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In this installment we will take a look at some of the passing concepts Malzahn used while he coached high school football in Arkansas. The “Wide Open” passing game, much like the run game which it complemented, sacrificed complexity for speed and efficiency.
If you talk to any offensive coach about building a passing game, they will tell you that there are a few passing concepts that are a bare minimum prerequisite for success. You need to be able to beat Cover 2 (2 high safeties), Cover 3 (three high safeties), and Cover 1/0 (man coverage with either a Safety over the top or no high help). The latter are referred to as “man beaters”. Gus was no stranger to this idea, and three of the concepts that he relied on were designed to defeat each of these coverages respectively- the smash, four verticals, and crossing patterns. Gus used progression reads for two of these concepts, and a key read for the other (the verts).
A progression read is what it sounds like. The quarter back looks to his first option, then to his second, then to his third and so on. Many times, however, a coach will say "read 1 to 2 then run like hell". Gus did this with Cam (for obvious reasons).
A key read is simply reading a "key" that is provided by the action of a certain defender (more on that later).
The Smash: Cover 2 Beater
The smash (first picture below) is a concept that almost every team has in the playbook. The idea behind it is simple and sound: the outside receiver (2 or 3 in Gus’ offense) runs a 5-6 yard hitch route. This route is simple to teach and execute, and can be adjusted to beat man coverage as well as zone. The inside receiver (4 or 9 in Gus’ offense) runs a 12 yard corner route over the top of the hitch. The difficulty that the combination of these two patterns creates for a Cover 2 look centers around the flat defender.
In a traditional Cover 2, the cornerbacks have flat responsibility. When this route combination is run effectively, the corner has to either take the hitch or get depth underneath the corner route. If the corner gets depth, the quarterback simply throws the hitch, if the corner takes the hitch, the quarterback throws the corner. The corner route still has to defeat the safety (who would have deep ½ coverage in a standard C2). The way many coaches (including Gus) stress the safety is by running a “divide” route up the seam to the side of the smash. This draws the attention of the safety, leaving a simple hi-lo read for the QB to the smash side.
Four Verticals: Cover 3 Beater
Cover three defense is known for one primary weakness- the seams. Airraid coaches such as Mike Leach, Tony Franklin, and Dana Holgerson joke that “everything works against cover 3”, primarily because of its weakness in the seams. Coaches like Nick Saban have adjusted their cover 3 principles to include pattern matching to supplement seam coverage, but many HS and colleges run traditional 3hi/4under coverage. The 4 verticals is the bane of such a coverage scheme’s existence.
The four verticals (second picture) is aptly named. Four receivers (2, 3, 4, and 9 for Gus) run vertical patterns, turning and looking for the ball after clearing the second level. The goal is to read the inside verticals in order to make the free safety “wrong”. This read of the FS is the "key" read I mentioned earlier. The quarterback simply reads the hips of the FS, and throws it to the side he doesn’t choose. Mike Leach killed Will Muschamp’s fire zones with this.
Crossing Patterns: Man Beater (TWSS)
Crossing patterns (third picture below) are simple. Two receivers from opposite sides run across the field. In many offenses, the play calls for one of the receivers to “set the depth” of the route at a designated depth, while his counterpart runs underneath him ("close enough to touch hands”), this creates a natural “pick” of the man defender, and often leads to receivers running wide open.
Gus also included slants on the backside of many of his concepts to defeat man coverage if his call was not otherwise capable of doing so.
Much like his running game, Gus’s passing game was simple yet genius. He used a small collection of concepts, packaged them out of a few formations, and led the nation in scoring. The true beauty of Gus’ system was its simplicity. It didn’t use 100 passing plays like the West Coast system. It depended on being sound, smart, and fast.
Check out Smartfootball.com and Brophy for more on Gus. Also read Gus’ book.
This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by eaglewstripes40 18 months ago
Originally posted by Tyrone Biggums: Auburn is going to have a nus like sleeve of wizard after Bama is done.
"Get in where you fit in." Life is, Too Short TL;DR
Auburn Family Now, Always, and Forever ! WDE
"Those blue jerseys put the fear of God in people" -Pat Dye
Spot on analysis. Here's a question, What kind of alterations or wrinkles do you think Gus has made to his philosophy/playbook over the last 7 years in college to stay ahead of the defensive coaches adjusting to him?
He's changed quite a bit over the years.
- He's implemented a lot more motion into his playbook. He uses a lot the same plays he's always used (power, counter, ect.), but uses WR and RB motion to figure out coverages/affect force players.
- He runs the ball much more these days. He was a Mike Leach-esque guy in his early days, but his time with Herb Hand made him appreciate balance more. He calls himself a " run, play action" guy.
- He's adopted a lot of plays over the years because of coaches he's worked with and players he's had. The inverted veer is a great example.
- He uses more zone blocking than he once did.
That's some. There's a lot more.
Alabama delenda est.
Excellent analysis and info for those of us that are not quite as learned. Thanks.
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