How Did the Vols Attack the Gamecocks Defense?

In their 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina, the Tennessee Volunteers had their most effective game of the season on offense. Starting for the first time this season, quarterback Josh Dobbs set Tennessee records and was named as the Player of the Week by multiple publications for his performance. Dobbs rushed for 166 yards and 3 scores, while throwing for 2 more touchdowns and 301 yards. Freshman running back Jalen Hurd rushed for a season-high 125 yards, while also leading the team with 7 receptions.

So how were the Vols able to be so successful? The first and most important reason was the performance of Dobbs. He has ignited a spark in the Vols offense, taking them from a team that couldn’t score a touchdown, to a team winning shootouts. The second reason was the performance of the other offensive players. The offensive line had their best game of the season, and the skill players put together a nice game.

The third reason for success is what I want to look at here. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian called a really nice game and took advantage of the Gamecocks’ defensive scheme. Last week we saw a major shift in the Vols offensive strategy, and this week was more of the same. South Carolina’s favorite coverage to run was cover 1; a man coverage with 1 free safety roaming the deep middle. Bajakian did a really good job of using misdirection to attack this scheme. So let’s look at a few plays the Vols pulled out to attack the man coverage.

Bajakian pulled out a brand new play early in the game. He only called for it once, but it was very effective.

The play design called for Pearson to come in jet motion. Dobbs would then fake a hand off to Hurd, while H-Back Alex Ellis crossed to formation to simulate a slice block. This action tells the defense that Hurd is getting the ball on split zone. Instead, Dobbs faked the handoff and dropped to throw. Pearson ran a rail route up the sideline while flanker Josh Malone ran a deep post.This is the post/wheel concept we looked at last week. The only difference is Pearson is running a rail route, not a wheel route. What’s the difference? A wheel route is more of an out and up, where the receiver runs toward the sideline as if it is a flat route, then wheels up the sideline. A rail route is quicker. The receiver is not trying to fake a flat route, but just get up the sideline as fast as possible.

At the snap, we can immediately see that this is man coverage. South Carolina’s nickelback is trailing Pearson across the field in man coverage.Every time the Vols called playaction with jet motion this season, the receiver that came in motion just ran to flat as a checkdown. For the first time this season, Pearson ran up the sideline on a deep route rather than going to the flat after the motion. The Gamecocks’ defender was not expecting this. He took a sharp angle to the flat, believing that Pearson was just running a short route.Instead, Pearson ran up the sideline and used his speed to take advantage of the defender’s poor angle and get wide open. Dobbs hit Pearson for a huge 42 yard gain.

This was a nice playcall by Bajakian. It played off of the Vols normal tendencies to fool South Carolina and get Pearson open deep.

Another way the Vols used the jet motion to attack the Gamecocks’ cover 1 was with the Y Cross concept. Along with jet motion from the slot receiver, Tennessee used the pass protection scheme they unveiled last week, and had right guard Jashon Robertson pull from right to left to sell the run fake.
With Dobbs faking a hand off to Marlin Lane in the backfield, Jonathon Johnson coming in motion, and Robertson pulling, the defense was expecting run. The key player here is South Carolina’s middle linebacker. He is the “robber” in cover 1. His job is to read the quarterback’s eyes and jump an short/intermediate route over the middle. The strong safety, in man coverage on Ethan Wolf, the Vols tight end, is playing withoutside leverage because he has the robber’s help over the middle.

Here, the Gamecock’s robber bit on the run. He stepped down and left the middle intermediate area open.The strong safety was playing outside, and the linebacker was playing the run, so Wolf was able to get open on his crossing route and Dobbs completed it to him for a 13 yard gain.

This is a nice play because it is an great pass concept, and the motion, play action, and pulling guard really sell the run. This type of play is very effective versus the cover 1 robber.
The Vols were able to also take advantage of the Gamecocks man coverage in the running game.

On one early play, Bajakian called for a counter to Hurd going to the left, with Pearson faking a jet sweep to the right.The first thing to notice here is that South Carolina has a linebacker/safety (#42) chasing Pearson across the field in man coverage. The motion caused him to vacate the left side of the field and left it open for Hurd to run through.

