Against Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, there was one particular drive which, perhaps as well as any drive the Rebels had this past season, exemplified how and why Hugh Freeze's hurry up, no huddle, spread option offense can be effective if run properly. It took just five plays, spanned 48 yards, and ate up a mere 71 seconds of gametime, and resulted in a touchdown that gave the Rebels a two score lead midway through the second quarter.
During this drive, the Rebs were in a hurry up situation, and did not even need to huddle because, get this, they ran the exact same play for the entirety of the drive. No, seriously, it was literally the same play, run five times in a row, and Pitt was unable to stop it due to the quickness with which the offense set up, the good decisions made by quarterback Bo Wallace, and the execution of all eleven Rebels on the field.
A Youtube video of this drive can be found here (really, it's a video of the entire BBVA Compass Bowl, but by clicking that link you'll start the video out with Pitt kicking off with 7:13 to play in the second quarter).
A poorly drawn diagram of what's going on in literally every offensive play we ran from scrimmage during this drive is right here:
Breaking it down a bit:
- Vince Sanders on a five yard hitch route
- Bo Wallace on an outside run option
- Ferbia Allen as a blocker and, perhaps, as a safety valve type of option from his tight end spot
- Randall Mackey on an inside run option
- Ja-Mes Logan on a swing route
- Donte Moncrief on a go route
Here's how the drive worked, play-by-play:
- First and foremost, this drive started with fantastic field position after Jaylon Walton returned the Pitt kickoff to the Panther 48 yard line. Hell, if he wasn't slowed down by the Panther kicker - who, to his credit, contained Walton to the point that he was able to be caught from behind - he'd have taken it to the house. Damn good effort and blocking on behalf of the return team.
- 1st and 10, Pitt 48 - Thanks to the camerawork and direction of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, you won't get to see the team get set up and hike the ball for this drive's first play, but they do, and Bo opts to hand the ball to Randall Mackey who follows his blockers to an eight yard gain on the left hash mark. In a read option offense, the offensive line usually blocks in the direction that the halfback will go, regardless of the personnel on defense. The quarterback then reads the defense (SWIDT?), typically an unblocked defensive end or outside linebacker, and based on whether he contains or crashes inside will opt to hand it off or keep it, respectively. The end stayed home on this play, meaning that Randall Mackey got the handoff behind a line blocking specifically for him and at an advantage (because, remember, the end played contain). Ball in tow, Mackey wiggled through the line and scampered forward for eight yards.
- 2nd and 2, Pitt 40 - Setting the ball and snapping it almost right away, Wallace zips a pass out to Vincent Sanders who, because of ball placement, is along the sideline (remember this element of ball placement, because it will come into play later). For much of the game, Pitt's corners were giving Sanders and, especially, Moncrief a big cushion off of the line, favoring the surrender of short passes and routes against deeper ones. Exploiting this, Sanders gets the quick pass and gets knocked down along the sideline, gaining four yards and the first down.
- 1st and 10, at Pitt 36 - Lining up and snapping the ball quickly again in the exact formation and with the exact same personnel, Wallace sees the defensive end crash inside to stuff an anticipated Mackey run, giving him the green light to keep the ball, scoot to the outside, and dash up field for 13 yards. Ferbia Allen, playing an H back role, broke into the second level to serve as a blocker for Wallace, but was actually outrun by his quarterback who, after getting the first down, slammed into a Panther safety. Had Ferb not been so timid as a blocker and Wallace so aggressive a runner, it could have conceivably been an even greater gain.
- 1st and 10, Pitt 23 - Pitt ran a cover two out of a 4-3 defense for much of the game. This means that slot receivers, such as Ja-Mes Logan, are either going to be covered by an outside linebacker or a safety. Logan was lined up in the slot on the same side of the field as Donte Moncrief, meaning that the safety for that half of the defense was not going to cover him, lest Pitt give Moncrief space to work one-on-one against a cornerback (something no sane Big-East-transitioning-to-ACC team would do). Some coaches call this having a safety "on top" or "over the top," and Moncrief saw it a lot this year. Anyway, this left Pitt's outside linebacker to cover Logan. On this play, the 'backer was in the box, presumably to guard against the run, leaving Logan open to easily catch a swing pass and gain five yards before the linebacker and safety were going to catch him. Moncrief, by the way, showed his value as a blocker on this play, effectively neutralizing the cornerback assigned to him once Logan had the ball.
- 2nd and 5, Pitt 18 - Remember how Sanders' earlier catch came when the ball was snapped on the left hash, meaning he was backed up against the sideline when he caught it? Well after Wallace's run and Logan's catch, the ball was now on the right hash. This means that, instead of having a small patch of field to work with, Sanders would have something like a third of the field to his back when he made the catch. Again, the corner was giving him a significant cushion, leaving him open five yards or so in front of the line of scrimmage. Bo went back to Sanders on this play, but instead of Sanders simply making the catch and taking a hit, he made the catch, stiff armed the corner coming in to tackle him, and spun to the outside. At this point, it was a footrace to the endzone between Sanders and a safety. Sanders won. Touchdown, Ole Miss.
An extra point later, and it's 21-7 Rebels. In just over one minute of play, Ole Miss moved halfway down the field and into the endzone, snapping the ball five times while running the same exact play without a huddle. To the casual viewer, it looked like a complex set of playcalls, each building off of the prior and carefully thought out in advance, but it wasn't. Seriously, just go watch it. The same players are all in the same position when the ball is set. Every receiver runs the same route on each snap. The line makes the same set of blocks. What makes this offense successful then has less to do with its complexity (admittedly, when looking at this, it's difficult to describe what's going on as "complex" at all) and much more to do with the decisions made by the defense, the decisions made by Bo Wallace, and the general execution of the play by everyone involved. On this drive, Pitt was largely caught off guard and out of position; Wallace made decisions with the ball that took advantage of this; and the Rebel line, backs, and receivers made virtually no mistakes in carrying out their responsibilities. When these three things coalesce, Hugh Freeze can literally call the same play five times in a row and turn it into a touchdown.