Coach's Corner - Episode 2

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back.

There has been a fair bit of discussion this week here on CougCenter revolving around when and how Luke Falk checks to a run and when he should stay with a called pass play. Much of this discussion has been centered around down and distance situations that are traditionally considered running downs (i.e. the 3rd & 2 late in the game against Oregon State). In the Corner this week, we'll take a look at a handful of situations wherein Luke makes a check at the line, and one where he doesn't. We'll dissect his possible thought processes in making those decisions, and we'll answer the age old, steeped in myth and legend, theologically controversial question: What's more important, men in the box or leverage?

Quick note: a working knowledge of the Air Raid basics would probably be helpful with some of the concepts I'll reference, but it is by no means a requirement. If you're interested in the Air Raid as a whole, I would direct you to Brian Anderson's excellent break down in the Air Raid Playbook here at CougCenter.

Play #1: WSU@OSU


We'll start with a pretty simple check here. It's third down, with a medium distance to go, on our own end of the field. This is a passing situation for most teams, so for the Cougs it's almost a dead certainty, right? OSU certainly seemed to think so, looking at the front they put in front of Falk.

WSU Offensive Formation:

Ace. Bread and butter, nothing unusual here.


OSU Defensive Front:

Dime personnel (6 DBs), 32 front, Cover 2 Shell with man press underneath. Safeties were not on the broadcast screen, so you'll have to take my word for it there. - (Arizona has run a bunch of this against us in previous years, so keep this in mind for Saturday afternoon.)

OSU is all-in on the pass rush. They have one true defensive lineman in the front, at the nose. The two ends are edge rushers, aligned outside the tackles to get to Falk ASAP.


Why Does Falk Check to the Run?

Pretty simple in this case. They have five in the box, we have five offensive linemen. Hat-on-hat, go get 'em. But in addition, Falk sees man press coverage on all four WRs, and most significantly, on the H and Y. That means those two defenders, who could potentially help on a run play and are essentially in the box based on their distance from the tackles, are going to turn their backs to the play in order to chase their primary coverage responsibility.



Another factor that favors the inside zone play Falk eventually checks to is the outside alignment of the edge rushers. It's a pretty easy block for the playside tackle to turn his out, while the backside tackle can run away from his to double the backside linebacker. With the 32 alignment, the guards have a free release to the linebackers, so as long as Sorensen handles the nose across from him, the play should be good. Sorenson actually has an option here, and is basically going to just take the nose where he wants to go. The nose crashes hard to playside A-gap, so Sorenson gets on him and drives him further towards that sideline, clearing out both A-gaps. Morrow keeps the inside lane, and cuts into what ends up being the backside A-gap, right off Sorenson's backside.


The left guard, Salmonson, doesn't quite seal off the topside linebacker, who manages to slide off the block and trip up Morrow. Otherwise, Jamal probably gets a couple more yards before the safety comes up for the tackle. As it was, the Cougs gained eight and moved the chains.

We'll revisit the OSU game shortly, but for now let's jump back a couple weeks to....

Play #2: UCLA@WSU


This play is a prime example of why leverage is such a huge factor in whether the Cougs are successful running the ball. UCLA will show at least seven defenders in the box on this play, but Falk still checks to a run. The question is why? What did he see?

WSU Offensive Formation:

Slot. I don't remember/know what Leach's terminology for it is, but that's what I call it when I run it, so we'll go with that. It's essentially Ace, but with the H in the backfield instead of in the slot. Other than that, nothing out of the ordinary.


UCLA Defensive Front:

Nickel Personnel (5 DBs) - 42 Front - Cover 2 Shell.


Take a look at the slot corner. He's creeping down in the box. Also keep an eye out for the weakside safety. He is going to end up at around eight yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. He's not in the box, technically, but he's pretty much in the box. So that's seven or eight guys in the box. We do get an extra blocker with the second back in the backfield, but that's still not enough to account for every defender, even if one doesn't count the safety. One would think this is a pass look, especially considering it's 2nd & 10. Luke disagrees.

Why Does Falk Check to the Run?

Leverage. The D-Line is in a standard alignment, both tackles in 2-techniques (head-up on the guards) and both ends in 4-techs (head-up on the tackles). Both LBs are aligned fairly tight, in 20s (head-up on guards), so they are giving up leverage on the edges with just those six players. The slot corner aligns well inside the Y, so he sets the edge there. The offense's left side however, has an advantage. With the center, left guard, left tackle, and the H, there are four potential blockers for an outside zone play. The tough part is going to be getting to the playside linebacker, since the two DLs are going to occupy the guard and tackle, and the LB is aligned outside the center. There are some fantastic blocks on this play to make it happen though.


