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When Ja’Quinden Jackson went down in the UIL 6A Division I semifinal, that was the deciding blow in the playoffs. Even with Zach Evans suspended, the North Shore Mustangs were too tough for Duncanville to overcome with Dematrius Davis running the show. The more interesting battles, especially for Texas fans, were in the quarterfinals and semifinals, where both Duncanville and North Shore faced blue chip quarterbacks with Texas commitments or offers in Lake Travis’ Hudson Card and Southlake Carroll’s Quinn Ewers.
I was able to find and breakdown the quarterfinal battle between Duncanville and Southlake Carroll and got a good glimpse at some incoming Texas signees as well as players of interest for upcoming recruiting classes. The level of talent in this game was truly unreal. I’m not going to make the classically dumb “Duncanville could contend with Kansas!” sort of argument, but both of these teams had as many or more blue chip recruits on their team than many a Big 12 squad.
Southlake Carroll had three blue chip rated starters while Duncanville fielded five players with 4-stars next to their name on the 247 profile page. Some of the lower rated players on the field were also quite good, for instance Utah got another in-state steal recruiting from Carroll’s defense.
The actual game was fascinating for watching how all the various players fit into their teams’ tactics and strategy but it wasn’t really particularly competitive. Duncanville scored essentially whenever they needed to and walked away with a 49-35 victory. Here’s what I observed from the matchup, which is not at all unlikely to repeated in coming playoffs.
A clash of styles
While I wouldn’t be surprised to see some tweaks in coming seasons as Chris Parsons takes over for Ja’Quinden Jackson, the 2018 and 2019 Duncanville Panthers were a spread Wing T kind of team. They ran a lot of power-read, power sweep, and gap schemes from what you could describe as a sort of 21 personnel spread set up featuring a blocking tight end and a running back/wide receiver hybrid in the slot to give them a three-headed spread rushing attack.
Here was their quarterback and five-man skill lineup:
JQJ’s power rushing production was absolutely insane in this system. He could run downhill on power runs or take the edge as the situation warranted. He also had efficient pass game production throwing the ball outside on RPOs or down the field on play-action. JQJ is extremely hard to tackle in a broom closet but when he hits a crease he can go and put people behind him. It’s honestly hard to think of another running quarterback with his combination of agility, speed, and power without mentioning Cam Newton.
Trysten Smith was a solid running back. He could run low and with power making him a tough guy to tackle for high school defenses and he was doing so as part of a system that threatened defenders with the ever-present threat of JQJ as well as their slot back.
The slot back or “Percy Harvin-type” was Roderick Daniels, who as you can see is currently slated to go to Baylor. Daniels landed a couple of haymakers on the Dragon defense in this game, once with a touchdown on a 4-verticals seam route that began with him lined up in the backfield as a running back. Then he managed another back-breaking play when he picked up 33 yards on a sweep that ran opposite D-Ville’s dreaded quarterback power sweep play.
They could run that sweep play a dozen different ways with one of Smith, Daniels, or JQJ threatening to hit the backside perimeter behind a lead blocker (tight end or running back) or running behind the pulling linemen off the opposite edge. Here’s the one that broke Daniels free late:
Now’s a good time to mention some other D-Ville Panthers of interest in this game:
If you’re confused reading that table you should be, Duncanville’s 2019 team (and 2020 team for that matter) boasted three players that will be recruited as offensive tackles that are likely to rank as 4-star prospects. They moved 2018’s starting left tackle Savion Byrd to nose tackle in order to maintain their defensive prowess and simply plugged in Jaylen Early and spectacularly massive sophomore Cameron Williams in at the tackle spots. All of their sweep plays tended to pull D2 center Cesar Santos and one of those tackles around an edge with the other tackle blocking down. Just a brutal set up to defend for any defense.
When they did have JQJ throw on RPOs he was accurate but tended to lock in early and if he didn’t like what he saw after the snap he’d just pull the ball down and take off. The offensive line was run blocking anyways and this guy was extremely hard to bring down for a loss between his ability to sidestep tacklers and his downhill power. When he dropped back on play-action their tackles would give him hours to throw, which made it easier to pull shenanigans like having Roderick Daniels run up the seam on 4-verticals from running back.
