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October 19, 2011

Scout's Eye View: Breaking down big plays

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BREAKING DOWN BIG PLAYS WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Most college football fans, when watching a game for the sake of enjoyment, simply follow the ball and pay little mind to what is happening on the field as far as positional groupings, schemes and whatnot. Each week Inside the Gators will take you 'behind the scenes' as former college coach and scout Michael Digman breaks down several of the biggest plays of the game.

***If the videos aren't playing under each description, click here to watch the highlights (scroll down to UF-Auburn highlights on the right)***


Dominique Easley sack

On this 2nd down and six play Auburn is in the Slot formation. The traditional look for this formation has the tight end at the top on the line of scrimmage. In recent years many spread teams have adopted this formation where the tight end lines up off the ball. The advantage to this is that you get the normal strengths of the traditional one back formation as well as having all the advantages of a two back power running game.

Florida is lined up in a 4-3 Under front with the safety (Matt Elam) rolled down to the tight end side. This leaves them in a single safety look which means it is man or cover 3. In this case it is cover 3. Auburn is running one of Gus Malzahn's staple routes. He has the outside receivers on Post routes and the inside receivers on Speed Outs. This is a great route versus cover 3 as the corners should be playing outside leverage, thus allowing the Post routes to get inside and win.

The outside linebacker and rolled up safety are responsible for the Curl/Flat area. If they get depth to cover the post the out should be open. If they expand with the Out the Post should be open. On this particular play the Auburn quarterback never has a chance to take advantage. Florida's nose tackle - Easley - takes a slight outside rush and then just bull rushes the true freshman center who is clearly at a physical mismatch against the Gator defensive lineman.

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Jacoby Brissett 25-yard pass to Frankie Hammond Jr.

Here, on a 3rd & four, Florida is lined up in the Split Back Gun formation with their receivers in Nasty splits. Auburn is in an over front playing cover 4. Cover 4 is considered a bail corner coverage meaning that the corners play soft and are not responsible for the flat areas. In college football the hashes are wider than they are in the NFL, so the throw to the far side is longer and much more dangerous. Most defenses will basically give the offense the far side deep out or comeback throw as most offenses are unable or afraid to take such a long throw - worried that the defensive back will have ample opportunity to jump the route and either knock the ball away, or worse.

When NFL types, scouts and talking heads discuss a quarterback's arm strength, they are talking more about his ability to make this type a throw with some zip on it rather than if a quarterback can throw the ball 65-yards for a Hail Mary.

These throws to the wide side of the field are when you most often see a defensive back take a ball back the other way for a pick six.

Here though, because Brissett has a 'big arm' Florida has no issue with him going to the wide side of the field. Actually, that is where he is designed to go. Brissett takes his drop and in rhythm makes a nice smooth throw to the field, almost effortlessly. You will notice that as he gets ready to throw he sets his feet to his target and finishes with his body moving toward the spot he's throwing at. Those are two basic things that greatly increase the accuracy for a quarterback.

The throw arrives on time and in the right location making what should be a difficult play look extremely easy.

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Jeff Driskel 11-yard pass to Deonte Thompson

When breaking down plays, you have to keep several things in mind as far as game play. Here, one thing to keep in mind that it is late in the game with Auburn protecting a two score lead, so you will see the Gators in a Spread formation and the Tigers in a Prevent defense with everyone backed up.

While this is a similar play to the last, in that the defense is also in a bail Corner coverage, the circumstance are much different.

In this play you will notice that this time Florida is on the hash to the side that they are throwing to, so it is a much shorter and easier throw. Driskel does a nice job of taking his drop and in rhythm throwing the comeback to the sideline. He gets his feet set to his target and finishes with everything moving toward his target. This makes for another nice easy completion to Thompson. Basically, in this situation, the defense will concede that pass all the way down the field if they have to.

What is interesting is, with these being the only two highlights to break down of the two UF freshmen quarterbacks, when you compare the two plays I think that you will see that Brissett is the more fluid and natural passer. His throw is more difficult and in my opinion he makes it looks easier than the shorter throw by Driskel.

