Inside the Play: Toledo’s Offense

Or: How one player can catch 20 passes in a game.

The Situation(s)
In Round 1, Toledo trails Michigan by 3 in the 3rd quarter. The Rockets are driving for the chance to take a lead, but they are already well within field goal range. They have a 2nd-and-10 from the Michigan 21. Their strategy: move the ball down the field with short, easy passes.

In Round 2, the game is now tied at 10 late in the third. The Rockets are now driving for the opportunity to take the lead. They have a 1st-and-10 from their own 21. The Rockets decide to stick with what has been working: the short passing game.

The Personnel and Formation(s)
On both plays, the Rockets are in a 3-wide, 2-tight end formation. In the first situation, Michigan counters with their Okie package. In the second, they are in a standard 4-3, but the personnel is spread wide. Since he’s the player we’re focusing on, each Toledo formation has Nick Moore to the twins side, though he is in the slot in round 1 and out wide in the second play.

The Play(s)

In both situations, Toledo keeps each tight end for a max protect. In both situations, Toledo runs a simple combo route that takes advantage of what they presume to be soft coverage of one form or another.

In situation 1, it is a hitch-flat combo that takes advantage of man coverage with a huge cushion provided on Moore by Brandon Harrison.

In the second situation, it is a slant-flat combo that takes advantage of cover-2 defense by Michigan and infamously terrible pass coverage by John Thompson.

Why They Worked

These are good reads by Opelt against predictably vanilla defenses. In the first one, he sees that the cushion is large enough to guarantee that Moore will get about 5 yards. In the second, Thompson follows the flat receiver into Trent’s zone (so pin this play on him), and then Brown’s pursuit angle is lacking somewhat. This is a case of being outschemed (due to lack of effort) and John Thompson just kinda sucking.

It was clear by this point that Moore was the #1 option on essentially every play, and Michigan’s scheme should have been catered slightly more to slowing him down (and John Thompson should have realized his error before it happened). Marell Evans must be really far behind, because it would be hard to play worse than Thompson, at least in coverage.

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