The Southlake Carroll offense was very different. They didn’t base around gap schemes, although they did regularly mix in power-read in fashions designed to get their running back to the edge, but instead had an offense similar to Texas’ system. Here was their quarterback and skill man lineup:
It’s best to think of College Station-bound tight end Blake Smith as being like one of Texas’ current tight ends. He spent as much time flexed out running routes as he did blocking from an inline or H-back position. They also would regularly move big slot Willis Meyer in as a wing/tight end so they could run single, double, and zero tight end formations without substituting.
If you’ve ever seen the old Todd Dodge Dragon teams from yester-decade, this unit is pretty different. Those teams would play 10 personnel all the time. We’ll have to wait and see now that Smith is graduating whether they remain more of a Lake Travis-style pro-spread team or get back to mixing Air Raid and spread-option football. I’m guessing the former but they’ve been evolving since Riley Dodge arrived. In his first year they emphasized current SMU running back TJ McDaniel, who ran for 2062 yards while their senior quarterback made 284 pass attempts.
They do still run a considerable amount of zone-read with some outside zone-read and duo mixed in as well. There was an uneven nature to the 2019 Dragon roster which is more obvious when you get a look at their other D1 prospects that didn’t play skill positions:
The 2019 Dragons had Power 5 prospects at both tackle positions and tight end blocking for a true freshman running back and sophomore quarterback. To revisit the earlier point, you could field a two-deep of 4-star offensive tackles from these two teams. Texas and Oklahoma are the only schools in the Big 12 with a former four-star prospect on their two-deep at tackle and the Longhorns’ former blue chip is Tyler Johnson.
Despite their talent and experience on the edge of the box, because of SLC’s veteran receivers and Quinn Ewers’ ability to hit them on comebacks and vertical routes outside at the numbers, defenses had to play some coverages you don’t always see in the high school game. The Dragons would mix in RPOs to receivers opposite the back, which most college teams don’t even attempt because of the way the quarterback has to turn usually spoils the timing and accuracy of the play. If you cheated against the run, they gave Ewers a few ways to make you pay. Owen Allen had one of the best set-ups of any back in the country.
Allen ran the ball 26 times in this game for 115 yards at 4.4 ypc with a pair of touchdowns while Ewers flung the ball 52 times for 393 yards at 7.6 ypa with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. While the run game picked up steady gains, the real explosive damage came throwing the football and very frequently on 4-vertical concepts with tagged routes. Ewers hit a number of comebacks outside to his receivers (think of the play that Texas Tech beat Texas on with Michael Crabtree in 2008) and hit a slot up the seam for a touchdown late in the game.
There wasn’t a ton of variety to the SLC passing game but there didn’t really need to be with all the ways they could run 4-verticals to pick on matchups. Ewers hit the tight end hot vs a blitz a couple of times, hit the slot for a touchdown, and hit his outside receivers multiple times on comebacks. They weren’t able to control the game (mostly because D-Ville scored so often) or regularly hit explosive gains like the D-Ville run game but it was a very difficult set up to stop.
They almost stole the game late, despite failing to get key stops in the 4th quarter on defense, because Ewers landed some big throws in the passing game and they successfully executed an onside kick.
One of the main reasons that D-Ville won this game was Ennis Rakestraw, who broke up multiple passes and made the left side of the field a no-fly zone for much of the game. He had at least three pass break-ups and a few of them were nearly interceptions that went back the other way. SLC’s Brady Boyd caught 11 balls for 132 yards and a score but they had to move him into the slot for some of those targets. When he beat Rakestraw, it was typically on a comeback route or when Ewers was scrambling for time and Boyd found open grass to run back towards his quarterback.
Ewers had to show some of his improvisational skills on a few occasions in this game, even though his left tackle Andrej Karic completely dominated the various ends and blitzes that Duncanville sent his way. The Panthers were still able to heat up Ewers a few times either by beating Rochester on the right side or with well-timed nickel blitzes that were picked up by the understandably inexperienced Allen.
The Dragon defense was up against it and their two P5 players Graham Faloona and RJ Mickens couldn’t fill up every crack that the Panthers made with their run game. Faloona played inspired football and ran down JQJ on the perimeter during one of those power sweep plays for a fourth down stop and took a heavy stiff-arm bringing him down again on another play.
Clemson recruit RJ Mickens had a quiet day of playing over the top as a field safety trying to stop explosive plays to Daniels while freeing up the sam linebacker underneath him to try and crash the party off the edge against the run. Nothing in that formula added up right for the Dragons.
Essentially the cornerbacks played the Duncanville receivers on islands to free up the other nine defenders to key Daniels and the run game and they were beat both with a few over the top bombs to the receivers as well as in the run game.
