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A Lane Kiffin exhibit from the art of play calling gallery

We’re bringing back a play from the Peach Bowl to show you how to call plays in the moment.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Ole Miss v Penn State Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

If you’re curious as to why I’m dipping back into tales of the Peach Bowl and suspect it’s because I want to once again remind everyone Ole Miss won the Peach Bowl and 11 games, while also filling the void until the next dose of recruiting news, I say to you YEP AND YEP.

Though it is those things, it’s also an opportunity to show an example of an artist showcasing his craft on the fly. The artist here being Lane Kiffin, and the craft being play calling guaranteed to torch a defensive call.

When you listen to opposing coaches talk about Kiffin, they always make it a point to say what a great play caller he is. Essentially, his ability to look at defenses (on film and in real time) and understand how to outright punish them or put them in conflict.*

*Meaning, he asks a defense questions, but they have no right answers. Whatever they choose, the offense wins on some level, whether it’s an 8-yard gain or a 25-yard gain.

Having watched a Kiffin offense operate for four seasons now, we know how good it can be, which reinforces everything opposing coaches say about him. But what does that flex look like in real time?

To answer that, let’s recall a play from the Peach Bowl, which was featured here in a breakdown I did two weeks ago. Specifically, Jaxson Dart’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Quinshon Judkins (Vaya con the Backwards Fitteds) that pushed Ole Miss’ lead to two scores late in the third quarter.

After an incomplete pass to Dayton Wade on second down (a pretty sick throw Wade couldn’t bring down for a tough catch), Ole Miss had a third and 9 from the 14.

Dart has the offense ready to go, and they’re about to run a play. Penn State shows an all-out, seven-man pressure and Cover 0 behind it. That means no safety help for anyone and man coverage across the field.

Ole Miss only has six players (five offensive linemen and Judkins) who can block the seven, which is not ideal. Before Dart goes ahead with whatever the call is, the Ole Miss sideline gets his attention.

In the bottom left corner, you see one of the staffers in the colored hoodies (purple, red/orange, and yellow; those guys always signal in the plays) yelling at him because Kiffin has checked to something else (Kiffin is to the right of the staffer in the yellow hoodie and, right before this screenshot, speaks into the headset).

Dart holds up the play, as he and Judkins, along with all the receivers, look to the sideline while the three staffers in hoodies signal in the new call.

As an aside, Kiffin has said, in his offense, the offensive line never looks to the sideline. It’s on the quarterback to let them know the play.

But let’s go back to the original formation. Here’s where they were lined up and where they moved. Judkins moves up a yard, as if he’s cutting down the distance in pass protection, and Cayden Lee gets wider, while everyone else holds their spots.

As we now know, while the other receivers ran routes, this was always a 100 percent throw to Judkins, who slipped through the B gap (between right guard and tackle), making it hard for the defense to realize he was not staying in pass protection.

There was no hesitation from Dart because he knew it was a touchdown from the start. All he had to do was gather the ball and get rid of it into a giant throwing window.

Obviously, I wasn’t patched in on the headset (OR WAS I), but my suspicion is Kiffin saw this look from Penn State on film and knew exactly what he was going to call if they showed it, or it’s an automatic check for him when he gets all-out pressure against that 3 x 1 set (three receivers to the field, one to the boundary). Either that or he was REALLY locked in to a play in the Pop-Tarts Bowl (RIP mascot) between Kansas State and NC State.

(Note the running back there didn’t go through the B gap. Kansas State slid their protection to the left, so he bailed outside the right tackle. And the Wildcats were also in a 3 x 1 set.)

There are obviously other examples (trying to value my time though!), but that third-quarter touchdown showcases a great play caller, through his preparation, recognizing an opportunity in real time and punishing the defense accordingly.