Tennessee barely squeaked out a 27-24 win over South Carolina this past weekend. They didn’t play their best game, but made plays when it mattered most. Something that jumped out to me from the game was a connection between the Vols’ first and second touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord did a brilliant job of setting up the second touchdown with the first one, so I want to take a look at both plays, and why the second one worked so well.
Here, I want to take a look at Tennessee’s first two touchdowns, and how the first one actually set up the second. Most offensive play callers script their first 10-20 play calls. This means they predetermine their first play calls before the game. This typically does a variety of things. Most importantly, it enables a coordinator to plan his calls based on what he’s seen on film, and then see if the defense is doing anything different from what he has seen on film. Another key benefit is it allows the coaches to plan certain plays to set up future calls. This is what we saw versus South Carolina; Tennessee’s first touchdown set up the second touchdown.
The Volunteers’ first touchdown came on an inverted veer play to Alvin Kamara. The inverted veer was a big part of the Volunteers offense last season, but hasn’t been called much in 2015. However, Mike DeBord decided to bring it back and make it a big part of the gameplan for South Carolina.
Since the Vols haven’t called this play much this season, here’s a quick refresher. The inverted veer is an option play with a power blocking scheme. The playside offensive linemen (tackle, guard, and center) are all blocking down. The backside offensive guard pulls through to the playside linebacker. He is the lead blocker.
Traditionally in power, the fullback/H-Back/wing tight end will kick out the playside defensive end, creating a rushing lane between him and the “wall” the playside offensive linemen have built and the guard leading through the hole. However, the inverted veer is an option play. So the quarterback will read the playside end and the H-Back will just try to get wide and block the first edge defender he sees. If the end goes outside, the quarterback will keep the ball and run power. If the end goes inside, the quarterback can handoff to his back running a sweep to the edge.
This is a very effective play, especially when you have a powerful quarterback like Dobbs and a quick running back like Kamara, so it was nice to see DeBord dial it up.
The first thing to notice about the play on which Tennessee scored is the formation. This is a look Tennessee had not shown before. One receiver is split to each side, Jalen Hurd is behind Dobbs in the pistol, Kamara is beside Dobbs, and tight end Ethan Wolf is on the opposite wing.
This formation is almost symmetrical, and forces South Carolina to line up in a very balanced 4-3, equally respecting both sides of the offense. However, the alignment of the backfield players would eventually enable Tennessee to out leverage the Gamecocks on the edge.
The call was inverted veer with Dobbs and Kamara, with Hurd added as an extra lead blocker for the sweep on the edge.
The defensive end squeezed down, so Dobbs made the easy and correct read to hand to Kamara.
With the alignment of the Vols backfield, South Carolina had to respect a run to either direction, and couldn’t send any help to the field. Hurd and Wolf were able to quickly get to the edge, and it was over before it started for the Gamecocks. Wolf cut down a linebacker, and Hurd took on the safety, and Kamara beat the unblocked end to the edge to finish his four yard scamper untouched for a touchdown.
While this play and formation was really well-designed to out leverage the Gamecocks, it wasn’t the last trick up DeBord’s sleeve. On the Vols’ next possession, DeBord came back with the perfect counter to the inverted veer, and the Vols scored once again.
The best way to attack an aggressive defense bent on stopping the run is to hit them with a play action pass. And the best way to fool defenders with the play action is with the offensive line. A quarterback’s play fake can help, but linebackers and safeties are taught to read the offensive linemen.
So a pulling guard must mean it’s a run play, right? Not so fast, my friends. One tactic that Tennessee, along with many other programs, has incorporated into their offensive scheme is a play action pass protection scheme where a guard pulls.
This is so dangerous to a defense. When a linebacker or safety sees a pulling lineman they naturally assume it’s a run and want to fly to the ball, especially against a very good power running team like Tennessee. Then all of a sudden, the quarterback pulls the ball and throws it over their head.
This is exactly what the Vols did to South Carolina. DeBord called a perfect counter to the inverted veer and the result was a touchdown.
The Vols came out in a trey formation with three receivers split right and one tight end to the left. Kamara was once again in the backfield.
The play started just like the previous touchdown. The playside linemen all took a step inside and the backside guard pulled around. Kamara started running a sweep and Dobbs stuck the ball in front of him.
Look at this shot right here. Doesn’t it look like it could be inverted veer? South Carolina certainly thought so. All three linebackers, plus the strong safety, had their eyes in the backfield and were stepping downhill.
But instead, it was a play action pass. Right guard Dylan Wiesman ended up pulling across to block the defensive end. Normally this would be a very difficult block, but the end is so used to being the read defender, that he hesitated rather than rushing after Dobbs. Wiesman was able to easily stonewall him.
The Vols combined this run fake with the best vertical passing play in the game, 4 Verticals. This is exactly what it sounds like: four receivers running vertical routes, evenly spaced across the field.
Once the safeties and linebackers bit, it was over. The Vols had Von Pearson, one of their fastest players, in the slot, and he ran right past the defenders and was wide open for a touchdown.
This is an outstanding illustration of how coaches use early playcalls to set up later playcalls. If the Gamecocks had not already been burned by the inverted veer, they would have been less likely to bite on the run fake. However, they were so caught up in stopping the run that they forgot about the pass. And Josh Dobbs made them pay.