When Texas either strongly targets or signs a quarterback, I like to deep dive into his high school film. There’s obviously only so much you can tell from watching highlights, after all. You can see movement skill and some of where a player is at in terms of fitting into a scheme and team concept but it’s a very partial picture. With other positions I don’t worry about that as much, but quarterback is such a cerebral position that I want as close a look as I can get.
The telltale signs of either greatness or weakness are usually there to be seen from watching full, competitive games where a young signal-caller is in charge of executing a gameplan. With Jerrod Heard I noted that when he couldn’t run against Georgetown in his junior year state title, he panicked a little. Then Denton Guyer mixed things up, got him more running room, and he was taking off and roasting the Eagles once more. I didn’t make too much of it at the time but it was apparent even then that Heard wanted to beat opponents with his legs and wasn’t comfortable using his arm when the going got tough.
When I watched Cam Rising’s Newbury Park Panthers take on Westlake (not that one, a California Westlake) I got to see what skills the Longhorn commit likes to rely on when the going gets tough. And things got tough in that game with the Westlake Warriors building a 34-14 lead in their first drive after halftime before ending a Newbury Park drive near the goal line with an interception.
Rising rebounded from that turnover (incidentally, not his fault) to lead his Panthers to a 43-40 comeback victory in which he had 437 total yards and three touchdowns. Here’s what I gleaned about the young signal-caller from this comeback.
The Newbury Park Panther offense
I couldn’t help but be a little disgusted with the Panther offense, which pales in comparison to the collegiate or Texas HS offenses I’m used to watching in terms of versatility and complexity. It’s important when you’re trying to break down a QB’s command of his own squad’s system to note the strategy and calls made by the defense. A defensive coordinator’s calls don’t lie and will reveal what exactly he thinks of an offense and the Westlake DC had the Panthers pegged pretty dang well.
Here was how the Warriors’ defended the Panthers’ two basic formations (2×2 and 3×1):
Westlake would show shallow safeties and outside linebackers minding the slot receivers before the snap but those safeties were always bailing deep down the hash marks in cover 2 just before the snap and the OLBs were always blitzing to form a 46-style defensive front.
That left the inside linebackers and corners in charge of handling anything quick and underneath and was essentially an invitation to Newbury Park to pick them apart with standard spread-option tactics.
Initially it seemed like the Panthers were going to punish them for this in typical spread-option fashion, by combining bubble screen options to their inside runs…yet something was off.
That is a fake RPO (run/pass option) or a predetermined option. Rising isn’t reading anything, he was never going to throw that ball. Newbury Park is sending WRs on routes rather than asking them to block with the intention that running off coverage defenders will have the same effect as blocking them. You can see that the post-snap read is clear as day, a quick bubble, stick route, or slant to either of the two slots would have been like picking up free money but the Panthers leave the cash on the sidewalk in a spectacularly generous fashion.
I’m pretty sure that Westlake understood Newbury Park’s offense featured predetermined reads and they were loading up to stop the much greater threat posed by Rising’s Panthers, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
In the second half, after seeing this same basic defensive structure on play after play, the Panthers tried to finally exploit all the space on the perimeter and threw the bubble screen. But did they throw it off a run? No…they called for play-action and a predetermined throw on the bubble instead, which tells us they don’t practice RPOs in their offense.
Rising does his part, the throw is on time and leads the WR to where the space should be, but the whole execution of the play is slow and transparent and despite the initially massive amount of space the Panthers have to work in Westlake closes on the ball and limits the damage to a three yard gain.
Earlier in the game they called a typical “spacing” concept that a normal passing team would use to punish a team for trying to cover so much grass with just the corners and a pair of inside-backers.
The footwork isn’t that great here from Cam, he makes the read but then isn’t at balance to deliver a particularly good ball. Nevertheless, he hit his guy in the hands and the ball is dropped. Later in the game they called the same play and the ball went imprecisely to the back shoulder (again) and was then volleyball set to the defense (this is the INT I referenced above).
Rising threw three interceptions in this game, two were a result of rocket throws that caromed off his own receiver’s hands, the other was primarily the result of bad WR spacing.
