BYU’s performance against Michigan State this last weekend was their most complete victory as a team this season. In addition to the defense getting off the field on third down and the special teams avoiding any errors, the offense was able to move the ball with consistency.
One of the main reasons the Cougars were able to have success on offense was their ability to convert on third down, as they were able to succeed 10 times out of their 16 opportunities. Our film study today will focus on one of those conversions that came through the air on longer down and distance. Before we break it down, let’s watch the play in real time.
In this first shot, we see that there is some pre-snap motion with Mitchell Juergens running out to the left side of the field. As he runs out that direction we see the Michigan State cornerback follow him across the field. This motion is built into the play to give Taysom an idea as to what kind of defense the Spartans are running. The fact that this defensive back is tracking Juergens as he shifts, gives Taysom a good indication that the defense is playing man coverage.
After the motion and Mitchell gets set, we’re able to see the exact setup for each side of the ball. For BYU, Taysom is lined up in the shotgun with Squally Canada lined up to his left. Moroni Laulu-Pututau in the lone receiver on the right side of the formation and three other receivers are setup on the left side, with Colby Pearson and Jonah Trinnaman stacked in the slot and Juergens split out wide. Considering the down and distance, this is most likely a passing situation so BYU is set up accordingly.
Michigan State counters with 3-3-5 defense (three down lineman, three linebackers, five defensive backs) with two of their linebackers cheating up towards the line of scrimmage, either showing or bluffing a blitz. Based on the motion by Juergens and what the Spartan secondary is showing here, they’re most likely going to play cover 1 (man-to-man defense). As we see in the yellow circles, each BYU receiver has as MSU defender playing tight to the line of scrimmage. We can also see that they are most likely going to drop a linebacker and safety into coverage as well, as indicated by the blue circles.
Most of these 3rd-and-long situations have troubled BYU earlier this season, particularly when the opposing defense plays tight man coverage.
At the snap of the ball, Taysom takes a straight drop and we see the offensive line (with the help of Squally on the left edge) do a good job setting up nice pocket. The MSU defense brought four players initially and it looks as if the linebacker circled in red is coming on a delayed blitz. This shouldn’t be an issue as the Cougars have six players at home to pass protect against the five players MSU has rushing.
In the secondary, we see that Michigan State is indeed playing man coverage as each receiver has a DB playing them tight. The only player we don’t see in this shot is Moroni at the bottom of the screen. It doesn’t look as if Taysom will even consider him at this point as his eyes are fixed on the right side of the field. This shouldn’t hurt Taysom too much as there are three options for him to throw to on this side of the field but it does allow the safety and linebacker to cheat in that direction.
In this next shot, we start to see how the receiver’s routes are starting to develop. Juergens (closest to the sideline) and Pearson (on the left hash) look to be running deep routes to clear out the defensive secondary to give space to Jonah Trinnaman who is cutting his route off right a the first down marker. He makes a great cut as evidenced by the amount of space that he has created between him and #7. The linebacker in the middle of the field sees Taysom throwing in that direction and starts to make a break for it. If Trinnaman were to break inside he might have a play, but this is a great design by Ty Detmer and Jonah is headed toward the sideline.
While everything looks great in the secondary there has been a little bit of a mix-up in pass protection. Squally Canada was tasked with staying home to help with pass protection but instead of getting in the way of the linebacker he completely whiffs. (Not to pick on Squally but this isn’t a strong part of his game yet. If he wants to get more playing time he needs to learn from Jamaal Williams who is FANTASTIC in pass protection). So while the rest of the line has done a great job in pass protection, there is a linebacker who has a clear path to Taysom.
It’s a good thing that this play develops rather quickly because we can see in the next frame that Taysom gets drilled by the linebacker who comes in untouched. Hill does a good job standing tall and delivering a strike in the face of pressure.
One more small thing to note is the fact that Trinnaman has given himself space beyond the first down marker. Sometimes when players break their route off right at the line they have to step up to catch a pass leaving them short of the marker. Jonah has about a yard and a half of space beyond the line, ensuring that if he catches the ball he will get that first down.
As the ball heads toward Trinnaman, we can see him start to go down to the ground to catch the ball. Taysom has done a good job placing this ball low and away from the defender in only a space where Jonah can catch it. Taysom has had some trouble this year with his accuracy, particularly with balls that are too high. In this case, it’s better to miss low. Jonah does a good job going to the ground to prioritize the catch, as opposed to trying to stay upright and catch the ball to run for more yards after the fact. (Former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta would do this on a regular basis. Instead of trying to make a spectacular catch and then run for more, he would prioritize catching the ball by putting himself in a position lower to the ground to ensure he caught the pass.)
Here we see that Jonah has caught the ball, well beyond the first down marker, prompting the official to motion to the rest of the chain gang to get a move on. You know it’s going to be a good day when you see those holding the sticks always on the move.
The play was executed exactly how it was drawn up, aside from the missed block from Squally. The rest of the offensive line did a good job in pass protection and the receivers ran great routes to get Jonah open. If BYU can continue to execute on this level, they should continue to see progress in the offense.
Check out previous posts of VTF Film Study here: