By David Beaudin
Frogs Today staff writer
While it would be premature to declare that my intuition is definitively confirmed, TCU’s 38-13 victory over Colorado gave me reason to believe that my initial thoughts are on the right track.
If you tuned into Dissecting the Frogs on FrogsToday.com (watch it here), you noticed that in the latest episode we broke down four key plays from the Horned Frogs’ season opener.
Starting now, we will take a deeper dive into each week into those plays. For all of you looking to peel back the onion a bit more and learn some football nuance (i.e. join me in being a “football nerd”), you have come to the right place.
Down and distance: Fourth-and-1
Game clock: 10:11
This big-time stop for TCU occurred right on the heels of a third-and-2 that featured the Buffaloes in a heavy 23 personnel (two backs, three tight ends) and run a “G” run scheme, where the the play-side guard pulls and looks to kick the edge player for TCU. On this third down, the guard actually “logged,” or sealed the edge, because of the technique of Frogs linebacker Dee Winters.
Winters “spilled” the puller, which means he ripped his outside arm/shoulder through the inside armpit of the guard. This resulted in the Colorado ball carrier bouncing it to the outside and running to the sideline. This is when the TCU free runner and former Buff, safety Mark Perry, ran the “banana” path from inside-out and made the tackle for a Colorado gain of less than a yard. This set up a fourth-and-1.
The Buffaloes came out in an unbalanced offensive set with an unconventional version of quads to their right. They had a tight-end and wing, plus two wide receivers on that same side, with the inside receiver lined up off the ball and the outside receiver on the line of scrimmage covering up the tight end and making him ineligible.
Colorado created a four-man surface, or four players lined up to the right of the center. By doing this, they naturally create two more gaps than in a current day offensive set. TCU countered this by shifting their linebackers and defensive line to that unbalanced strong side. Typically, in a three-man defensive front, the Frogs are lined up with two 4i (lined up inside shade of the offensive tackle) techniques and an 0 (head up to the center) technique. As illustrated below, the three defensive linemen end up in a strong-side 5 (outside shade of the tackle) strong-side 1 technique (strong-side shade of the center) and a backside 4i — almost completely in the “B” gap, between the left guard and tackle. All three “stack” linebackers are shifted to the right as well, as shown here:
Even with TCU shifting the defensive front to the Buffaloes’ strength, the Frogs still seemed to have a soft edge to that overloaded side. The Colorado running back was lined up to the strength as well, which led to what appeared to be an offensive set that was going to be some type of quarterback run with a running back leading to the strong side.
You can see the weakness or void in the Frogs defense on this opening-drive fourth down in the following illustration, highlighted in purple. After a sustained drive to start the game, the Buffs looked like they were in position to keep things rolling. Suddenly, they flipped the running back to the weak side, ignoring what seemed to be lots of open grass primed for attack.
Now that the Buffaloes decided to go to the weak side, let’s take a look at the offensive play call. The play itself is a good one against an odd-front defense with the aforementioned 4i technique to that side. This allows the offensive left tackle to block down and the left guard to pull to kick the edge player, which in this case is Frog conerback Josh Newton.
The rest of the offensive line and tight ends — from the center all the way down the right side — is responsible for running outside zone, essentially needing to “scoop” or rip the outside arm through the inside shoulder of each defender to cut them off from the play side.
All of this is nice and neat on a white board or in walk-through, but as you can see from the play above, freshman Damonic Williams and his Frogs teammates had other plans.
Williams split the double team that was attempted by the center and right guard. He is able to turn his hips into the center, making himself “skinny” and not allowing the guard to get any piece of Williams. The other player that helps Williams get penetration and be the first to arrive at the party is fellow defensive lineman to the defensive right side, Terrell Cooper.
The left tackle gets knocked back by Cooper, who is able to put his backside into the play, jamming things up and not allowing the chain reaction for every lineman and tight end to work their outside zone technique.
At the next level of the defense, backside linebacker Dee Winters sees the “down block” from the right tackle and shoots the gap immediately. This prevents Colorado from having any sort of cutback option. This, combined with the stout defensive-line play, frees the other two linebackers, Jamoi Hodge and Johnny Hodges.
