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One Awesome Play: Shallow cross was not the first option

Luke Falk strikes deep on shallow cross and Isaiah Johnson-Mack breaks the O

Washington State v Oregon Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

A lot of pundits — and Vegas — put the No. 8 Washington State Cougars on upset alert in Eugene last Saturday. So much for that. The Cougs scored on their first offensive play and didn’t ever look in jeopardy of letting the Oregon Ducks take advantage of a “let down” spot.

The Wazzu #SpeedD held the Ducks to 2.9 yards per rush attempt and only 3.85 yards per play. Jeff Nusser talked about how great the defense was in Autzen in his Monday After column.

The “Hot Boy$” generated the second turnover for the Cougs in the fourth Oregon possession of the second half. The SpeedD really flexed the Ducks in that second half, getting stops on every drive after the first quarter. Coming out of halftime, Oregon finished the game; punt, fumble, punt, interception, punt, interception, downs, end of game. That’s dominant.

WSU cornerback Marcus Strong played a vertical down the boundary perfectly, getting inside leverage and adjusting to an underthrow better than the receiver, setting the offense up on the Oregon 25 yard line.

Like you do after a turnover, Wazzu immediately takes a shot at the endzone after a turnover with...shallow cross?

ACE 90 X

This is your boilerplate X-Shallow that Mike Leach has run forever. Tavares Martin Jr. (X) and Renard Bell (H) are stacked on the numbers to the boundary side. Bell presses to get outside the corner and down the numbers while Martin Jr. breaks right down the line of scrimmage.

Oregon runs a pattern-matching zone defense with — as Jesse Cassino noticed — some similarities to Michigan State’s Quarters system under Mark Dantonio. Shallow Cross takes advantage of zone defenders passing off crossing routes as they travel through their zones.

Here, it looks like the boundary corner on the playside (yellow line above, question mark below) might have misread* the play and drifts inside, rather than sticking with Bell on a vertical and freeing his safety to migrate back to his hash on that side.

*Or they could be playing a Robber Cover 2 style defense to the boundary, which would be a little different than what we’d seen from D.C. Jim Leavitt’s defense. Either way, they have an awful lot of defenders covering space WSU isn’t terribly interested in occupying.

Instead, the safety is pulled to the sideline to cover Bell.

To the field side, the inside defensive back over Sweet lets him pass unobstructed and drifts into a zone with eyes on the shallow cross. Martin Jr. is open, and can likely make a play on that defensive back (No. 32) to pick up a first down.

Sweet drags the field safety down with his in-breaking route.

This leaves the corner on an island with Isaiah Johnson-Mack (Z, off screen). The “on paper diagram” for shallow cross has Z running a vertical. With the safety vacating the middle of the field, Johnson-Mack bends his vertical inside to a post and Falk sticks it to his helmet in stride.

Play the fight song. Break the O.


The Cougar offense is really firing when shots downfield can come on any play to any position. Oregon probably saw this play 100 times on film, with Falk hitting that shallow or the dig behind it from Y a good majority of those times.

Not this time though.

Luke Falk now has 29 completions for over 20 yards — 6th nationally — and it’s a real positive sign this offense will continue being lethal if he’s taking open shots deep on even “safe” underneath route concepts like shallow cross.