WildHorn Part 1: Snap Shots Versus Texas Tech


It's probably safe to say that opinions are currently mixed about the WildHorn formation after a successful debut against Texas Tech turned relatively sour against UTEP -- three plays, all inside the 10 yardline, netted a total of -3 yards. However, the formation did pick up 45 yards on four plays against Texas Tech. Ahead, analysis and diagrams of each play from the Texas Tech game.

Play 1: Counter read

The Context

Leading 7-3, the Longhorns look to gain some momentum after two unsuccessful possessions, including a three and out on the last offensive possession. However, the Jordan Shipley punt return gave the Longhorns the lead and the Texas defense just forced a punt after Texas Tech lost field position with the fumble by Taylor Potts that Alex Okafor should have recovered. A holding penalty on the punt return by Shipley moves Texas back to the 41 yardline.

The Play

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The Longhorns debut the WildHorn with Chiles as the triggerman and Monroe in the backfield alongside him. Notice that the strongside linebacker (Sam) is lined up in coverage over James Kirkendoll and that both of the safeties are deep. The offensive line will block just as they do in a normal counter play with Ulatoski, the left tackle, and Charlie Tanner, the left guard, pulling. However, this is not a typical counter play, as Chiles will read the unblocked strongside defensive end, highlighted in gray, just like the zone read play that Vince Young made famous at Texas. If the end gets upfield to take Monroe, then Chiles will keep the ball. If he stays at home, then Chiles will give the ball to the speedy running back.

It's also worth pointing out that this may be a play that Texas designed just for the WildHorn, as I can't find any evidence that anyone else in college football runs a counter play with a read designed into it. It's possible that the coaching staff created this play to take advantage of the ability to use a read with it and the fact that it's been the most consistent running play so far this season.

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Chiles reads the defensive end as Charlie Tanner pulls to block that end, eventually, while Ulatoski pulls behind him, heading for the Mike backer. Notice that the Mike backer appears to bite hard on the play fake, locked in on DJ Monroe. Kyle Hix is leaving his double-team block to lay some wood on the Will backer.

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The defensive end gets far upfield, giving Chiles an easy read on the play -- keep the football. Both the Sam and the Will backers continue to bite hard on the fake to Monroe and the offensive line is executing well at the point of attack.

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The two linebackers take themselves out of the play and the strong safety also appears to still be keying on Monroe. The free safety is about to take a bad angle on the apparently faster-than-expected Chiles, who has a beautifully-clean running lane through the middle of the Tech defense.

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Realizing his mistake, the strong safety tries to adjust his course, to no avail, as does the free safety. Back behind the line of scrimmage, Monroe senses a big play.

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As a result of his bad angle, the free safety can't make the tackle and Chiles is off to the races with open field in front of him:


The Verdict

The Tech defense clearly wasn't ready for the play, as there was no way they could have prepared for it. The Longhorns will probably not get a chance to run the play again without facing all three linebackers in the box, but the offensive line did execute the play well and Chiles made the correct read. Undoubtedly a fantastic start for the formation, which caught the Red Raiders completely by surprise.

Play 2: Zone Read

The Context

Leading 10-3 midway through the second quarter, the Longhorns defense had just forced a three and out by the Tech offense and the Texas offense had just picked up a first down, but had generally stalled throughout the first half with the exception of the long run by Chiles on the first WildHorn play.

The Play

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For the second WildHorn play, the Longhorns return to a familiar staple of the offense -- the zone read. Notice that Monroe's placement on the right side of Chiles and on the strong side of the field indicates that the Longhorns will not run the counter read play. Also, Tech has made their first defensive adjustment, bringing the strong safety up into coverage on Shipley in the slot, with the Sam backer moving into the box and the free safety deep in the middle of the field. Once again, Chiles will read the strongside defensive end, handing the ball off if he stays at home. The offensive line will double team at the point of attack, then attempt to get to the second level. Colby Whitlock, certified Longhorn killer, is lined up over the left shoulder of center Chris Hall.

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The play never has a chance, as Hall, apparently worried about Whitlock, hikes the ball to the right of Chiles, who has to fall on it to keep possession.