First, Hodges darts downhill, taking on the block with his inside shoulder. Why is this important?
This allows the ball to stay inside. Thanks to the defensive line do its job, Hodge is able to easily scrape over the top and fit in nicely to put the finishing touches on the ball carrier and prevent the first down.
This play not only set the tone for the rest of the game defensively, it took the wind out of the Buffaloes stampede early in the game. Colorado had some momentum in the first drive with a raucous home crowd at their backs, with a late-night kickoff. With each defensive player doing his jobs, the Frogs were able to start the season with a huge four-down stop to dull the crowd and stifle any early Colorado momentum.
Game clock: 14:52
Derius Davis was the first to find the end zone and provided the only touchdown of the first half. Davis does a great job of seeing the ball off the punter’s foot and getting a great read on it, allowing himself to get square to receive it.
The return was set up from the beginning for a “wall” return to TCU’s sideline. As you can see above, all three linebackers bail out, leaving five Frogs on the line of scrimmage in a rusher’s stance. The three Frogs to the left are tasked with “holding up” the punt coverage players to their side.They prevent the three Colorado players from heading into coverage. From there, they track them to make sure the blocks for Davis occur at the right time. Therefore, after the hold-up portion of the play, those three defenders allow the Buffaloes players they are responsible for to run down the field before re-engaging with them. That way they don’t have to try and sustain those blocks for that long, which is merely impossible.
The other two Frogs up front are responsible for rushing the punter to force the kick and then immediately wheel back around to begin to set the wall with their backside to the TCU sideline.
Josh Newton, the Frogs cornerback lined up to the left side, is playing the role of the “anti-chase.” He is responsible for locking down the “chase” player or “gunner,” who is responsible for running down the field at full speed and attempting to make the tackle.
Traditionally, this position, especially when solo, lines up inside leverage of the gunner and tried to prevent him from getting to the returner. In this case, you can see Newton gives the Buffaloes gunner a free release toward the middle of the field. This looks to be by design, to set up the gunner to get sucked up in the wall set to the left.
Let’s take a look at the design before the ball was kicked.
Davis does a great job taking the ball up the field before breaking toward the TCU sideline, where the wall was set up perfectly. In a perfect world, the punt returner will take the ball up the field 7 yards before breaking to the return. This is more typical in a kick return, as the kickoff gives you a little more time before the returner has coverage players in his face.
Davis was able to move straight ahead for a few yards before sticking his foot in the ground and using his blazing 4.36 40-yard speed to get to where the wall was set.
There are some key blocks to set this up, in particular Geor’Quarius Spivey and Chase Curtis, the two Frogs who you see throw their hands up and shield Buffaloes players with their backs. A lot of coaches refer to this technique as a “hip-by.” When the player in coverage is ahead of the blocker and the blocker is “out of phase,” he hustles to get back into striking distance. At this point, the blocker rips his arm through the coverage player and throws his “hip by” the player and ultimately shields him with his back. These two players execute this flawlessly and really help spring Davis for the touchdown.
Coach Sonny Dykes has said often that special teams are the most critical in the first three games of the season, and this road opener was no exception. Davis once again proved that he is one of, if not the best, punt and kick returner in the country.
Down and distance: Fourth-and-2
Game clock: 3:47
The offensive skills of the Horned Frogs provide a host of weapons that offensive coordinator Garrett Riley has at his disposal. However, even with all of those footballs to go around, he knows full well that he must prioritize getting wide receiver Quentin Johnston the ball.
Prior to this play, Johnston had played off the ball in the “pro” set, motioned across the formation, and they threw him a quick bubble pass for a fair gain. This time around, Riley dialed up Johnston’s number again in a creative way.
Johnston motioned across the formation and he had a Buffaloes cornerback playing him man to man, as you can see here:
As I discussed on the show, offensive football is about numbers, leverage and space. Tempo is also another form of attack, and we will get into the many layers of that at a later date.
For this play, leverage is gained with the motion from Johnston, as the cornerback from Colorado is responsible for him, as illustrated above, and trails him on the snap after the motion.
