Two of the biggest plays in the first half of the Tennessee-Florida game came when the Volunteers went to trick plays. The Vols offense struggled all game, but these two trick plays led to touchdowns for the Vols and opened up the sputtering offense. What I found most interesting about the plays was that they are not new to anyone familiar with head coach Butch Jones or offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. Both of the plays have been run by the Tennessee coaches at their previous stops, so it was cool to see a blast from the past as the coaches reached back and called some old trick plays.
The first was a trick play that DeBord liked to use at Michigan. In the late 90s and early 2000’s, DeBord and the Wolverines used a double pass play multiple times. The veteran coach reached back into history and called that exact same play on Saturday with the Vols.
In this 1999 Michigan game, receiver Dialo Johnson received a lateral from quarterback Drew Henson on the left side of the field. Johnson then pulled up to throw a screen pass to Henson on the opposite side of the field.
Tennessee ran the exact same play against Florida. There are a few key elements that make this play successful. The formation is the first thing to look at. The Vols lined up with Dobbs under center, which is a rarity. This gave Dobbs a better angle to throw the backwards pass.
Another key part of the formation is the bunch on the left. This, first, shifts the defense’s attention to the left side of the field, and, second, gives Tennessee an advantage in protecting Jennings when he attempts to throw.
The second thing to note is the personnel. Jennings is a former quarterback, which makes him a great option as the passer on the play. Dobbs is a very good athlete. Once he caught the ball and took off, he looked like a running back carrying the ball down the sideline, not a quarterback. He is certainly a much better fit for this play than Henson or some of the less athletic quarterbacks DeBord used at Michigan.
Finally, let’s look at the play itself. The design is to shift the defense to the left with what appears to be a wide receiver screen. Next, the tight end on the right, Ethan Wolf, runs a deep crossing route. This has the effect of pulling the cornerback away from Dobbs. Jennings did an outstanding job of looking off the safety and pulling him towards Wolf as well.
By the time Jennings throws back to Dobbs, Wolf is being double covered downfield, and the athletic quarterback has all five linemen in front of him as lead blockers with only two defenders in the area.
Florida is focused on Jennings and Wolf, and Dobbs is essentially untouched on his path to the end zone.
The second trick play was also a throwback; this one came from Cincinnati with Jones. This play gained national attention in 2012 when the Bearcats faked a power run and had running back George Winn pull off the “jump pass.”
Just like with DeBord’s trick play, Jones had the Vols run it the exact same way as the Bearcats. The play was actually called in almost exactly the same situation. Both plays were on 4th and 2 in the opponents’ territory.
The Vols give every indication of a power run. Left guard Jashon Robertson pulls around and the right side of the line blocks down. Tight end Ethan Wolf bluffs a kickout block on the outside linebacker, before releasing over the middle.
The Vols’ line did an excellent job of selling the run. The middle linebacker came down on the run, and Wolf popped wide open right behind him. Kamara finished with a perfect jump pass.
The key difference in the two plays was how the defense aligned. Florida played with one safety deep and Syracuse put everyone in the box. With the run defenders fooled, Syracuse has no one deep and tight end Blake Annen walked in for an easy touchdown. Florida, on the other hand, was saved by their deep free safety, who was able to limit the play to a big first down, but not a touchdown.
The Vols offense has a lot of issues, and that is something we will look at more in-depth later this week. But for all the flaws, one thing Jones and DeBord did well in the first half was keep their foot on the gas and use well-timed trick plays to attack the Gators. I was very impressed by both plays. They were well designed and put the defense in a tough position. Jones is a pretty conservative coach, so it was nice to see some aggression from him. Hopefully it continues.
As I mentioned, be on the lookout for a much more detailed post later this week examining what went wrong on offense and why the Vols are struggling to close games.