One of Butch Jones’ favorite run plays is the inverted veer. This play has become popular in recent years, most famously by Gus Malzahn. The play involves the quarterback reading the playside defensive end to determine if he should keep the ball and run up the middle or hand off to a back, often coming in motion, on a sweep.
This concept was used often in the Vols season opening win over Utah State. Tennessee’s first touchdown of the 2014 season came from receiver Pig Howard on this play. The Vols used excellent design, as an unbalanced formation and jet motion caught the defense off guard and helped get the ball in the end zone.
The first thing to notice about this play is the formation. The Vols line up with tight end Ethan Wolf and running back Jalen Hurd in the backfield. They are “stacked” and both are lined up to the right of the quarterback. Receivers Josh Smith and Marquz North also lines up on the right side while Howard is the only skill player to the left of the quarterback. Smith and North are both lined up on the line of scrimmage with Howard in the backfield. That makes Smith an ineligible receiver as he is not on the end of the line. Tennessee was using their hurry-up tempo on this play and this, combined with the unusual formation and quick motion, caused confusion for the defense.
Howard motions in for the jet sweep. Right before he gets to Worley, the ball is snapped. The read defender is the weakside linebacker. If he stays inside then Worley can hand off to Howard on the sweep with Hurd, Wolf, Smith, and North all lead blocking on the edge. If he goes outside to defend the sweep, then Worley can keep the ball and run behind his offensive linemen up the middle. The linemen are all blocking down on their man. Because he is not a running quarterback, Worley likely will not keep the ball himself unless a running lane is wide open.
On this play, the read defender stays inside so Worley hands it off. Howard runs around the edge behind four great blocks. Hurd uses a cut block to take out one defender, North drives the cornerback into the end zone, Wolf does a great job to block his man, and Smith also has a solid block. The weakside linebacker is not in position to catch Howard and keep him from getting around the edge. He was slow to react to the sweep because of the read aspect of the play. Howard is able to get to the corner and he went n for the first Tennessee touchdown of the 2014 season.
The Vols also used this same concept later in the game out of a different formation. This time Tennessee lines up with two receivers on each side of the quarterback and one back in the backfield. The jet motion is going to come from Von Pearson, the slot receiver on the left. He has running back Marlin Lane lead blocking for the sweep around the right edge, while the offensive line blocks down for Worley.
Right here we see that all four linebackers overreacted to the motion and are chasing Pearson around the edge. That leaves the middle wide open for Worley to keep the ball.
Worley is able to use his strength to fall forward and pick up six yards for a first down on the play, but with some better blocking he could’ve gotten a lot more. Left tackle Jacob Gilliam gets driven into the backfield by the defensive end, who disengages and is able to make the tackle. Center Mack Crowder was attempting to block the weakside linebacker, but he overran the play and let the LB slip in to assist on the tackle.
This was a solid play from Worley to pick up the first down, but with some better blocking the play could’ve gone for a lot more. Even though the line’s execution wasn’t the best, the design of the play enables the Vols to pick up the first down. The motion causes the defense to overreact and leaves the middle open. But if the defense doesn’t react to the motion, then the edge is wide open and we saw the result of that on the first touchdown. I would expect that we see this concept a lot more this season from the Vols.