Space is gained by having the ball on the right hash and getting the ball to the left sideline, by creating numbers through a condensed formation, and a “bluff” blocking scheme for the offensive line, which can all be viewed here:
Above, you can see the black line for the cornerback trailing Johnston post-snap. The white lines show the offensive line blocking to the right, running outside zone. Lastly, you can see in purple Johnston coming back to receive the touch pass from quarterback Chandler Morris. In addition, two tight ends, Jared Wiley and Dominic Dinunzio, were lined up at tight end and wing, respectively.
The tight ends were the only players from the line of scrimmage to go to the left with Johnston, along with running back Emari Demercado leading the way.
Demercado is responsible for the linebacker here, as shown. However, because the two tight ends miss one of the Buffaloes defenders at the line, he has to do some clean-up, leaving No. 20 from Colorado unblocked.
With a linebacker running free, why doesn’t he make the play on Johnston for a loss of yards?
While watching the end-zone view of the film, you can see No. 20 freeze for no more than a half-second. This is caused by the offensive line and Morris moving to the offensive right, his left. This slight hesitation, combined with Johnston’s speed, resulted in the linebacker “whiffing” on the play.
A lot of times this play can be read by the quarterback when using a more traditional handoff in the backfield. However, this was designed by using a touch pass made popular by West Virginia during the Dana Holgerson days.
Using the touch pass helps in ball-handling, as handing the ball off on the run can cause some issues at times. The other nice thing is that if the ball is dropped, it goes down as an incomplete pass, as opposed to a fumble. Using this keeps Johnston at almost full speed, which is also advantageous.
Johnston easily picked up the first down on this play, but stepped out of bounds at the 35-yard line. While the Frogs did not score on this drive, picking up this fourth down early in the game gave the offense lots of confidence moving forward.
This play showed up two more times in key situations, proving that Riley is not afraid of success. Far too often, coaches can out-think themselves if they have shown a play and don’t want to run it again. Riley dialed up this exact play later with the same motion, only flipped sides and gave the ball to Savion Williams.
Down and distance: Second-and-5
Game clock: 8:04
A great time for a reverse. At this point of the game, TCU has been running a lot of “full-flow” and not a lot of misdirection, other than plays with some false keys as we just covered in the previous play.
Quarterback Max Duggan hands the ball to Trent Battle. One has to imagine that it is by design to give a former quarterback the responsibility of ball-handling the “flip” to Davis on the reverse. Battle was set to the left in split backs with running back Emani Bailey to the right.
Bailey has a key block by attacking the line of scrimmage and making sure there is no leakage from the defense. The offensive linemen all work to the right, but they are simply trying to “flatten out” the defense and not allow any penetration — which is a reverse killer, particularly at the point of the exchange.
All the way down the line, everyone is working to the right using this technique. The left tackle, Brandon Coleman, initially blocks to his right as well, which sets off a chain of events.
First, No. 90 for Colorado, the defensive end, squeezes initially off the down block of Coleman. As soon as the ball is declared and he sees it handed to Battle, he runs flat down the heel line of the offensive line.
In addition, No. 5 on defense, the overhang linebacker to the field, is heavily influenced by the initial handoff and blocking scheme, and takes off in that direction.
All of this is so well executed that Duggan pops back out to seal the edge and pick up any trash, but he has no one to block.
From here, Coleman works back out toward the sideline and up the field, finishing the play with a dramatic pancake in the end zone.
The single receiver to the side of the reverse is Blair Conwright. On this play, you can see him “trickle” off the line of scrimmage and really slow-play things, as if he is just a casual observer to the run play away from him.
After the exchange to Davis, he then engages the Colorado cornerback for another key block. This is critical because there is no way that Conwright can sustain this block the entire time, so starting off the ball slowly was strategic and effective.
Once again, the scheme, blocking and speed of Davis led to a Frogs touchdown. There was not so much as a Buffaloes fingernail (hoof?) that touched Davis on this play.
It was a fun night of football, and we will be back next week with another Dissecting The Frogs after the home opener against Tarleton State.