Good Designs and New Wrinkles
There wasn’t much good that happened for Mississippi State football’s offense against Arkansas, but their lone touchdown drive yielded some positives. That was the drive were MSU leaned most heavily upon motion and misdirection, and it paid off for them.
My favorite design from that drive was the screen pass to Zavion Thomas on a first down from the Arkansas 13. They align in the pistol with Tulu Griffin in tight as a wing receiver. Thomas is in the slot opposite of him. He goes in jet motion to the left, and at the snap, Mike Wright fakes a Wide Zone handoff to the right. Wright then pulls up and throws back left to Thomas with blockers out in front. Thomas gets up field and is able to make a few defenders miss in space, nearly scoring.
I love the misdirection elements of this play. You have the threat of a jet sweep to Thomas and then the stretch run the other direction, two things State has shown plenty of this season. But then they add the screen pass back the other way to further layer upon a base look within the offense. Wide Zone is a foundational concept for State. Jet sweeps off of Wide Zone is a counter to that play. Adding the screen pass is a counter to the counter.
This is precisely the type of concept I’d love to see more of from MSU. One of my biggest complaints with the offense is how it frequently seems as though they’re simply running random plays as opposed to an actual offense built upon layered concepts. I love seeing a play that compliments what they already do a lot of. And as Cole Cubelic pointed out, you’ve got to love the blocking efforts from Tulu Griffin and Antonio Harmon.
There were a few wrinkles thrown in on Saturday (or maybe just one?), which was to be expected with Wright at QB. You were obviously going to be able to lean into more of an option based run game, and State threw in a few different looks off one of their option runs that they’ve used a handful of times this season.
State has used variations of GT Counter Read throughout the year, and with Wright in the game, they’ve favored the “Bash” version. I talked about Counter Bash in the preview for this game, as a few offenses have had success with it against Arkansas. On a “Bash” run, the RB has the runs backside while the QB runs play-side, which is the opposite of most spread option runs.
State ran Counter Bash off a jet sweep early in the game, but their other three reps after that added the element of a toss to the RB. The QB’s read is the same, but the RB will change sides and look to take a pitch from the QB as opposed to a handoff. One of these plays came out of a formation we’ve yet to see this season: 2-backs with Tulu Griffin in the backfield.
One of the biggest talking points of the offseason was how much Kevin Barbay would make it a point to find ways to force-feed touches for Tulu Griffin. While I can’t say I’ve always loved how they’ve chosen to go about that, they’ve certainly attempted to scheme him up touches. Lining him up at RB wasn’t surprising considering how they’ve said they want to use him.
Wright sees the unblocked DE squeeze down to defend a QB keeper, so he pitches it out to Tulu. The DE is still able to recover and slow down Tulu, who has to make him miss to pick up five yards. Fairly standard play just run with a different skill player than usual. This was the only snap we saw with Tulu at RB, so I’m curious if we see it again down the line.
I had the parentheses a few paragraphs ago suggesting State may have only had one true wrinkle, which would be Tulu at RB. The reason I say maybe is because a play I initially thought to have been a wrinkle might have actually been a mistake that just happened to work out. State ran this toss play to Woody Marks off of GT Counter blocking on their lone touchdown drive.
This is very similar to Counter Bash, but the toss is happening play-side as opposed to backside. It seemed like a funky design at first glance because while same-side toss plays with pulling lineman as lead blockers aren’t at all uncommon (State has ran them, in fact), I’ve never seen it off of GT Counter blocking. Your backside guard and tackle aren’t really in a position to get out ahead of a RB being tossed the ball. And to be clear, they don’t even initially try and get out on the edge. It looks like they’re trying to block for a QB keeper between the tackles, which would happen on Bash.
Arkansas nearly blows this play up, but Wright manages to pitch it out to Woody for a eight-yard gain. It wasn’t a play design that made much sense to me, but I first thought it to be some unique change-up meant to mess with the defenses’ eyes.
But then I saw a play later in the game that has me questioning if State even meant to do that. They get into the exact same formation, run the same motion, and toss the ball to Woody into the boundary off of GT Counter blocking. Except this time, it’s normal Toss Counter Bash. The pulling lineman are running opposite the toss exactly as the play is pretty much always run.
Is it possible MSU wanted to have these two nearly identical plays but switch up the direction of the OL blocking to screw with the defense? Maybe so. But I think I’m leaning that the OL actually had the call going the other direction in the clip above, and things just worked out. Which hey, that’s exactly how many of the best plays in football were discovered. Both the Veer and the Zone Read, plays that forever changed the game, happened by accident. What I presumed to be the mistake resulted in more yards than the “right way”.