Gameplan: Sarkisian RPOs, throws to the running backs, and the right defense for 2021

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Don’t get too excited, I just have a couple of Sarkisian clinic clips to pass along, mostly from @All22_Breakdown on Twitter.

Let’s start with another Sark RPO scheme, the counter:

So many of these Sark RPOs are really fundamentally the same. You attach the ideal quick pass based on the coverages and leverage you’re getting on the perimeter to the ideal inside run based on the front you’re getting. Then you make the defense wrong.

The way the concept looks on some of these clips it appears to occasionally be a pre-snap read for the quarterback based on a particular defender, usually an overhang (curl-flat defender outside of the box like a nickel or boundary safety). If the defender is aligned tight in the box before the snap, Mac Jones is throwing all the way, especially from the pistol where he has to turn his back to the defense. In the shotgun clips he can read the defender while putting the ball in the running back’s belly and then decide a little later in the process whether to hand off or pull the ball and throw the glance or out.

Counter is a really useful scheme for 11 personnel teams like Alabama or Texas because, as I’ve noted repeatedly on this website for a few years now, the blocking duty for the tight end is much easier. He’s pulling behind a guard (sometimes a tackle) who takes on the difficult block off tackle. Then he’s just leading to clear a path behind whatever the guard is able to make of the situation. Typically that means either doubling a troublesome defensive end to prevent a tackle for loss or else leading to pick off a linebacker or safety. This is important because if your tight ends are versatile players with a lot of savvy playing in space and running routes flexed out, but perhaps aren’t war dogs in the box, you can still run a gap/power scheme without requiring them to be All-Big 12 caliber fullbacks.

Moving along…

The clip begins with Sark talking about how Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones are different in how they read defenses and make decisions on the field and consequently how he adjusts his play-calling and system to suit their preferred process. Then he starts talking a little about everyone’s favorite play, mesh-sit, and how Alabama uses it a lot when teams try to play man coverage. To their credit, Texas ran it a fair amount as well but probably not enough for the taste of everyone on here.

Finally, Sark gets to the gospel truth about the modern passing game I’ve been trying to argue for years now:

Throw. The. Ball. To. The. Running. Back.

Modern defenses make the running back the last guy they account for in their pass defense, which is why both running back routes out of the backfield AND empty formations can be so destructive to the structure of a defense. Alabama made good use of Najee Harris over the last two years as a receiver and I’ve also seen Sarkisian line up a good receiver in the backfield just to have him run a little check down/option route on a helpless linebacker. Chris Klieman and his staff at Kansas State are good at these tricks as well. Bijan Robinson, Keaontay Ingram, and Roschon Johnson combined for 34 catches for 350 yards and four touchdowns this season. Najee Harris had 36 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns, I think there will be some easy alignment from Stan Drayton and Sarkisian on the running backs’ involvement in the offense this season and there’s some room for growth.


A quick note on the DC hires and talk.

Texas can go one of two routes in 2021. They can be a true 3-man front and perhaps play with an extra linebacker (3-3-5) who helps them to bring some four and five-man pressures from different angles, or they can remain a 4-man front and either struggle to be particularly good or else bring in a transfer to boost the edge-rushing.

I could be wrong after a promising spring, but I’m simply not a believer in the current cast of defensive ends on campus to be worthy of playing next to Alfred Collins on the edge and maximizing the potential of this defense. I think someone like David Gbenda playing off the ball and regularly coming off Collins’ right or left is more likely to be effective than having the fourth rusher come from a mostly fixed point on Collins’ outside hip. I’d say it’s more plausible Collins or Broughton could be a James Lynch type and rush the edge effectively from a 3-man front while allowing Texas to drop more bodies into coverage than Texas finding a traditional edge rusher good enough to justify playing a 4-man front and sacrificing the ability to get more speed and versatility in the defensive backfield.

The transfer rules and portal for 2021 are such it’s possible Texas could find a worthy edge rusher in there who’d feast playing with these tremendous defensive linemen who’ve been assembled. Just take note of the fact most of the teams who’ve been playing for the Big 12 Championship in recent seasons are able to get pressure with a three-man rush. It’s the ultimate path to erasing the space Big 12 offenses need to thrive in.

History major, football theorist.