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One Awesome Play: WSU’s shovel pass vs. Montana State

Here’s how the Cougs abused the Bobcats with a simple screen.

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Montana State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars effectively paper-cut Montana State to death last Saturday. Rather than stretch the field against a team hell bent on dropping everyone they could into coverage, they hit underneath routes and relied on the running game.

And they busted out the shovel pass.

Falk netted four completions, 61 yards and two touchdowns off this play. In a game somewhat lacking in downfield explosives, this was the Cougs’ big play.

The shovel pass is essentially a draw play. The quarterback will give a two-Mississippi sell like he’s scanning downfield then flip the ball forward to a running back pretending to pass block. At that point, a couple offensive lineman have shed their blocks and started hunting upfield for the first wrong-colored jersey they can find.

In his media session on Monday, following the game, Leach was asked about the shovel pass. Hilarity ensued.

Speaking of hilarity ... we’ll take our example from the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.

WSU is up by three touchdowns and faces 2nd-and-13 from the MSU 25 yard line. The Cougs line up in Early (3x1, trips right), and the Bobcats do weird stuff on defense.

This MSU defense is problematic, at best. Pre-snap they leave one of the trips effectively uncovered. There is zero defense of the flat. Their Mike — to the boundary — backer is sprinting full-out with his back to the play to get depth downfield coverage to the field side? A free safety is at a dead sprint laterally to help double the X receiver at the bottom of the formation. And a Nickel or other backer pretended to edge rush the back side for a beat before bailing to replace the Mike.

There is little chance all these moving parts reach their designed assignments in time to stop something bad from happening.

Something bad happens.

The offensive line assignment is fairly simple. Playside tackle and whichever of the guys inside — Guard-Center-Guard — are uncovered, go maul whatever’s in their way. Backside guard or tackle will also peel off their block and get downfield when they can.

In this play, the RT Cole Madison kicks out the edge rush and turns downfield. The center, Frederick Mauigoa was uncovered and hunts second-level right after the snap, looking for the Most Dangerous Man. The RG, BJ Salmonson absolutely destroyed his man. His job is to turn that defensive tackle inside to open a lane for running back James Williams.

At the point of the catch, Williams has a single defender to beat 15 yards downfield. Every one else is accounted for with blocking. I’ll take Williams in an open field one-on-one against anybody.


All told, CougCenter Player Of The Week BOOBIE gashed Montana State for 163 yards through the air and another 45 yards on the ground. Capping off this shovel pass with a LaDainian Tomlinson-style celebration was just the icing.

Well ... for some of us.

The shovel pass is like an effective change-up from a pitcher. It counters both an aggressive pass rush and soft coverage well, giving the defense something else to think about.