From watching limited tape on the two, Brissett comes across as the better passer with more pocket presence while Driskel is more athletic, but has some work to do on his throwing mechanics.

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Barrett Trotter 25-yard touchdown pass to Deangelo Benton

Here in the first quarter in a scoreless game Auburn is in the Slot formation again. Florida is in an Over front playing cover 3 with a safety rolled down. This is 3rd and 3 so the Gators are trying to take away the quick passing game as well as free up their linebackers to play the run aggressively. Surprisingly not every team has a built in play for anytime the other team jumps offsides like on this play. Here, the offensive line is taught to freeze so that it's clear that it's offsides on the defense, but also so that they're creating habits to stay to disciplined and not react to movement by the defensive front.

In thinking that the play has been stopped because of a penalty (though no whistle blew and you are taught to go full speed until you hear one), it is your natural inclination there to relax a bit and not go full speed.

That is hard to overcome because it is natural to pause there, for at the very least, a split second.

The receivers all go deep and the quarterback rolls to the right so that any free defensive linemen can't get to him before he gets the ball off. The QB will throw it up whether the receiver is covered or not because of the penalty, he has nothing to lose, this is a free play since the defense was offsides.

If the defense intercepts it or knocks it down the offense will accept the penalty and move forward five yards. Then every once in awhile the offense will get a huge play out of it like they do here. So many times you will see the offensive players stand up and point out the infraction or the quarterback won't take the snap waiting for the officials to blow their whistle to stop the play.

They're content to take the five yards, when they shouldn't be. When it is a blatant offsides, you are going to get the call, so make the most out of a free play. In this game, what one play changed the outcome of the game.

The offense has nothing to lose except for the rare occasion where the official doesn't make the call for offsides. It is one of the many little things that Malzahn does that most offensive coordinators don't. It's not a huge difference, but the small things certainly add up as they did on this play.

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Corey Lemonier sack of Driskel for an 11-yard loss

Here, on a 3rd & 10 play the Gators are again lined up the Split Back Gun formation with nasty splits. This time Auburn is in an over front playing a 2 Safety coverage. The main difference between the other two Florida passing highlights above and this one, is that here is that they're pressing the receiver at the bottom. Nasty splits or Bunch formations are generally used to beat man coverage. A standard technique defenses will use against these two types of formations to disrupt the receivers at the line of scrimmage is to press them.

As we have seen in the past in breaking down highlights, Florida uses this bunch formation in order to help create space out in the flats. However, in this case, because the two receivers at the bottom are so close together, you increase the chance that with one defender pressing it will disrupt both receivers routes. On this particular play both receivers get off the line without much disturbance. However, that matters little as Driskel never gets a chance to find an open receiver as his offensive line fails him miserably and e is pressured very quickly.

The Gators are in a 7 man protection meaning that both running backs will stay in to protect if the defense blitzes. There is no blitz so the running backs both release outside to "chip" the defensive ends.

Both defensive ends start with an outside rush and as the running backs get to them, they make hard inside moves. This is a failure because the offensive tackles are taught, and now have to understand that they will have outside help and anticipate the inside rush.

Here, both tackles - Xavier Nixon to the top and Matt Patchan to the bottom - are beaten on the play, though it took a spin move to beat Patchan on the bottom after he was initially in good shape.

At the top, at left tackle, as we've pointed out several times this year, Nixon once again struggles with the defensive end.

Driskel sees the rush, but escapes the wrong way. Quarterbacks are trained to escape to the side of the pressure, so in this situation Driskel should turn away from the line of scrimmage to roll out to his backside. Anytime the defensive end makes an inside rush there is no outside contain, thus creating space to escape.

That isn't to say that it is a given that he would be able to do it (Lemonier was all over him from the jump), but as athletic as Driskel has shown to be, that should have been a move he is easily able to make. However, pocket presence seems to be an issue. Because of the rush he panicked and had nowhere to go.

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Michael Digman was a Division II quarterback before being a student assistant for the quarterbacks at the University of Missouri. He has made stops at several high school and college programs, including working the quarterbacks at the University at Buffalo under current Kansas head coach Turner Gill. Along the way, he has also worked alongside new Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.


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