Perhaps the most interesting thing I noticed from the Tennessee offense against Utah State was the use of some new packaged plays. During the 2013 season, the Vols did not use many packaged plays beyond the traditional inside zone with a backside bubble screen. During the offseason, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and the other Tennessee coaches added a few new concepts to the playbook in an attempt to put more stress on the defense. Against Utah State, Tennessee unveiled two brand new packaged plays that were very effective.
The first is a play that gives quarterback Justin Worley with four options. The Vols line up in a spread formation with two receivers to each side of the quarterback and one back in the backfield. The first option for Worley is to hand the ball to the back on inside zone to the right. Von Pearson, the slot receiver on the left side, runs a quick out route and Worley’s second option is to throw to him. Both receivers on the right side run quick hitch routes. If either of them is open then Worley has the option to throw there. Lastly, if the defense leaves him open, Worley can keep the ball and run around the left end himself.
The Vols unveiled this play for the first time late in the first quarter. The key defender right here is the weakside outside linebacker. Worley is reading him to determine if he should hand off or throw the quick out.
The linebacker drops into coverage to take away Pearson, so Worley hands it off up the middle. Running back Marlin Lane has a big hole to run through because of great blocking by the offensive line. Center Mack Crowder and left guard Marcus Jackson both drove their men well past the line of scrimmage while right guard Jashon Robertson was able to get his man turned away from the ball. Lane ended up gaining nine yards before he was tackled.The Vols liked this play so much they went into hurry-up mode and ran the exact same play again. Worley has the same options and the defense aligns the same so he is reading the weakside outside linebacker.
This time the linebacker crashes to stop the run, so Worley pulls the ball out and quickly throws it to Pearson, who is able to pick up eight yards on the play before he is tackled.
After having so much success with it, Tennessee decided to go back to the same play for a third time in a row.
The weakside outside linebacker comes down to attack the run again and the safety rotates to cover Pearson. However, he doesn’t get there in time and Worley fires it in to Pearson for a gain of five.
Tennessee had really good success with this play, averaging over seven yards per attempt. After these three consecutive plays, the Vols never went back to this concept in this game versus Utah State, but I’d imagine we will see it more in the future.
Another packaged play Tennessee ran versus Utah State also involved four options for Worley. The Vols lined up in a trey formation with the tight end as a wing. The main read comes on the middle linebacker. If he drops to defend a pass then the quarterback would hand off to the back on inside zone play to the left. If he comes down to stop the run, the quarterback can throw to the tight end on a pop pass in the vacated area. If the nickel back was to come inside to defend the pop pass then the ball could also be thrown to the slot receiver on a bubble screen. Lastly, if the backside corner is playing way off, then the quarterback can throw a quick hitch route to the receiver.
The first time Tennessee ran this play, the middle linebacker recognized the zone run and came down to tackle the back. That left tight end Ethan Wolf open down the seam, so Worley pulled the ball and threw it to him. The safety rotated down to cover Wolf, but hit him too early and drew a flag for defensive pass interference.
Tennessee went back to this play one more time later in the game and again had success with it.
This time, Worley just throws the quick hitch to Pig Howard because the backside corner is playing so far off. Howard caught the ball and was able to pick up 5 yards on the play.
Both these play designs are really effective because no matter what the read defender does, he is wrong. If they try to stop the run, then you can throw the quick pass. If they try to defend the pass then that leaves the run open. As long as all the offensive players execute their assignments correctly, these plays are very difficult to defend. I was excited to see Bajakian had added these plays to the Vols’ playbook this offseason. I’m sure we will see this plays and maybe some more packaged concepts later on in the season.