What Went Wrong, Part I: Colt and the Speed Option


Apologies once again for the lack of content over the three days since the game -- I had neglected for my girlfriend for some time and that just wasn't going to fly any longer. I'll jump back in now with some pieces on what wrong before focusing on the positives going forward with Garrett Gilbert. --GoBR--

"LSU picked up some yards on the speed option against the Tide, but the Longhorns don't run the play much and McCoy doesn't seem to have a great natural feel for it. Probably not much of an option." -- From the Five Things to Watch Against Alabama post completed just minutes before the game.

Apologies for quoting myself, but the point is highly illustrative -- the Longhorns have run the speed option easily fewer than 15 times this season and probably less than 10. In other words, it's not something Texas gets a lot of game repetitions with and the strange thing is that Davis probably called the play more often before the Oklahoma game when Colt McCoy was running the ball a little more than five times a game (sacks excluded) than after OU, when McCoy just about doubled his rushing attempts.

Running the zone read is pretty easy for quarterback because the read itself is extremely simple, but running the veer or Wishbone took and still takes a quarterback with the ability to make consistently good decisions extremely quickly. Pure athleticism is a necessary aspect of the position in such an offense, but far from the only requirement, or even the most important requirement -- Super Bill Bradley may have been one of the five most athletic players on the 1968 football team, but James Street was the much better fit for the newly-installed Wishbone because he made better and quicker decisions than Bradley, who seemed to have no intuitive feel for the offense.

All that is a long way of saying that such an intuitive feel is paramount in running a play such as the speed option. My sense before the game was that McCoy, for whatever reason, did not have the intuitive sense for the play. I wish I was wrong.

Let's take a look at what happened on the fateful play.

Speed1_medium

  1. That's Marcel Dareus lined up as what looks like a two technique on the inside shoulder of the guard -- could also be a one technique, but it's hard to tell from this angle. Regardless, he's on the backside of the play and should not be a factor. Remember, this is the speed  option -- it's supposed to move away from Dareus as quickly as possible.
  2. Our old friend Kareem Jackson, beat on those slant plays, will come up in run support on this play.
  3. McCoy must get to the edge as quickly as possible, reading Jackson. Newton will establish a pitch relationship with McCoy, meaning that he will be one yard behind McCoy and four or five yards wide of him. McCoy will read the pitch-man Jackson -- if he gets upfield to take away Newton, then McCoy keeps the ball, but if he goes after McCoy, the Texas quarterback must make the pitch.
  4. It doesn't look like Texas blocks this play the same way most teams do. Most of the time, teams will use inside zone principles on the play, meaning that in 11 personnel there is the potential for three combo blocks along the offensive line, typically with two of those combo blocks made on the defensive tackles, allowing at least two linemen to get to the second level and account for both of the linebackers if the opposing defense is playing nickel. Texas, however, seems to focus more on not allowing penetration, with only one combo block on the offensive line, in this case the center and left guard on the three technique defensive tackle. The other combo block in this defensive alignment would be on Dareus.

Speed2_medium

  1. For whatever reason, the right guard Michael Huey attempts to cut block Dareus at the snap, instead of executing a combo block on him with the right tackle, Kyle Hix. The backside end is unblocked on this play. Once again, the backside defensive tackle should not be a factor on this play, so it's not a bad decision for Huey to cut him -- even forcing Dareus to pause for a second and use his hands to push Huey to the ground should be enough to keep McCoy safe. Dareus does use his hands well and promptly sheds the Texas offensive linemen.
  2. Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner execute a combo block on the other defensive tackle, once again seeming more focused on limiting penetration than actually getting to either of the linebackers.
  3. Jackson quickly reads the play and heads for the offensive backfield to play the option.
  4. Jordan Shipley is responsible for sealing nickel back Javier Arenas inside to allow McCoy or Newton to take the corner, but it's not an easy task against the physical defensive back.

Speed3_medium

  1. Dareus has now shed Huey and pursues down the line of scrimmage. Since Huey took the easy way out by cutting Dareus, Hix basically has nothing to do and has to avoid becoming engaged with Dareus while Huey attempts to make his block -- doing so would result in a 15-yard chop block penalty. However, Hix would be well served to get down the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible to get himself in front of Dareus and make sure he has no chance at making a play. Still, it probably would have been easier just to execute the combo block most teams use. Otherwise Hix is basically useless.
  2. Shipley seems to redirect just a bit as he considers attempting to block Jackson, but he makes the proper decision and will return to his assignment of blocking Arenas in next frame.
  3. Jackson continues to head towards McCoy and Newton.

Speed4_medium

  1. Hix can't get himself in front of Dareus, who continues to pursue the play down the line of scrimmage, showing a nice motor in the process. Meanwhile, Tanner finally gets off his combo block and begins heading to the second level in an attempt to deal with Rolando McClain. The other linebacker, Corey Reamer, crashes into the line.
  2. Shipley does an excellent job of getting inside position on Arenas -- he is now set up to seal the defender inside.
  3. Jackson heads towards McCoy, giving him a pitch read.
  4. McCoy, meanwhile, slows down and checks the interior of the line for any open holes. However, it's just a mass of bodies -- no running lanes. Furthermore, McCoy makes the cardinal sin of the speed option -- slowing down and failing to get to the edge. He now sets himself up for disaster. It's hard to imagine what he's thinking at this moment -- the purpose of this play is to get a 2-on-1 situation that the offense can exploit. The defender can never be right.

Speed5_medium

  1. Shipley closes in on Arenas, still in perfect position to make his block and open up a running lane to the outside for Newton. Had McCoy attacked Jackson and made the pitch right at this moment, the Longhorns should have an important gain and perhaps a touchdown, depending most on whether or not the safety on that side of the field or McClain can make a play on Newton.
  2. McCoy heads inside, perhaps thinking that he can find a hole between Hall and Adam Ulatoski, the left tackle.
  3. Hix has not managed to slow down Dareus, who is now remarkably in position to make a play on McCoy.

Speed512_medium

  1. To brace for the impact, McCoy inexplicably lowers his valuable right shoulder into the oncoming Dareus. Having already seen that the play was essentially dead and over, with no hope of picking up positive yardage, McCoy could have crumpled to the ground and avoided the hit.

Speed6_medium

  1. McCoy's head snaps on impact as he takes the hit on his right shoulder.

Speed612_medium

McCoy falls to the ground, his Texas career over.

Video of the play here (will not embed for some reason).

 

The Verdict

Given McCoy's consistent inability to run this play well, Greg Davis deserves some blame for the eventual results, but the great majority of the responsibility falls on McCoy himself -- the play still should have worked had McCoy executed it correctly and should have even picked up good yardage. While there was certainly a great deal of bad luck involved that the hit landed on the perfect spot to render his throwing arm useless for the remainder of the night, this is McCoy's fault -- he made his own destiny when he failed to attack Jackson and slowed down. Dareus never should have had a chance to make a play.

McCoy had a chance to define his legacy on this night, vaulting himself into the pantheon of the all-time greats at Texas with a victory, a chance to place his name with Bobby Layne and James Street and Vince Young as the best quarterbacks to ever play at Texas. Instead of running towards that destiny, he stopped, paused, never a smart decision on a football field where extremely large men fly around at incredible speeds. He stopped, paused and let his ability to define his own legacy slip from his hands. He stopped, paused and lost control of his own destiny, the goal towards which he had worked for the great majority of his life. And in the process, he probably did define himself -- always good and sometimes great, but never consistently great enough. Almost, but not quite. So close, but separated from true greatness by a wide chasm.

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