Snap Shots: Failed Zone Blitz Against Baylor

Introduction to the "Enhance Your Experience" series here.

The Big Picture

Only looking at total yardage, the Texas defense appeared to play a fantastic game against Baylor, holding the Bears to 328 yards. After all, the long-time 'Horns' whipping boy came into the game averaging 510 yards per game, one of the top figures in the entire country after a 683-yard performance against Kansas State. In that context, allowing a team only 64% of its average yardage sounds like a recipe for success.

Not for this Texas team. A short field given up by the offense hurt, but what hurt more were three long touchdown plays by the Bears. All told, those three plays accounted for 158 yards and 48% of the total yardage by Art Briles' offense on the day -- a 69-yard touchdown run by Jay Finley, a 30-yard touchdown catch by Kendall Wright, and a 59-yard touchdown catch by Terrence Williams. Back. Breaking.

The Context

Things were going reasonably well for the Longhorns when Justin Tucker kicked off following a long field goal with just over four minutes left in the second quarter. Sure, Texas was held to two field goals inside the red zone, but a 9-3 lead wasn't such a bad thing, especially after getting down early against UCLA, Oklahoma, and Iowa State.

After picking up a first down with a quarterback sneak, Kheeston Randall barged into the Baylor backfield on a passing play and forced a holding call.

Good news -- 1st and 20 for the Bears. Then, Christian Scott came up quickly in run support to stop Finley for a one-yard gain.

Even better news -- 2nd and 19 for the Bears. A screen pass on second down picked up nine yards on a nice open-field tackle, again by Christian Scott, who also forced a fumble on the play, knocking the ball loose from Finley while sending him to the turf.

Of course, this being the Longhorns, Scott's tackle twisted Finley and his momentum sent the ball downfield and towards the Texas sideline. No Longhorns had a play on the ball, which bounced harmlessly out of bounds. Of course.

However, Texas was still in an advantageous position with the Bears facing 3rd and 10 on the Texas 41-yardline.

The Play

The Bears line up with an empty backfield, with trips left to the short side of the field and two receivers split wide to the top.


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  1. On the other side of the ball, the Longhorns line up with only two down linemen -- Kheeston Randall playing a 1 technique on the outside shoulder of the center, while Alex Okafor plays a three technique on the outside shoulder of the right guard. Emmanuel and Sam Acho both stand along the line of scrimmage, with older brother Sam on the outside.
  2. Chykie Brown is both angled towards and eyeing down Robert Griffin on the wide side of the field, the first indication that he may be blitzing.
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  1. The Longhorns are indeed blitzing, with both Keenan Robinson and Chykie Brown coming from the top of the formation. Note that the split of the inside wide receiver forces Brown to commit early to the blitz, giving Robert Griffin a clear pre-snap read.
  2. That read is wide receiver Terrance Williams matched up one-on-one against safety Blake Gideon, the worst open-field tackler on the team. And yes, he is worse than Chykie. Griffin already knows that he is going to his hot receiver Williams on this play, who will run a little slant into the open space int the middle of the field. Lots of lots of open space.
  3. On the bottom of the formation, defensive end Sam Acho will rush from his standing position on the outside of his younger brother.
  4. It's a zone blitz, meaning that Kheeston Randall will bail from his defensive tackle position and attempt to undercut the hot route. Recall, however, that Randall has a long way to go because of the width of Williams' split.

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  1. Emmanuel Acho takes the inner-most receiver in coverage.
  2. Meanwhile, Randall attempts to undercut the hot route, but he's simply too big of a man to cover that much ground that quickly.
  3. Likewise, a smaller, faster defender is equally unable to cover the distance required to impact the play.
  4. Blake Gideon, the last line of defense on this play, takes an angle to ensure that he will have to chance to make a play on the receiver, probably near the first-down marker.

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  1. Chykie Brown leaps in the air in an attempt to deflect the pass, but Griffin is able to deliver it inside of the Texas cornerback.
  2. Notice that Gideon is now adjusting his angle, possibly believing that he can stop Williams short of the first down, but decreasing his margin for error.

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Williams makes the reception while Gideon closes. He still doesn't have much margin for error, but he looks like he could make the touchdown-saving tackle.

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Uh oh. As shown by the angle of his left plant leg, Gideon attempts to re-direct himself at the last second. Instead of getting across the front of Williams and giving himself a chance to make the play, Gideon has put himself at a disadvantage changing direction as the momentum of the receiver takes him into the open field. If you watch enough Longhorn football, you know that Blake Gideon re-directing in the open field is a recipe for failure.

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Fail. Gideon flies through the air spectacularly and almost takes out Kheeston Randall's leg in the process, all the while getting nothing more than a fingertip on Terrance Williams.

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That. my friends, is a wide receiver with a whole lot of space around him. Brought to you by the Blake Gideon Charity Foundation! Missing open-field tackles since 2008.

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Based on the previous picture, the end result here is not a surprise. It's now 10-9 Baylor with less than a minute left in the first half.

The Verdict

Considering the situation, this doesn't seem like a smart time to take risks -- the Longhorns are ahead and even though Briles may go for it on fourth down in the middle of the field, the Baylor coach still has to at least be conscious of the field position. Of course, Texas can't score touchdowns in the redzone, so it doesn't really matter where you give it to them if three points is the worst-case scenario.

Anyway, with under a minute left in the quarter, it makes sense to play conservatively, keep everything in front of you and try to come up to make a tackle. Rush three, drop eight. At worst, Baylor picks up the first down and then needs to pick up another 50 yards to score a touchdown.

Instead, even though the defense didn't need to make a play, Muschamp puts Blake Gideon in a position to fail, combining his two worst attributes -- taking bad angles and tackling poorly in the open field. Given the distance of the split by Williams and where the Longhorns blitzers come fromt, there is little chance of disrupting the pass, so dropping Randall into coverage is basically a waste. High risk, low reward.

The run blitz last week was a calculated risk in a desperate situation -- hardly Muschamp's fault. The zone blitz in this situation, however, is much less defensible. There's simply no reason for it, especially when it puts your worst defender in a situation in which he will fail about 80% of the time or more. As chronicled by Scipio Tex, the struggles of the Texas defense this season, particularly in terms of the discrepancy between total defense and scoring defense, are the fault of the offense, but Will Muschamp hasn't always been at his sharpest this season either.

Oh yeah, and Blake Gideon is so limited that Texas needs to give some serious playing time to Kenny Vaccaro, who has mostly been playing in the nickel recently, and Adrian Phillips.

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