Suffice to say, Rising’s offense was incompetent in spread-option 101. They weren’t good in the quick game and they couldn’t punish teams horizontally despite Rising’s ability to throw rocket passes to most quadrants of the field.
Yet they still won this game and they did it the way Westlake feared they would.
The Cam Rising offense
The Panthers big comeback was largely fueled by getting into an empty (3×2) formation and mixing deep shots with scrambles and draws from Rising.
You can see some of the “4-star” tools on display in this shot that Rising lands up the seam:
Against the 3×2 set the Warriors were a little nervous about pushing their luck trying to cover all the underneath routes with just four defenders and so they’d call this drop eight coverage to try and take away the passing windows. They don’t seem quite as comfortable in it but that’s still quite the throw Rising makes, and he made it two more times consecutively on the same call (the second for another huge gain, the third dropped in the end zone).
That’s a rather narrow window he’s fitting the ball into, beating a respectable drop by a linebacker (Cameron Trimble, went to UC Davis) who made a lot of plays in this game. The Panthers are working a switch combo on the boundary and then a “Levels” pattern to the field. Rising sees the safeties dropping deep down the hash marks as they had been and then reads the middle linebacker for the window to hit the dig route between the safeties.
After that, the Warriors started bringing the blitzes back and Rising had to manufacture the next few drives by throwing comebacks and taking it himself on scrambles and draws. He finished the next drive with a scramble that flashes his potential in a QB run game at the collegiate level:
He’s not terribly quick laterally but he can get the job done if you don’t respect him as a keeper threat on the edge. His real strength is running with suddenness and toughness when taking the ball straight ahead on draws and presumably power-read keepers. You gotta like the way he sets up his blocker on this play before blasting through the resulting crease. Knowing how to patiently set up blockers before powering through the hole was what made Collin Klein a Heisman finalist and now the QB coach for Kansas State, it’s a very valuable skill.
So the Panther offense was basically built around deep shots and scrambles with Rising either taking the top off, throwing a comeback, or calling his own number and scrambling for whatever was available. Lining up in five-wide essentially proved their calling card and how they won this game.
The combination of Rising scrambles, solid blitz pickup by the Panther OL, and tired legs from the Warriors eventually ground their pass-rush to mush and made them incapable of stopping Rising on the final three drives. He essentially overpowered them.
So how does this translate to college? Or the Herman offense?
Rising has a ton to learn before he’d be ready to take over at Texas and it’s hard to see him leap-frogging guys like Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele who were taking AP classes in high school to get their spread QB 101 credits before entering college. In fact, classmate Casey Thompson will probably start out ahead of him as well.
However, Rising has demonstrated that he can read safety rotations and defender leverage before throwing a strike and he can do so when throwing to windows down the field, which is harder than doing so on short routes so his upside is ultimately pretty high. It’ll simply be a matter of learning the reads and footwork to attack underneath in the quick game and with pass options, which may take longer than impatient fans would like but it should come with time. If you gave Rising a redshirt and then two more years as an understudy with Phil Montgomery, Dino Babers, or Sterlin Gilbert he could probably become a 5k yard passer in the Veer and Shoot offense.
In Herman’s offense his cannon arm presents some interesting possibilities once he masters the quick game/spread-option concepts and mechanics. In this game against Westlake he was regularly reading and executing the “flood” concept Buechele was working in the spring game, the smash/seam combo, and obviously the “Levels” play so he’s familiar with today’s typical pass game combos. Strangely enough, he’s just better and more comfortable with the vertical and more challenging concepts than the horizontal stuff.
That kind of vertical passing element can be even more devastating than a quick game when paired with a run game so there’s a positive prognosis of a good fit here. This could be an opportunity down the road for Herman to build on what he was doing with Cardale Jones in the 2014 playoff run that resulted in a national championship.
In the meantime, hopefully Newbury Park diversifies their offense in 2017 so that Rising will get more repetitions in attacking the perimeter. His team is returning the right side of their OL and just one of his WRs so the senior film should be interesting.