Tryin’ something new. Recap of the second half delayed; tech problems meant this posted a lot later than I wanted it. Sorry.
When Smart Football‘s Chris Brown dissected Gus Malzahn’s Spread Eagle 2.0 in advance of the Tennessee game, he drew particular attention to this play:
According to Brown, this is the “buck sweep” (or “truck sweep”), and he writes this about it:
Most teams don’t use this because it’s a kind of slow-developing play to the outside, but Herb Hand once mentioned that it averaged more than 10 yards an attempt at Tulsa for a full season. The play is classic Wing-T: The line, tight ends, and receivers all block “down,” or step to their inside to get an angle to cut off defenders’ pursuit, while both guards pull and lead to the outside. Meanwhile, the quarterback executes a fake, causing the defense to hesitate for just a moment, and off the runner goes. And if the generic buck sweep is classic Wing-T, the Auburn version is classic Malzahn, an age-old concept combined not just with the shotgun but with a funky formation and receiver motion. He can use a variety of sets and looks, but against Mississippi State running back Ben Tate scored on a long touchdown run on this play where Malzahn brought the receiver in a sweep motion and the quarterback, after handing it to Tate, faked giving the ball on the reverse, then faked again as if he was setting up for a play-action pass, all of which is possible in this system.
It’s been one of Auburn’s most successful plays all year (you can see the TD Tate scored with it vs. MSU at the :48 mark here), and Malzahn went back to it and how on Auburn’s first drive of the second half against Arkansas: he called it three times in four plays, gaining 9 yards, 21 yards, and then 5 yards for 2nd-and-goal at the Hog 3. (Let’s not talk about what happened next, shall we?)
In this post we’re taking a frame-by-frame look at the last of those three runs, which was the least successful–it should have been an easy touchdown, in fact–but illustrates clearly both why the play works and why the edge blocking from Auburn’s receivers and tight ends is so critical.
This is Auburn and Arkansas’s pre-snap looks, 1st-and-goal from the 8:
Auburn’s got Arkansas pretty much right where they want them. The Hogs are blitzing the corner off the right side–you can see the man lined up over Fannin already leaning towards the backfield–and have the safety shifted to Auburn’s weak side to make up for it. With the linebackers shifted the same way (because, I think, of the three backs/receivers to the right as opposed to two on the left), a running play to the strong side with Trott as an extra blocker should be a big gainer. (The play differs from the diagram above in three minor ways: one is that Auburn doesn’t bother with the wide receiver motion and just lines up with the one wideout on the playside; two is that Trott is lined up as a TE, replacing the H-back; and three is that he blocks the end and the LB is the wideout’s responsibility, rather than vice versa in the diagram.)
And here’s the buck sweep–Berry and Isom pull, everybody else blocks down. And sure enough, Arkansas is in trouble. They’re blitzing both the linebacker standing up at left end and the corner, leaving a second linebacker in man-to-man coverage with Fannin … whose action has already taken him out of the play. Unless one of the blitzers tracks down Tate from behind or Trott fails to seal the right end, the guards and Zachery will outnumber the other Hog ‘backer and the corner 3-to-2.
Better and better: Trott has sealed the end like whoa* and the two blitzers are well behind the play. If Zachery–whose helmet the arrow is pointing out–can make a block on the linebacker, the Hog corner will be the only player between Tate and the end zone … and he’ll have both Auburn guards to deal with first. This play should be a touchdown.
Uh-oh: Zachery has gotten himself too far upfield and let the LB slip in behind him. If Berry spots him he can still make the block and leave the corner to Isom, but there’s a lot of traffic. There’s another problem, too: Pugh has lost his block on the Hogs’ left DT, No. 96, who’s slipped through the middle of the line and could tackle from behind if Tate has to wait for a seam.
It’s hard to see, but Berry is indeed aiming for the corner and the Hog LB–getting the arrow treatment–is slicing between Trott and Berry. Making matters worse, Tate has started to accelerate (maybe sensing the pressure from inside? I dunno) and has almost pulled even with Isom. Isom may not even have the chance to make the block on the LB.
It’s not happening. Whether because Tate’s been a little too quick or Isom’s been a little too slow, Tate’s now in front of his blocker and the linebacker has a clear path to tackle. For good measure, the corner has reacted quickly and already has his helmet past Berry. But the breakdown starts with Zachery: without the LB in the way, Tate could likely let Berry usher the corner out-of-bounds and cut in behind him.
Sure enough, Berry has gotten just enough of the corner (arrowed here) that he’s flown clean past Tate, maybe without even getting a hand on him. But it doesn’t matter, as the linebacker has closed and wrapped Tate up. The play will gain 5 yards anyway thanks to Trott’s great block on the end and Malzahn’s choice to run away from the blitz, but it could have been six points …
… and of course, Auburn will wind up with nothing when Tate fumbles on the very next snap. The lesson: one missed block–even one by a wide receiver, even one on a nominally “successful” play–can have some pretty far-reaching consequences.