Led by their offense, the Oregon State Beavers have taken massive strides this season—the second under head coach Jonathan Smith—coming within one win of being bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2013 campaign. With the Civil War looming during Thanksgiving weekend, the Beavers will look to snag that sixth win this Saturday on the Palouse. Of course, the Washington State Cougars are facing pretty much the exact same scenario, sitting on five wins with the Apple Cup being a thing that will happen to us whether we like it or not.
OSU began the season relying on its running game, and that was the strength of the team for the first half. They clipped over 250 yards on the ground on a couple different occasions. But as the season progressed, the passing game began to take over. In their last two wins, against the Arizona schools, the Beavers have averaged 333 yards passing. And Isaiah Hodgins, the Beavers’ best offensive threat, is averaging 123 yards receiving. He is a threat anywhere he attacks on the field, and OSU will look to get him open as often as possible. Let’s take a look at how they manipulate coverages to get Hodgins into open space, and how Hodgins uses routes with double moves to exploit the defense.
Hodgins will line up all over the field, but he seems to prefer to be outside the hashes and on the offense’s right side. On Oregon State’s first touchdown against Arizona, the Beavers sent Hodgins out to the right paired with Champ Flemings in the slot. To the opposite side, they leave two tight ends in to max protect for Jake Luton. After a play-action fake Luton finds Hodgins running an out-and-up into the end zone.
It looks like Arizona is in a Quarters coverage here, or possibly Cover 6 (quarter-quarter-half). When Flemings runs his skinny post from the slot, it holds all the coverage from the middle of the field to the left sideline on that side of the field, effectively isolating Hodgins against Arizona’s cornerback. The tailback leaks out into the flat after the play-action fake, which nominally holds the flat defender down underneath Hodgins’ route, so when the corner sees Hodgins make the out cut, he comes out of his backpedal and breaks on the route, taking an angle towards the sideline. Hodgins sticks his foot in the ground and cuts upfield, taking an inside track to beat the corner’s outside leverage, and simply runs away from the isolated defender. It’s a great route and Luton delivers the ball right on time.
And yes, you currently should be having nightmares about Isaiah Hodgins being isolated against members of the Washington State secondary.
Next up is our newest installment in our semi-regular series “Everybody Air Raids™.” In Air Raid parlance, this play is an adjustment from Y-Corner. In that play, the Z receiver runs a quick hitch to pull down the deep outside defender and the Y runs a corner route behind that defender and away from the middle safety. The adjustment, as Brian Anderson broke down here in the second section of his One Awesome Play series, has the Z show the hitch, take a picture, then break to the middle of the field. The middle should be vacated by the safety chasing the Y to the corner.
Oregon State’s version is almost a carbon copy. The major difference is that the outside receiver runs the initial a little bit deeper, and he angles the stem of the route a little more to the hash. When he releases to the secondary part of the route, it’s more vertical because he’s already a bit further inside. Another nice wrinkle that OSU uses here is the motion of the tailback to the flat. That holds the flat defender to the outside and forces a linebacker sitting in the hook/curl to react to Hodgins’ hitch. But he’s flat-footed in his zone and absolutely no help when Hodgins breaks vertical. The safety chases the corner and vacates the middle of the field.
Similar formation to the first example, but in this case they flip the formation strength to the opposite side and bring Hodgins down into the slot with Flemings outside of him. Flemings again runs to the post, this time to clear out space for Hodgins to operate. The back again leaks out into the flat to pull down the flat defender. Again, like the first play, this is a simple, two-man route concept. Or three, if you count the back in the flat. Oregon State leaves the two tight ends in to maximize their pass protection, and gives Luton a clean pocket in which to operate.
Arizona’s corner is in press-man coverage, so when Flemings runs hard to the post, he clears out the deep defender, leaving a whole lot of space for Hodgins to operate. He breaks at about 10 yards towards a square in route, setting up the nickel/safety to the inside. He then breaks to the outside into the space cleared out by Flemings’ route. Luton has all day to throw, and it’s just pitch and catch. Hodgins does the rest and finds the front corner of the end zone for the score.
According to ESPN.com, the Over/Under for this game is 76.5. You could put it at 86.5, and, were I a gambling man, I’d be sorely tempted to take the Over. Indeed, I’m not sure there is a reasonable number that Vegas could spit out where I wouldn’t be leaning hard towards the Over. These offenses are that good, and these defenses are decidedly less so. Whereas WSU is going to have 10 (or more) different skill players contribute in the passing game, OSU is going to be a bit more traditional and rely on just a handful. Foremost among them will be Isaiah Hodgins. If the WSU defense can limit the damage that Hodgins does in the passing game, it will go a long way towards the outcome we all want to see. It’s a tall order for anyone, let alone a secondary that has struggled for most of this season. But that, as they say, is why they play the game.