro side of the formation with Reid and Allen, but dropping into a soft Cover 4 look on the wide side of the field. As the play develops, Burbridge has a free release with Reid giving the WR a bit of a cushion. After a few steps, the receiver bends to the outside, attempting to establish outside leverage on his vertical route. Reid then gets a solid jam on Burbridge, driving the receiver out of bounds.

The CB then turns toward the middle of the field to read the play. Behind him, Allen actually takes a few steps forward on the play fake, before recognizing the passing play and the route on the outside. The safety then begins to widen. This creates a fairly narrow throwing window for Cook to find Burbridge. But given that this route is a great way to attack Cover 2, and the honey hole, Cook looks to squeeze this in:

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Cook’s throw is delivered with good timing, anticipation and velocity, and the football arrives just before the safety. The pass is a bit high, but Burbridge is able to high point the football and secure the catch. When Allen tries to separate the receiver from the ball by delivering a chest-high shot, Burbridge simply bounces off the safety, stays upright, and then spins around a retreating linebacker, and races into the end zone with the touchdown.

Here’s another look at how this comes together. Notice how the CB does a good job here of riding the WR to the outside and then turning to the middle of the field to stay underneath the receiver. Also pay attention to the work from the quarterback. Cook takes the snap and after the fake he opens to his right, before coming back to the vertical route on the left. When he actually makes the decision to throw, Burbridge has Reid right beneath him, but Cook knows where to put the football against this coverage to throw the receiver open, while keeping him away from the safety:

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From there, the receiver takes care of the rest.

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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

All video and images courtesy ESPN.

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