Key plays of 2020 in the Big 12: TCU outruns Oklahoma State

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
Ypsilanti, MI
There was a pretty fun and heated debate on Twitter dot com leading into the 2020 season regarding some of the Big 12's running quarterbacks. I was on team Spencer Sanders, arguing he was the most athletic and explosive running quarterback in the league and one of the finest the league had yet seen. Some TCU fans, including @FansOfCFB, argued passionately on behalf of Max Duggan.

I'm not sure we necessarily have the answer to which quarterback is the more explosive and athletic, I would say without much lingering reservation that Max Duggan is actually the more effective running quarterback. He has more wiggle and savvy for running between the tackles, which allowed TCU to run an extremely effective power-read/trap series this past season which they could run at a nose or 3-technique and spring Duggan for several long gains. Sanders may have the better long speed but it's negligible and it's not clear who can bounce runs more effectively.

When TCU and Oklahoma State met at the end of 2020, the game really turned on a pair of zone-read plays run by either squad for their quarterback in crucial moments of the game. You wouldn't look at these two plays as being indicative of which quarterback is the better runner though, the difference was in defensive end play by Oklahoma State and TCU's edge defenders.

The game turns

This game turned against TCU pretty early on and it's remarkable to catalog everything that went wrong for the Frogs and made a victory unlikely. Amongst the issues was an early fumble by Zach Evans on a GT counter play. The TCU offensive line in this game was not ideal, likely 2021 center Esteban Avila was forced into duty at right tackle and someone called Blake Hickey got the start at right guard.

They pulled the left side over for the GT counter and left guard John Lanz was submarined by Leo defensive end Brock Martin, who then picked himself up, saw Evans' put the ball on the ground, and went to scoop it and score.

TCU's right side wasn't to blame on this occasion. They were running into an Over G front, meaning the side they were running to had a B-gap nose tackle and then an outside player who'd be looking to step inside and spill the ball outside. However, left tackle T.J. Storment took a tight angle anticipating the left guard's kick-out block would seal a path for him to lead through. He needed to be ready to wrap and lead around the edge but instead he stumbled over the bodies and Evans ended up getting caught and then coughing the ball up. Evans probably had an opportunity to bounce the ball anyways but, as he was prone to doing at North Shore, instead he just ran directly behind his biggest tackle.

TCU would fumble the ball five times in this game. Fives times. Three different running backs fumbled, Duggan fumbled, and then they botched a mesh on a power-read play.

So early on, Oklahoma State was getting some game-changing play from their edge defender. Then disaster struck on a fourth and one when OSU was up 16-7 early in the third quarter. The Frogs had already picked up a few short-yardage plays and scored before the half lining up in an unbalanced 4x0 set and running quarterback stretch weak behind the running back's lead block. The Cowboys kept playing their nose weak, he'd be reached by center Coy McMillon, and Duggan could cut through the B-gap for the needed yardage. But TCU was barely stopped on third and three with the quarterback stretch concept and came back on fourth and one with a traditional zone-read "circle" play.

Zone-read "bluff" and "circle" are essentially just zone-read plays with the H-back serving as a lead blocker for the quarterback. On "bluff" the Y-back works across the formation like he would on split zone or zone "slice" but instead of blocking the defensive end he then gives him an "ole!" and goes around. "Circle" is the same concept but he doesn't work across the formation.

TCU motioned the Y-back (Carter Ware) just before the snap, I'm not entirely sure why but it definitely had the result of throwing off Oklahoma State's execution. The Cowboys mostly lined up in Under fronts in this game (nose and tight end on the same side) but here they started in Over and then didn't adjust to TCU's motion.

In an Over front, there's a 3-technique in the B-gap so when the defensive end outside of him sees the tackle blocking down he should know there's option coming his way and it's his job to contain the ball inside. If he had a nose inside of him in the A-gap he should be thinking "block down, step down" and responding to the tackle blocking down by stepping inside to stop the running back.

I think TCU just wanted to run zone at Oklahoma State's nose tackle, they had success throughout the game controlling him with the center and freeing up their guards to go pop the linebackers. However, Brock Martin dove inside and prevented the running back from taking advantage but only to give up a free edge for Max Duggan. The overhang safety gets blocked by Ware, the free safety misses the tackle, and then everyone else was playing up too close (cause it's fourth and one) to be able to chase him down.

