Wide receivers can be lethal in the passing game, but coaches have figured out ways to use them in the run game as well. Matty Brown demonstrates how Texas used wide receiver motion to exploit the Cal Bears back seven into gaining a number advantage.
The Texas Longhorns’ passing attack is predicated on lots of play-action and RPO concepts, making it hugely dependent on an effective running game. Thankfully for the success of the entire offense, the Longhorns do have a powerful running game, aided by a complementary blend of personnel and scheme. With the combination of talented running backs in D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III, along with two mobile quarterbacks in Shane Buechele and the more physical Tyrone Swoopes, their offense has plenty of options to add variety to their rushing attack. Schematically, Texas’s rushing offense is also quite diverse, featuring numerous read option and RPO plays from a no-huddle system. Yet, it is the use of wide receiver motion that takes the offense to a new level.
Seen once or twice a game from the Longhorns, the motion of a wide receiver keeps an opponent’s defense honest. So far this season this has been best demonstrated in Texas’ narrow 50-43 upset loss to California. The Bears’ defense faced a number of RPO and read-option plays, and really struggled to contain the Longhorns’ running game — eventually giving up 307 yards on the ground, an average of 6 yards per carry.
Texas, down 35-33 in the fourth quarter, has a 1st and 10 with good field position after a California punt. The Longhorns decided to unveil a different wrinkle in their running game. Coming out in a Gun Wing Twins Left formation, Texas motions slot wide receiver Jerrod Heard (#13) as though they are running a jet sweep. A dual-threat quarterback last year, Heard is a legitimate threat to defenses when carrying the football.
The use of wide receiver motion is a good way to get linebackers flowing, stressing a defense horizontally. It also forces a defense’s hand, and this play is no exception. This was the first wide receiver motion of the game, and it appeared to cause a degree of panic amongst the California defense. The Golden Bears come out in dime personnel (six defensive backs on the field). Nickel corner Cameron Walker (#3) follows Heard in motion across the formation, and the motion draws the attention of deep safety Khari Vanderbilt (#7). Meanwhile safety Luke Rubenzer (#17), in the box, blitzes the C gap.
The result is simply disastrous for California. All three players mentioned above are completely out of a potential play based around an inside run or a run to the left, because of their focus on the fake sweep. Meanwhile, both of the Golden Bears’ cornerbacks are covering their respective wide receivers, taking the total number of players unable to provide meaningful run support to five.
Texas’ offense has six blockers for the six remaining players who are in positions to stop the run. Their offensive line is nasty, and big: one of the best in the country at run blocking. Tight end Caleb Bluiett (#42), lined up as a wingback, is also an effective run blocker. On this inside zone run play where Texas has a blocker to account for every defender, the Longhorns’ offensive line clears out the Golden Bears’ right end, right defensive tackle, left defensive tackle, left end, and right inside linebacker – with center Brandon Hodges (#58) doing an excellent job of moving toward the RILB — and Bluiett makes the crucial and final block on left inside linebacker Devante Downs (#1), sealing the hole.
This creates a huge hole for Foreman to hit, and he takes the ball for a 47-yard, go-ahead touchdown:
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Later in the game, with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter, Texas attempted to run a very similar play. However it went for just a 2-yard gain, with California playing it far more effectively as no player reacted to the motion (a hand off to the jet sweep would likely have resulted in a sizeable gain). This, in itself, explains why the fake jet sweep is best used as a wrinkle to keep a defense on its toes and open up a gap for a running game once or twice a game – rather than it being used too often and therefore becoming predictable. Clearly the way it, and other offensive plays, are being called is working: Texas has rushed for 715 yards in just three games, averaging 238 rushing yards per game at 4.6 yards per carry. With those kinds of results we can expect this trend to continue.
Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s other work here, such as what RBs to watch in the SEC, the Pac 12, and the Big 12, and on Kenneth Dixon and what the Ravens should expect from him this season.
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