There was some talk in the comments of my last article about how Lane Kiffin’s coaching was very unsophisticated when it came to teaching quarterbacks. I’m going to defend him a little bit here. Jalen Hurts is not a good passer. That’s pretty obvious. Making bad passers into good passers is not easy and it often never happens.
I’ve been comparing Hurts to Brandon Harris a lot. Saying that Hurts is basically a more athletic Brandon Harris. Harris had Cam Cameron as his OC and QB coach. You know, the guy who turned regular Joe Flacco into “Is Joe Flacco Elite?” Joe Flacco. That’s an NFL coach who most likely ran NFL drills and taught progressions in an NFL-lite type of way. He could never get Brandon Harris to be a good passer. It’s the hardest position in sports to play.
Here’s the breakdown of the Washington Semi Final:
Alabama runs a Sail/Flood concept from an unbalanced line. The progression for Hurts is going to go from the vertical route by the split receiver to the out route by the tight end to the bubble by the receiver faking the jet sweep. The vertical route is covered by a deep defender, which would then put #32 (Budda Baker) of Washington in a bind. Commit to the sail route and the bubble is open or commit to the bubble and the sail is open. Baker makes a great play. He understands why there is a bubble route in front of his face -- because he is being baited. When Hurts gets his head around to look at the route concept after the play action, #32 is already sprinting to OJ Howard.
One of the things young QB’s don’t have is spatial recognition. As part of looking off the vertical route to come to the sail route, he has to recognize the flat player sprinting to get underneath the receiver and check down to the bubble. The field side sail route is a long throw and not many college QB’s can make that throw consistently. Unless you transform into Drew Brees during the play and can throw the receiver open to the sideline, check it down.
PA Post Wheel
This pass is made to look like inverted veer with the tight end arc release, I don’t think it’s an RPO because #71 (Pierschbacher) doesn’t ever go upfield on his pull. He’s trying to create a pocket for Hurts rather than lead for him down the field. Anyways, the concept ends up being Post-Wheel against Cover 3. Once the post clears the corner, Hurts is going to work the wheel route. I don’t know Washington’s Cover 3 rules but I’m a “lock on the wheel” type of guy. Washington’s flat defender doesn’t do this and OJ Howard is wide open.
They run it again in the 3rd quarter and it gets Howard open again but he drops it.
Step Up in the Pocket
Obviously, this is one of the themes of these Hurts breakdowns. You can’t see it but I think ArDarius Stewart is running a deep crossing route and by not stepping up into the very clean pocket, Hurts never has a chance to throw this route against a single high safety which this route tends to beat.
This, on the other hand, is not a clean pocket. I still don’t like that his first instinct is to roll out of the pocket, but he gets the benefit of the doubt because of the free rusher.
This comeback route ends up being the only available route and Hurts throws it accurately. You can see the way Hurts’ momentum actually takes him toward his target which is good (before he stops to avoid contact).
Hurts is going to read the Mike linebacker (#15) to decide whether to give to the running back or throw the slant to the slotback. He makes a good initial read because #15 jumps down into the trenches but the slot gets jammed and can’t run his slant route. This is what that 5 yard in cut behind the slant is for.
This play is fascinating. I can almost guarantee that to try to simplify this for Jalen (or any young quarterback) they told him, “if the linebacker commits to the run, the slant will win inside and you throw. If the linebacker drops, hand it off and we’re still good.” Then, in practice, Lane Kiffin played the role of that linebacker and either dropped back or played the run and they had a line a receivers running slants and a line of quarterbacks reading Kiffin to throw the slant. The coaching staff makes their QB’s think, “look, it’s soooooo simple. It’s either A or B.” But then you get into the game and the Sam backer collisions the slant, you panic. We want to simplify the game so much that we forget about the rest of the concept (in this case the 5 yard in by the wide receiver). That’s what we do to young quarterbacks. We’re so afraid of giving them too much that we neglect certain things for the sake of simplicity and it bites us in the ass.
Washington is in Cover 1 which is pretty good coverage against 4 Verts. The 2 Washington defensive backs on the near side play this really nice. It’s 3rd & 7 so there’s no reason for #32 to come underneath and get himself picked off. He stays over top and makes it easy for himself. Not a lot of room to go with the ball here.
One of the things I noticed about Washington’s underneath coverage guys (linebackers, flat defenders, etc.) was that when they committed hard to any run action they tried to recover by turning all the way around and running to cover receivers downfield directly instead of keeping their heads facing the QB and dropping into zones. This is my preferred way of playing defense. This play is a great example of why this technique works especially against a young QB. If you pause the clip when Hurts finishes his drop, you can see that the deep over route is open. There is space around the 35 yard line on the numbers to drop the ball into. Those Washington linebackers who bit on the run fake have no clue where the ball is. Hurts get spooked by seeing those backers in his vision cone. If the linebackers had turned back toward the QB and slowly shuffled or backpedaled into place, Hurts throws a completion, but instead they show color and prevent the pass from ever being thrown.
Here’s a pre-snap RPO where Alabama has some zone running play tagged with a backside fade. They probably told Hurts that he can throw the fade against press coverage. The idea is that it’s an isolated receiver so that corner is going to turn outside on the receiver’s release. Instead, he turns inside in more of a tight 1⁄3 technique (used, often, in zone pressures). That’s a pick if Hurts throws it so he’s wise to eat it and then throw the ball out of bounds.
Hey, we have a good play here. Another flood concept. You can’t see but there’s a receiver on the bottom of the screen who runs a go route. After the go route clears, Hurts is reading the flat defender who comes up to play the underneath route. Easy throw to the sail route.
There must be another receiver to the short side that’s off screen. Hurts is trying to hit OJ Howard on the wheel after the other 2 routes clear but it’s covered so he tries to look back inside. Can’t really see what’s going on here.
I’m not sure if this is an RPO or a designed fake. I like the design if it’s an RPO. You get the flood action but it comes from the tight end to the field who comes weak. Not an easy play because Hurts has to turn his shoulders to get square but a good throw in the hole inside of #26 Sidney Jones.
Even though the camera zooms in a lot here, I think we can assume this is a shallow cross concept. I talked about how deep the Washington linebackers were dropping and therefore took away the dig route that is off camera. This would take Hurts to the shallow cross route that he throws -- inaccurately.