Middleton (RG) does a great job chasing the weakside LB and holding him cutting him off. Dillard (LT) initially gets beat to the inside, but recovers enough to take the UCLA DE away from the play. Sorenson (C) and O'Connell (LG) double the playside tackle, and O'Connell slips to go to the playside backer, which would be the original play design. But because Dillard's end crashes so hard to the inside, BOOBIE is able to take a virtual straight line from the H position and essentially turn this into an isolation play. He does a great job sealing the LB to the outside, giving Morrow a nice lane. Martin even gets in on the action, sealing off the force corner at the bottom of the screen.


The playside safety eventually squeezes the play down and it all gets gummed up, but it's a solid gain of six against a seven- or eight-man box. All due to leverage.

Play #3: WSU@OSU


This one should have gone for much more than it did. A lot of that is because OSU's defense makes some good plays, and part of it is because we don't block it particularly well on the backside.

WSU Offensive Formation

Early (Trips Right).


OSU Defensive Front:

Nickel Personnel - 42 Strong - Cover 4 Shell +1 Spongebob.


OSU shifted hard to the Trips side. There are only two defenders in the box opposite the back, plus the linebacker who is in a 00, head-up on the center. The second linebacker is outside the box slightly, respecting Thompson possibly running a quick inside route.

Why Did Falk Check to the Run?

It's three for three opposite the back, and Falk sees that pretty quickly. I think OSU baited him into checking to that run, because they slant super hard to playside at the snap. But if the center and left guard can double the nose and slip to the middle backer, there's not much else there to hold up the play. And initially, they get it. They even get the added benefit of the stand-up edge rusher bailing to the flat in pass coverage.


Where the play falls apart is the guards. Salmonson and Sorenson initially get a double on the nose, despite him slanting hard trying to attack Salmonson's inside shoulder. When Sorenson slips off to go to the middle linebacker, the nose is able to maintain leverage against Salmonson and keep his inside shoulder free. That allows him to squeeze the running lane down.

On the backside, Middleton just gets beat. He's unable to cut off the DT from crossing his face to playside, which is a huge no-no in the zone blocking world. The backside linebacker also never gets cut off, and he's able to shove his nose into the pile at the end. Madison also should have been able to leave the backside end and get up to that backside LB, but the end goes flat and rushes hard, forcing Madison to stay first level.


Sometimes the defense just wins.

Play #4: OSU@WSU


Now that we've looked at some of the different looks that will tend to give Falk a run check, let's take a look at one where, despite the down and distance, it's unlikely that Falk will check.

WSU Offensive Formation:



OSU Defensive Front:

Nickel personnel - 42 Weak - Cover 6 Shell. I think. It may be Cover 1. I've watched it eleventy billion times at this point, and I can't be sure. Falk gets about 15 seconds and one look. He's very good.


It's a look that is pretty similar to the previous play. The main differences are 1) that the linebackers are both solidly in the box, likely due to it being a 2x2 alignment instead of a 3x1; and 2) the DL are shifted hard opposite the back. That makes it much harder to run a zone play (inside or outside). So despite there being only six in the box, and it being 3rd & 1, the Cougs really don't have the leverage required to successfully run the ball in this instance. However, where they do have leverage is on the hash to the top of the screen.


Look at all that lovely, green, fake grass, all of it past the line to gain. Let's put a receiver there and throw him the ball.


WSU runs 617 X-In, Falk hits Dimry on a quick in at about four yards, he pushes the pile for about five more, and voila. That's another Cougar first down.

So there's a little bit on what Leach, Falk, and the coaches up top are looking at in terms of run checks. As you can see, numbers in the box are a factor, but where those defenders are lined up plays a much more significant role in determining whether Falk checks to a run or stays with the pass.

Comments, questions, concerns, disagreements are always welcome in the comments section, and if you have a particular play you would like to be featured here, let me know and I'll see what I can unearth.

Thanks for reading, and as always, Go Cougs.

This FanPost does not necessarily reflect the views of the site's writers or editors, who may not have verified its accuracy. It does, however, reflect the view of this particular fan, which is just as important as the views of our writers or editors.