Tennessee’s blocking was great as well. The frontside of the line did an excellent job “building a wall” and sealing off the defensive line. H’Back Alex Ellis pulled through to block the linebacker.Hurd was able to get to the edge, stiff arm a defender, and get out of bounds for a 6 yard gain. To add to the gain, a South Carolina late hit moved the ball half the distance to the goal.This was again a well designed play that took advantage of the Gamecocks coverage, The motion cleared out one of the defenders, and Hurd ran right through the vacated area.

Later, the Vols called a counter for Dobbs, and used Pig Howard on the jet action to distract the defense.Once again, we can tell South Carolina is in man coverage because of how the corner ran across the field to cover Howard. The safety came down hard to fill the gap that the corner had vacated.USCe Q Ctr Jet 1.2The safety got too far outside, and was not a factor on the play. Dobbs read his blocks and cut the ball back inside.USCe Q Ctr Jet 1.3 Right tackle Jacob Gilliam missed his block on a linebacker, but Dobbs was able to make the defender miss and run for a gain of 12.

Once again, the motion forced the defense to react and left an opening for the Vols to run through.

Even when the Gamecocks were not in man coverage, the jet motion effected them. Here, Tennessee brought Pearson in motion from right to left and ran a power read play back to the right.South Carolina didn’t have a defender follow Pearson, but Pearson was able to essentially “block” two defenders. Both a linebacker and a defensive end stepped outside to stop Pearson.

Dobbs read that the defensive end was crashing to stop him, so he handed to Hurd on the sweep.Hurd was able to easily get to the edge and rush for a gain of 11.Once again, the jet motion caused confusion for the defense, and the Vols ran in the opposite direction for a nice gain.

Tennessee also ran inside zone while faking the jet sweep. Here, the Vols ran split zone as Wolf crossed the formation to block the end while Dobbs read the outside linebacker. The nickel back trailed Pearson across the field in man coverage, while the outside linebacker crashed inside to stop Hurd. Dobbs saw this and pulled the ball to run. By the time the nickelback reacted to Dobbs having the ball, it was too late and he missed his attempt at an arm tackle. Dobbs ran through and ended up with a gain of 12.USCe IZ 2.3A play the Vols scored a touchdown on last week was a fake now screen. Bajakian dialed up the same play against the Gamecocks. The concept was exactly the same. Slot receiver Von Pearson ran as if it was a now screen, while tight end Daniel Helm faked a block before running down the seam. Receivers Jason Croom and Pig Howard both ran fade routes.
Dobbs pump faked to Pearson, who jumped up in the air as he pretended to catch the ball. Helm’s defender read the screen and moved towards Pearson.USCe Fk Now 1.2South Carolina was still in their tight man coverage so when the defender bit on the fake, Helm was left wide open.The safety came down to make a hit on Helm, but it was too late and Helm held onto the ball for a 12 yard gain.USCe Fk Now 1.4A slow screen is another type of play that is very effective versus man coverage. The Vols dialed up this play on 4th and 6, trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter.
Helm’s came inside to block Hurd’s man. South Carolina’s nickel back read the screen and came down, unblocked, to tackle Hurd.Hurd proved why Tennessee wanted him in recruiting so badly. He spun off the defender and ran for a first down.The Vols would’ve been pleased with the first down pickup, but Hurd wasn’t done.Facing a safety in the open field, Hurd made a great cut across field and left the defender grasping at air as Hurd ran in for a touchdown.One final play we will highlight is the quarterback draw. This, like the screen, is a great play versus man coverage. The original look is pass, so defenders must cover their man while a back is running with the ball.Most of the Vols draw plays this season have gone up the middle, but this one got Dobbs on the outside. The right side of the offensive line dropped back, then turned the left to shield off the defense. Lane read that South Carolina was in man coverage and ran to the outside to take his man with him.
The Gamecocks linebacker ran outside, following Lane, and left a huge cutback lane for Dobbs over the middle. USCe Q Draw 1.3Dobbs easily got a first down, and did not face any resistance until he met a safety one-on-one in the open field. Dobbs was able to make this defender and one other miss before he ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. This play was huge as it gave the Vols a 4th down conversion, but more importantly, a touchdown to put Tennessee up 7 going into the half.Overall, Bajakian did a really good job of calling plays and building a gameplan to attack South Carolina. The Gamecocks ran so much man coverage that it became difficult for them to defend Tennessee’s plays that involved misdirection.

In the next post we will take a look at how the Vols moved the field in the 2 minute drill and attacked South Carolina’s deep prevent zone defense.


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