The Verdict

Whitlock may blow the play up anyway, as he uses Hall's step to the left against him, slicing across his right shoulder and into the backfield. However, the rest of the play is set up well and if the defensive end comes hard up field, then Monroe may be able to find a crease behind the block of Charlie Tanner, the left guard heading to the second level to block the Will backer.

In the middle of the field, the zone read play should be a staple of the WildHorn offense. Many defenses have begun to take away the zone read by sending the defensive end after the running back every time, with the Sam backer performing a "scrape exchange" to take the quarterback. The adjustment that the Longhorns appear to have made here is that instead of blocking the Mike backer, left tackle Kyle Hix is going to block that Sam linebacker assigned to the quarterback, leaving the Mike backer to possibly be caught up in the wash if Monroe can hit the whole hard and quickly. The strange aspect of the play is that the left guard, Charlie Tanner, heads downfield to block the Will backer instead of the Mike backer, who would seem to be his assignment, as one of Adam Ulatoski and EBS should be able to get off their double team to take the Will backer. It's possible that Davis adjusted the play to make sure that EBS or Ulatoski had some help on his block.

Play 3: Counter Read

The Context

A 33-yard return coming out of halftime gave the Longhorns good field position for the first drive of the second half, leading 10-3. A McCoy pass to Chiles converted a 3rd and 7, giving the Longhorns a first down at midfield.

The Play

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The play clearly sets up as the counter read, as evidenced by Monroe's positioning to the left of Chiles on the weak side of the field. As per their earlier defensive adjustment, Tech now has all three backers in the box, with the strong safety moving up into coverage on Kirkendoll in the slot and the free safety moving back deep into the middle of the field.

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Tech is also making the same adjustment that they would probably normally make against the zone read, except reversed -- instead of taking the running back, the defensive end stays at home, taking the quarterback, while the Sam backer "scrape exchanges," taking the running back heading to the edge. Chiles makes the correct read of handing off the ball to Monroe, who only has to beat the Sam backer to the edge and receive a good block from Kirkendoll on the strong safety to break a big play.

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Monroe sees the corner, wants the corner, knows he can beat the linebacker to the corner. However, whether he will be able to make it depends on the block of James Kirkendoll on the strong safety. If Kirkendoll can keep his feet moving and seal the defender to the inside, Monroe can take the corner and then it just depends on Shipley's block on the cornerback and if the free safety can come over and make a play.

I'm not positive, but I imagine that Kirkendoll is simply trying to block his defender and the coaches don't care which way he turns him, just as long as he gives Monroe a chance to make a cut. ideally, though, Kirkendoll seals his defender to the inside, but he probably doesn't know that because he can't see the pursuing Sam backer. Either way, Kirkendoll needs to move the safety quickly in one direction or the other so that Monroe can cut off of him.

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However, the Tech strong safety does his job by keeping his outside shoulder free and forcing Monroe to cut back inside of him, where the pursuit of the linebacker will bring him down.
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The Verdict

The play ends up netting five yards, which certainly makes it successful. Chiles made the correct read and Kirkendoll did make his block on the edge and the Tech adjustment to the long run by Chiles doesn't help them a whole lot -- the play still has a strong chance of success. In fact, teams might be better off keeping the Sam backer somewhere in between his positioning on the first and third plays so he can take away the running back. It's possible that defensive coordinators won't want to take the linebacker out of the box and, therefore, out of the play if the quarterback keeps it, but they can essentially dictate whether the quarterback does or not by the play of the strongside end.

There are some possible adjustments to this play that would help the Longhorns. The first adjustment is using Malcolm Williams in the slot position in the WildHorn formation -- it wouldn't tip off opposing offenses about using the WildHorn when he comes into the game and even if Kirkendoll has to come out, the Longhorns still generally have to substitute to get Monroe into the game and can go five wide with that personnel group, so any personnel grouping designed by the defense to stop the run first and foremost has to face that possibility. The reason for putting Williams into the game is his blocking ability -- instead of having a 5-11, 180 pounder blocking a larger strong safety, the physical mismatch in favor of the opposing team would turn into a physical mismatch favoring the 6-3, 220-pound Williams.