Ultimately the SLC senior defensive line in their 4-2-5 couldn’t control the game against D-Ville’s absurdly large and talented offensive line, and they couldn’t make up for it with aggressive linebacker play. The Dragons were also caught a few times with their eyes in the wrong places against Duncanville’s sweep plays, which vary the angles and don’t pull the guards to give obvious cues to the linebackers. I’m not even sure what linebackers need to key in order to stop those plays, I’ve yet to see a high school defense that could stop that concept. We’ve only seen D-Ville get outscored when JQJ was playing. They were never stopped.
Takeaways for Texas
Based on HUDL film I was pretty bullish on Karic as a starting tackle, potentially even a left tackle, then I softened after reading that he was closer to 6-4 with limited reach than 6-5. After seeing him over a full game dominating the point of attack in protection and in the run game I’m bullish once more. He’s athletic enough that I’m not sure if it matters whether he has NFL measurables and he’s definitely at least 6-4. Karic looks a little bigger than his private coach Donald Hawkins, who played left tackle very capably at Texas before measuring 6-4 with 32 ¾” arms at his Texas pro day (and going undrafted). Herb Hand is bringing in athletes that will make it hard to win a starting left tackle job but Karic is going to make a good player somewhere if not the blind side.
I’m not sure what Texas is going to do with Ja’Quinden Jackson. He’s got a long ways to go in order to execute the Mike Yurcich passing game but he can throw the ball with range and accuracy when he has room to step into his throws and a clear read. They could get him going early as a goal line package player if they want to take a few hits off (and touchdowns away) from Sam Ehlinger and JQJ would have increased value in that role in future seasons when Ehlinger is gone. Even that important task feels like a waste of a brilliant power runner though. There’s enough there that you hate to rule out quarterback but he’s also the kind of guy you’d rather see on the field as soon as possible. His career will be one to watch.
It’s a real loss for the Longhorns that Ennis Rakestraw chose Missouri and I doubt Jahdae Barron makes up for it. Rakestraw’s frame and strength are not maxed out and he stuck to good receivers like glue in the playoffs. We’ll need to check back on Omari Abhor when he’s an upperclassman and not going up against an elite senior athlete at tackle. Karic made him look ordinary.
All three of Duncanville’s blue chip offensive lineman prospects look worthy of Texas attention. They aren’t getting a lot of work in pass protection and the defenses they face are totally overmatched by the athleticism and multiple threats, it’s sort of akin to watching the Oklahoma offense but with less passing (or when Hurts was starting). At any rate, they all project as mauling guards if tackle doesn’t work out. Gifted and large athletes the trio of them. Savion Byrd made a strong nose tackle while protecting D-Ville’s transition from losing the starting D-line that limited Zach Evans in the 2018 State Final. I’ll be curious to see if they move him back to offense next season and if so which guy plays guard.
Finally there’s Quinn Ewers, who will end up being the most sought after prospect of the day. Sophomore quarterback film is typically very different from junior and senior film. The jump to varsity football in the 6A Metroplex in particular is considerable. The Dragons set him up in this game with a pro-spread tempo attack and a relatively short list of passing concepts with a lot of options on each play for him to utilize. His ability to move his eyes and find targets is pretty solid now as a sophomore with plenty of room to grow. The throws he can whip around the field are better than you’ll see from the vast majority of quarterbacks. Normally high school, and even college quarterbacks with this kind of arm strength take a while to make quicker progressions because they can get away with needing to see it before they throw it. Ewers is a lot closer to getting the timing right than your typical cannon-armed prospect and when he’s locked in on a guy he throws comebacks with NFL-level anticipation.
If you can recall what Garrett Gilbert’s high school film looked like and can dispel the bad memories from the 2010 season from your mind, that’s sorta what Ewers looks like at this point. He can hit targets deep and outside, he can throw on the run, and he’s accurate. Should Texas sign him they’ll want to put him on the Trevor Lawrence path.
The Clemson Tigers run a pro-spread offense with a tight end and emphasized RPOs and play-action during Lawrence’s freshman year after benching Kelly Bryant while getting their young signal caller up to speed in the drop back game. Then when they faced Notre Dame and Alabama he was ready and they unleashed hell and now always have that dimension to turn to when needed. Ewers is running a similar offense at SLC and will be on a similar timeline in college. If you get a chance to watch the rematch of this contest in future seasons, take it.