Key plays of 2020 in the Big 12: K-State runs "slop" for Deuce Vaughn against Oklahoma

Ian Boyd

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The 2019 Oklahoma Sooners were really a revelation of the flexibility of Lincoln Riley and his staff. After years of blowing Big 12 opponents away with the best vertical passing game in the conference, they adjusted after losing Kyler Murray and adding in Jalen Hurts to start winning some games with a power run game and defense.

Jalen Hurts lead them down the stretch of the season with quarterback run game, accumulating 233 carries he turned into 1298 yards at 5.6 ypc (before removing sack yardage) and 20 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch revamped the Sooner approach with his "speed D" philosophy and they were able to stifle opposing offenses in the Red River Shootout against Texas and down the stretch against Baylor (twice) and Oklahoma State.

Then LSU absolutely took them apart.

One of LSU's devastating tactics in 2019 was a concept Joe Brady brought from Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints. They'd run the standard Y-stick passing play which Air Raid and pro-style teams alike have lived off of for years and add a backside slot option, or "slop" route. They'd also have have normal vertical route in the Y-stick concept be a slot fade rather than the outside receiver running a fade, which made the play a great way to take a shot on opponents before checking down to the option route connects (Y-stick and slop) underneath:

3x2 Stick-slop.jpg

As you can tell from a glance, if a typical two-high safety defense tries to line up in a normal alignment their two linebackers are matched up against option routes to either side of the formation. It's a tough assignment to cover a good option route from a skilled receiver, particularly with the H and Z receivers here clearing out the defensive backs with vertical routes.

LSU crushed Oklahoma simply by throwing to Justin Jefferson against the Sooners' overmatched nickel defenders, once on a slot fade opposite the Y-stick concept:


And the concept is so much richer and more varied than you even see in these two examples. At New Orleans the Saints often get Michael Thomas in the position where you see the R (for running back) running that weak side "slop" route. How is a weakside linebacker covering a guy like Michael Thomas on a quick-hitting option route? He isn't. Thomas is getting open for quick, easy gains on offense.

The LSU variations were particularly nasty because they were constantly attacking the structure of opposing defenses with vertical shots which could produce quick scores. However, this play is ultimately about spacing and matchups. Texas used it to great effect in the Colt McCoy era lining up Jordan Shipley as the "Y" receiver to run the stick route. If you have skilled, quick targets running option routes and you can align them there from 11 personnel, you can create serious problems.

Kansas State drudges up the past against Oklahoma

One of the early weapons Kansas State introduced in 2020 was their grad transfer tight end Briley Moore, who got immediate work as a flex target against Arkansas State in the season opener. A tight end who can flex out and run around AND shares a background with your quarterback is a good guy to work into your offense with option routes.

Kansas State did so with the obvious "Y-stick" combination and went to the concept against the Sooners. However, they also motioned out a freshman running back named Deuce Vaughn into the boundary slot alignment...


Notice how Oklahoma, protecting what appears to be a very safe 28-7 lead, rotate their field safety down to help bracket the stick route by Briley Moore, leaving Brian Asamoah to try and cover Vaughn on the weakside option. It goes very poorly.

Vaughn would catch four balls for 129 yards against the Sooners, sparking Kansas State's wild comeback victory. Future opponents took note, the weakside option to Vaughn was a threat...but it was difficult to stop. Scroll down in the link above and you'll see what I mean.

Teams like TCU and Texas who had athletic outside linebackers to match on a weakside option were worst off. Teams which recognized they had no prayer of covering Vaughn without sending help were the ones who escaped disaster.

Vaughn's capacity for abusing defenders with the "slop" and then turning quick windows into explosive gains was massive for Kansas State. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their starting quarterback missed most of the season and his back-up was unable to reliably throw down the field (even airmailed a slop against Baylor and got picked) in order to take advantage.

Making the most of Deuce Vaughn in 2021

The weakside option is effective because it's one of the last things a defense accounts for in defending an empty formation. Kansas State loses Briley Moore for next season, but they have other solid tight ends and it won't be hard to just flex them out into other alignments if there's another receiver on the team who runs the stick route better. You can see the Wildcats use this concept in the thread above with the tight end running a corner route on the weakside and one of their other receivers running the stick.

Opponents' problem will be in addressing the issue of Vaughn on the option routes, slop, stick, or anything else.


The much bigger issue for opposing defenses is Kansas State getting a full offseason with star receiver Malik Knowles back, Deuce Vaughn around all spring and summer, and quarterback Skylar Thompson back at the helm behind a better offensive line. It'll be child's play for the Wildcats to draw up a dozen formations and motions to move Vaughn into the slot where he can run quick-hitting option routes and defenses will have to adjust without giving up the ghost in covering anything else effectively.

For instance, let's say Kansas State lines up in a 2x2 formation with the tight end flexed out to the field but a dangerous receiver like Malik Knowles split to the boundary, but then they motion Deuce Vaughn to the field.

K-State 2x2 to 3x2 motion.jpg

Unless the defense had the nickel matched on Knowles (Z here), they were going to need the free safety to offer a lot of help over the top into the boundary. But now how are you covering Vaughn to the field? Bumping out the middle linebacker? Good luck. Spinning down the strong safety? Now what happens to the opposite edge against Knowles on the weakside linebacker?

Defenses will have to be very, very careful about how they deal with these different formations because the natural pairing for a running back in coverage is a linebacker and there isn't a linebacker in the Big 12 who can cover him on these routes. You can't just play dime either, Kansas State is still technically a power running team and both Vaughn and their quarterback can handle the ball in the run game.

Do you just drop eight any time you see Vaughn split out? Perhaps. But teams will be hard pressed because K-State can create these different formations by motion, forcing the defenses to recognize the threat and line up quickly.

Kansas State opened up a wide world of matchup-hunting concepts in space when they blew the game open against Oklahoma throwing a slop to Deuce Vaughn. They weren't fully able to capitalize in year one, but you'd better believe this will be a major issue in 2021 when Vaughn is a sophomore and established weapon working with a sixth year senior quarterback.
 

sherf1

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Given all these passes are pretty quick hitting, I would get a little wild with it and drop the DE closest to Vaughns to rob the inside throws, then keep the general structure of the back end the same. Could stumble into a pick or two as well if the QB doesn't see it.
 

Ian Boyd

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Given all these passes are pretty quick hitting, I would get a little wild with it and drop the DE closest to Vaughns to rob the inside throws, then keep the general structure of the back end the same. Could stumble into a pick or two as well if the QB doesn't see it.
West Virginia was dropping 8 or 9 at times against K-State.
 
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