The second adjustment involves the blocking scheme for the play. The idea behind the zone read play is that the offense leaves a defensive end (or, in the case of the midline option, a defensive tackle) unblocked, then reads him so that the player can never make the right decision. Option football, pure and simple. As mentioned earlier, scraping a linebacker helps defend the play. The strange thing about the counter read play is that the defensive end is optioned off early, then blocked by the pulling guard later, while the tackle follows and tries to pick up a linebacker, which has little chance of actually happening.

The problem is that the scraping linebacker can, in the case of the this play, get outside and defend the running back without really worrying about being blocked, as the pulling tackle has essentially no chance and neither does the pulling guard. Instead, the Longhorns could shift their blocking up front by having the playside tackle block the scraping backer instead of blocking the Mike backer. Then, instead of pulling outside, the other tackle could head inside to block the Mike backer, since the current timing of the play makes the tackle almost useless.

Another option is to move EBS to the strongside of the field, where he would be responsible for the Sam backer and then just keep the pulling tackle at home blocking the weakside end.

The combined speed of Monroe and Chiles will continue to make the counter read play dangerous for opponents and it should remain successful as long as the offensive line can block up front, but the key to the play is whether the Sam backer can get to Monroe in time to essentially take him out of the play consistently -- he is essentially on an island.

Play 4: Reverse Pass

The Context

In the back and forth second half, the Longhorns struck first after halftime, but the Red Raiders replied with a touchdown of their own. Leach, ever the risk taker, tried for an onside kick after the Tech touchdown, but the Longhorns recovered with good field position at the Tech 47 after an offsides penalty, leading 17-10 and hoping to regain the momentum.

The Play

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Texas lines up with Monroe to the right of Chiles on the strong side of the formation, meaning that the play is likely the same zone read play Texas tried to run early in the game when the poor snap from Hall caused a fumble. Just like the first play the Longhorns ran in the formation, the two safeties are deep, with the Sam backer lined up in coverage on Kirkendoll in the slot.

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However, the Red Raider defense shifts just before the snap, moving the Sam backer into the box and bringing the strong safety up into coverage on Kirkendoll, with the free safety moving into the deep middle of the field. At the start, the play looks just like the zone read -- the right tackle leaves the strongside end unblocked, while Monroe takes the hand off.

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As McCoy heads into motion on the reverse, all three Tech linebackers bite on the run, pursuing Monroe down the line of scrimmage. Notice that the strong safety has his eyes in the backfield as well, while Kirkendoll heads inside faking the block or a slant.

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The defensive end bites on Monroe's run to the edge, while Chiles gets in position to block him when he eventually reads the play. Monroe tosses the ball to McCoy, who already sees Kirkendoll, the primary receiver on the play, plant his foot to accelerate to the outside.

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Before taking more than a step or two with the ball, McCoy looks downfield for Kirkendoll ready to pass the ball, but the strong safety has come up in run support, while the defensive end still hasn't reacted to McCoy having the ball. Kirkendoll heads into the flat wide open while Shipley clears out the cornerback on that side of the field.

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McCoy completes the pass on the run to the wide-open Kirkendoll, who has plenty of open field in front of him if McCoy puts the ball on target. Kirkendoll has only the cornerback to beat.

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Unfortunately, McCoy's issue overthrowing his receivers manifests itself on this play, so even though Kirkendoll catches the ball for an 11-yard gain, had McCoy delivered the pass accurately, Kirkendoll would have gained more yardage and broken a big play as long he can make the first man msis and if Shipley can block the free safety.

The Verdict

This is an excellent, well-designed play that fooled the entire Texas Tech defense. Concerned about the speed of Monroe, all three linebackers bit on the play, as well as the unblocked strongside defensive end. The strong safety, concerned about McCoy on the reverse, bit on the run and left Kirkendoll wide open. The play may even work as a reverse, as McCoy probably could have picked up yards on the run if Chiles can get a solid block on the strong safety. Even if most of the defense hadn't been fooled, Kirkendoll's double move should get him open the great percentage of the time on the play.

Clearly, the Longhorns will have to at least threaten other teams with the prospect of the pass or they will find eight players in the box. Having Chiles or McCoy throw the football operates as a perfect constraint play to keep the defense honest. With the resources defenses will have to commit to stopping the running game, a difficult proposition with the speed of the two playres in the backfield, defending any passes Texas wants to run is not going to be easy.

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