All of a sudden it's 16-14 and Oklahoma State's major advantages in this game have them up by only two points with a lot of game time left.

Oklahoma State snatches defeat from the jaws of victory

So TCU fumbled five times in this game and also had a snafu where their return man fielded a kick-off on his own one yard line and then immediately stepped out of bounds. This error came on the heels of giving up a deep touchdown pass to Tylan Wallace which made it 22-21 Oklahoma State and put TCU in a terrible position.

They'd do even worse later in the fourth quarter though. Duggan took a zone-read with a sweeper instead of a lead blocker, got caught between the end and overhang, and fumbled the ball on his own 28-yard line. This gave Oklahoma State the ball on the TCU 26-yard line with the score 29-22 in favor of the Frogs and 3:30 left on the clock.

The Cowboys didn't make much of it though and ended up in third and nine where they decided to call their own zone-read bluff play.

You'll notice TCU has two nose tackles on this play, both tackles are in the B-gaps so either defensive end needs to be ready to step down and spill runs if he sees the tackle go inside. Oklahoma State runs zone-read with the fullback leading around the edge for Spencer Sanders and they are anticipating the end stepping inside. However, it all goes awry.

Khari Coleman plays this right, stepping inside to stop an easy cutback lane on the base zone play. Garrett Wallow gap exchanges with Coleman and goes outside, looking to force the ball back inside. This is imperative because the strong safety on the slot receiver is in man coverage and won't be there to bring timely run support, nor will free safety Trevon Moehrig who's about 17 yards off the ball within instants of the snap.

The Frogs send Dee Winters with the fullback and then are asking the weak safety to come up and play the B-gap behind him. A zone run could theoretically blast through the open B-gap before the weak safety (Ar'Darius Washington) can get there, but Coleman is stepping inside and technically in position to tackle the runner in the backfield before he can make the most of the opportunity.

TCU cloud-sky Tank stuffs OSU zone-bluff.jpg

The Frogs probably stop this play with their linebackers...probably. Wallow force the ball pretty effectively and Minters was johnny on the spot, it all came down to how effectively Coleman could stay square to the ball and force Sanders into a narrow lane running inside of his lead blocker.

Well Coleman did better than just forcing Sanders into a narrow lane but made the tackle himself, one of 15 tackles for loss by the true freshman on the season.

Oklahoma State failed to get a touchdown here despite the Frogs handing them a fantastic chance to steal the game back and 29-22 TCU would be the final score.

Off tackle fortune reversals

Oklahoma State appeared positioned to win this game early due to great play by their edge defenders off tackle. Besides the Brock Martin play on GT counter above, Trace Ford blew past a guard and stuffed a quarterback trap play and Tyler Lacy gave TCU some problems playing heavy as a 5-technique at other times. Yet ultimately TCU ran the ball 52 times for 236 yards at 4.5 ypc with three touchdowns while Oklahoma State's own run game managed 148 yards on 40 carries at 3.7 ypc with a single touchdown.

This was jarring when juxtaposed with the 2019 encounter between these two teams when TCU put on an absolute clinic in how not to defend these sorts of zone-option plays. I had an awful lot of examples at the time of TCU failing to master the "if there's a B-gap defender inside of me, contain, if not then play the dive" rules which should govern zone-option defense from a 4-2-5.

Unsurprisingly, TCU worked out how to play the option in the year off despite the pandemic concerns. Now they head into 2021 with their defensive ends returning and offering uniquely fantastic play on the concept. It wasn't just against Oklahoma State that Khari Coleman was able to play both the dive and the quarterback keeper on zone-read, he did the same to Texas and tackled Sam Ehlinger for a big loss and I bet I could find some other examples against TCU's other opponents.

Their own offense also returns Duggan, Zach Evans and a few other running backs, and lead blocker Carter Ware along with improved options along the offensive line. Oklahoma State will probably handle the concepts better next year as well so the rubber match of the Max Duggan vs Spencer Sanders series could be one for the ages.


Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
Great stuff. Coaches really out smart themselves some times. Why try to read the super athletic and undersized DE instead of setting your formation up to block him and read someone else?
  • Like
Reactions: bHero