With Clemson and Alabama set for a rematch in the National Championship game, I’ll be looking for two specific plays Clemson had success with in their win over Ohio State: the QB counter pitch and a unique jet sweep pitch. Let’s take a further look at each scheme.
QB Counter Pitch
The QB counter pitch is a natural evolution of the QB counter trey read, depicted below:
Instead of riding the QB/RB mesh point and reading the end man on the line of scrimmage, Clemson creates fast flow and misdirection with the QB’s first step and a fake pitch. As for the blocking, there are two pullers like counter trey read, but the Center and H-back pull instead of the Guard and Tackle. This makes the blocking scheme more like Counter OF, and is a better fit for the backfield action. Below, Clemson gets the middle Linebacker and play side Defensive End blocked without ever touching them because of the pitch action:
Smart football’s Chris Brown recently wrote an excellent piece on the evolution of the inverted veer, and included the toss read as a natural progression of the inverted veer’s power scheme and horizontal read. If a toss element could help the inverted veer evolve, it should also help QB counter trey read evolve as well. Although the QB counter pitch depicted above does not “read” any defender, I consider the play an evolution of the QB counter trey read because it accomplishes the same purpose; fast flow is created to influence linebackers one way, and the pitch action does the same thing as a read: it blocks defenders without ever touching them. Further, multiple pullers are pulling away from the flow. This is illustrated by Ohio State’s #5 and #59, seen below:
Both the QB counter trey read and various versions of the concept have caused Alabama defenses trouble in the past:
With that, Clemson will likely add some wrinkles for the National Championship game. The first adjustment the Alabama D can make to avoid Ohio State’s pitfalls is have Linebackers read their keys (pullers) instead of chasing backfield action (Ohio State LB #5). Next, Bama can have the Defensive End squeeze down, replace the H-back, and crash/bend hard to chase down the QB. The defense could protect the Defensive End’s hard bend and chase by inserting a strong safety to fill the gap (SS #7 in Ohio State play). If Alabama does this, Clemson could adjust by making the play a read with the same rules as QB Counter Trey Read; if the Defensive End crashes down and follows the pullers, pitch the ball. If the Defensive End feathers or expands with the pitch action, follow the pullers through the hole.
As a side note, both offenses have shown the toss read, and this chess match could occur with both offenses and defenses.
OFFSET RB JET RB PITCH
Clemson also burned Ohio State on a pitch play with an offset RB and jet sweep action the other way:
This play works for several reasons. First, Ohio State is in man coverage, causing the Cornerback to chase the WR’s jet motion across the formation, leaving the defense badly out leveraged by an offset RB. Next, although Clemson doesn’t block the Defensive End, they know Ohio State will squeeze and replace when an offensive lineman blocks down.
The high angle shows the scheme has even more nuance; after Clemson shifts, it motions the remaining player across the field. But this means the Right Tackle is eligible to catch a pass, and the Left Tight End is covered, making him ineligible:
Expect Clemson to have several plays off of this shift and motion. Nick Saban will make sure Alabama’s D recognizes the offset RB, the shift, and the motion. Alabama won’t chase the motion across the formation and leave the same leverage–they’ll check the coverage or trade off man responsibility. But Clemson could run several plays off of it. First, Clemson could replace the Right Tackle with another Tight End and try to catch Alabama off guard with a corner route.
Next, Clemson could simply hand the ball off on a jet sweep if Alabama overcompensates for the pitch going right. There are also a multitude of RPO (Run/Pass Options) coaches could draw up off of this action as well.
Look for these two concepts to appear at various points in the National Championship game, with each side making subtle adjustments in the chess match over the course of 4 quarters.