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Individual Play Analysis: Grant Buries The Vols

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With the off-season in full-swing and the summer football blues starting to take over, we're going to reintroduce the individual play analysis series here at RBR. A few weeks back, we ran a fan poll on which play our readers here at RBR would like to see analyzed, and the fourth quarter touchdown run against Tennessee by Terry Grant won by a very narrow margin. With that in mind, you wanted it and now you've got it.

If you want to follow along the analysis of this play with some video, you can click here or click here for two different angles. The first clip consists entirely of the Grant touchdown run, whereas the play can be found in the second clip at approximately the 8:13 mark.

Background

After a rough month filled with losses, ugly wins, and an incompetent offense, out of nowhere the Alabama offense is suddenly looking like The Greatest Show on Turf. John Parker Wilson is looking fantastic, and the connection between him and D.J. Hall is nothing less than shades of Montana-to-Rice. On the other hand, the Tennessee offense has moved the ball quite well also, but some conservative play-calling on fourth down has cost them. With a 30-17 lead, Tennessee has the ball near midfield and driving, but the Crimson Tide forces a punt. With the ball back and a comfortable lead, Alabama starts to march down the field in an attempt to put the game away in the early fourth quarter.

Situation

With a 30-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson completed a key pass to Matt Caddell over the middle on a 3rd and 4. That gives the Tide a new set of downs at the Tennessee 13. After a good gain on first down, Terry Grant is stuffed for only one yard on second down, and suddenly again the Tide is facing another 3rd and 4, this time with 11:10 to go in the game. The Crimson Tide has the ball on the Tennessee 8 yard line, and needs to reach just inside the 4 for a new set of downs.

Pre-Snap

Despite only needing four yards to pick up a first down, Alabama spreads the field like it's third and long. With the ball sitting on the left hashmark, John Parker Wilson (14) lines up in the shotgun with Terry Grant (29) lined up to his immediate right. A single wide receiver is split out to the left (I can't make out who it is, but I assume Keith Brown), and we have trips wide receivers to the right. The trips consist of D.J. Hall (22), Matt Caddell (11), and Nikita Stover (9). The offensive line is a piecemeal unit thanks to the Textbook Five, which means that Evan Cardwell (70) is at center and B.J. Stabler (61) is at right guard. At the end of the day, it's a relatively commonplace shotgun formation.

Though we spread the field, Tennessee comes out with a 4-3 -- which isn't particularly odd considering we only need four yards anyway, plus you have to factor in that the field is very compressed this deep in Tennessee territory -- but it's a bit of an unusual one. The four down linemen are not evenly spaced like normal. Instead of being evenly spaced, linemen are split wide on both sides of the offensive line. The defensive ends are lined up outside of the offensive tackles, and the defensive tackles are lined up over the outside shoulder of the offensive guards. It all means that the Tennessee line is leaving the middle of the line wide open. The Alabama center, Evan Cardwell (70), has the ability to immediately jump out to the second level if he wants.

The coverage shell is a bit odd, too. There are three linebackers on the field, but two of them are lined up in the middle of the field like you generally find in a nickel package. The third linebacker is actually split out wide over D.J. Hall. Moreover, there is only one safety in the formation, when there are usually two in a 4-3. The safety has been taken out of the game, and in his place a cornerback has been put in, and he is lined up very loosely over Matt Caddell, giving him a huge cushion.

Click the following diagram for the full-size diagram of the pre-snap formations:

Utpresnapkw1_medium

So what's the pre-snap read?

For Wilson, it's pretty obvious that the Vols are playing for a pass, despite the loose 4-3 alignment. Though it wouldn't be a surprise to see a linebacker step up into the middle of the line in case of a run, it certainly doesn't seem like the Vols are too worried about stopping any rushing attempt. Wilson has lit them up to date, and they are clearly concerned about him hitting yet another strike on third down.

Moreover, the alignment of the defensive line also gives the indication that they are looking for a pass. Given how wide they are aligned, there is simply no way that they will be able to defend an interior running play, and generally it's just clear that they will pin their ears back and rush the passer.

So what about the coverage shell?

On the outside receivers (Matt Caddell and the unidentified receiver to the left of the formation), it certainly seems like man coverage. Both Tennessee cornerbacks are playing the receivers very close to the line of scrimmage, and seem like they will fight them one-on-one.On the inside of the field, though, you read zone. The Vols have a linebacker lined up over D.J. Hall in the slot, and you know there is going to be no way in hell that they will ever give man responsibilities on D.J. Hall to a linebacker. The rest of the coverage package is almost entirely dictated based on that simple read. Obviously you cannot just have one defender playing zone over a player in this type situation, so you have to figure that he will drop into zone coverage with the linebackers and a safety as they try to patrol the middle of the field. Considering the safety is much too far away to play man on Hall, either one of the three linebackers will have to do it -- which you know won't happen -- so you can deduce a zone is coming.

All in all, you read the pre-snap formations and you expect the defensive linemen to pin their ears back and rush the passer, the cornerbacks to play man on the outside receivers, and the Vols to run a zone in the middle of the field with the three linebackers and a safety.

The Play

The ball is snapped back to Wilson, and instead of dropping back to pass, he quickly hands the ball to Terry Grant, who runs straight up the middle on a draw play. The whole there is absolutely massive, and Grant speeds through for a touchdown that makes the game 36-17 and puts the Vols away for good. But we all knew that, let's go deeper and see what really happened.

Click the following diagram for the full-size diagram of the play itself:

Utplayre9_medium

As expected the defensive linemen pin their ears back and rush the passer. But they do it in an odd manner. The ends rush to the outside, and then the tackles cut to the outside of the ends and attempt to rush the passer even farther outside than the defensive ends. The linebackers, though, don't step up to fill the hole in any way. As we thought with the pre-snap read, the Vols are indeed playing a zone over the middle of the field. Both linebackers drop back into zone coverage.

As a result of the movements of the defensive line and the linebackers, the middle of the field is absolutely wide open. Center Evan Cardwell is able to immediately burst onto the second level and he eyes the linebacker to the defensive left. Grant is able to go untouched through the line of scrimmage, and Cardwell seals off the linebacker. The other linebacker, the one to the defensive right, faded to the defensive right in a zone coverage, and there is simply no way he can get back in time to bring down Grant. Once past the line of scrimmage, Grant veers to the right away from the unblocked linebacker, following his center Evan Cardwell, and he waltzes into the end zone untouched. Touchdown.

And it's really that simple. This is one of the easiest plays to analyze that you will ever see. Simply put, Tennessee leaves the middle of the field so wide open that you drive a figurative Mack truck through it, and with a simple draw play we get an easy touchdown. The linemen, sans Cardwell, didn't even have to block anyone, and the receivers and cornerbacks weren't even involved in the play. Again, it's as simple as you can get. The hard part is trying to figure out just what in the holy hell the Tennessee coaching staff was thinking in the first place.

If we run the football, there is simply no way that the Vols can stop it. The defensive linemen are all rushing outside of the offensive tackles, and the linebackers are dropping back into zone coverage. It's just a given that Cardwell will pick off one of the linebackers on the second level, and Grant can just run away from the other. Again, there is simply no way they can possibly stop a running play. In all seriousness, even if Wilson takes off on a quarterback draw, there is a very good possibility that we pick up the first down.

And even if we throw the football, like they expect, it's going to be hard for them to stop it. For whatever reason, though we only have one receiver to the left side of the formation, not only do the Vols have a cornerback over that receiver, they shade a linebacker and a safety in that direction as well. For whatever reason, Tennessee has devoted three defenders to the side of the field with one receiver, yet only four defenders for the side of the field with three receivers. This creates a major imbalance on the outside to the offensive right. The cornerback aligned over Matt Caddell (11) is so far off of the ball that we could run a simple five yard curl route and have an easy completion that would put us first and goal, if not score a touchdown altogether.

It's such a terribly designed defense on the part of Tennessee that we can almost do no wrong. Any running play to anyone with two working legs will yield at least a first down, and anything to a tailback will allow him to walk into the end zone untouched, as Grant did. A passing play won't be as easy, but even so we've got man coverage on Stover, man coverage on Caddell, and a cushion on Caddell so big that a first down is almost guaranteed as long as Wilson / Caddell can complete a pass that even most junior varsity high school teams should be able to complete. It's a win-win situation for the Tide.

Either way, Tennessee defensive incompetence aside, Terry Grant walks into the end zone untouched. A two-point conversion later, and Alabama leads 38-17 with just over 10 minutes to play. Crank the puke orange bus, call in the last order of Krispy-Kremes, and tell the band to fire up Rammer Jammer... the Vols are done.