This weekend’s College Football games were some of the craziest in recent memory, with 4 of the top 6 teams losing. #2 Alabama lead #11 Ole Miss by 10 in the 4th quarter, but gave up 2 Touchdowns late to lose the game. Both of these Touchdowns came from Trips passing combinations. In fact, Trips combinations gave the ‘Bama defense trouble all day. The game tying touchdown came with just under 6 minutes to go from this Trips look, with the backside Wide Receiver running a comeback. On the Trips side, the outside WR runs a Deep Post, the middle WR runs an intermediate dig (10 and In), and the inside WR runs a “pivot” route, or a 5 and out with an open face turn. This picture is seen below for a 1st and 10 from the Alabama 34-yard line:
The focus throughout the play should be on the defenders circled in red: the Safety, Linebacker, and Nickelback. The Coverage is a unique pattern read coverage called 2-Blue Solo. I had originally though ‘Bama was playing Cover-5, but after further analysis of the Safeties, there is no doubt ‘Bama was in 2-Blue Solo. This coverage is somewhat like Cover 5 defense, which means 2 Safeties covering a “deep-half” of the field, and all underneath defenders playing man-to-man. The exceptions in 2-blue solo are subtle, but intricate: the two circled underneath defenders will “Pattern-Read.” This means they will play man to man, but will trade off men on certain route combinations. Here, #21 (the nickelback) will take any out-breaking routes, with the Linebacker taking anything inside. Based on Ole Miss’ route combo, the Nickelback should stay outside and the Linebacker should stay inside. Meanwhile the Safeties will play deep and mostly make it look like Cover 5 deep (1/2), but the Trips side (Strong Side) Safety will play “3-2”, meaning he will play a vertical route from the middle (#2) Receiver, while the 1 Receiver side Safety (Weak Side) Safety will play deep to wall off any vertical or deep cross from the inside, or #3 Wide Receiver. Below are the distinctions between basic Cover 5 and 2-blue solo:
In 2-Blue Solo, the Strong Side (trips) Safety is playing deep with his eyes on the inside and middle Receivers, or “3-2” (Black lines). Meanwhile, the weak side Safety (1 WR side) is playing deep but walling off deep vertical routes in the space between the safeties from Trips side.
As you’ll see below, when the Ole Miss Wide Receivers run their Pivot/Dig combination, the ‘Bama defenders trade on the pattern read, with the Nickelback (#21) matching outside, and the Linebacker matching inside:
The problem for Alabama occurs when the Linebacker doesn’t peel off his pattern-read quickly enough and sink under the dig, making himself out of position too far to the outside. From the position he is in, the dig will come wide open. The inside WR on the trips side (pivot route) has done his job by drawing the Linebacker towards him and opening the window behind. This causes the Deep-Half safety from the Trips side to peek the dig and take a half step up towards it:
This half step towards the dig route proves fatal: The Deep Safety is caught out of position and gives the QB a throwing lane for the post over the top. The Safety drives toward the dig as he is and is driving aggressively on routes from either the second or third WR.
This means the Man-to-Man Cornerback at the bottom of the screen will not have help over the top. In the end, the play comes down to a 1-on-1 matchup: Left completely on an island, he gets beat badly for a Touchdown on a Post, where the Wide Receiver gives a beautiful in-out-in move:
Here is the play with slow motion first, then standard speed, to see how the play unfolds with the Linebacker too far outside, the Safety cheating up, and the Cornerback getting beat:
While Alabama made mistakes on the play, give credit to Ole Miss: Great play design and selection by the coaching staff, and perfect execution by the Wide Receivers and a perfect throw by Bo Wallace. This play is another example of how Wide Receivers can affect plays without making the catch: The inside WR running the pivot route attracts the Linebacker toward him, opening the rest of the play. Finally, the play shows just how dangerous it can be to leave Cornerbacks on an island.