A Tale of Two Wildcat Passes

While searching for a video clip of Marquis Maze’s wildcat pass being intercepted by LSU’s Eric Reid, I stumbled upon the same played being executed perfectly by Bama in 2010 vs. Florida.

Here are the two clips:


The two offensive plays are nearly identical and are being run against two defensive looks that are nearly identical.  Yet one play was a back breaking touchdown and the other a back breaking turnover.  Why the difference?  Let’s take a look.

First, some similarities…

1) Marquis Maze is in the wildcat both times for Bama.  As a former high school quarterback and as an elusive running threat that makes a lot of sense.

2) Against Florida, the Tide lined up from the 19 yard line and from the 29 against LSU.

3) Both plays involved the Bama quarterback lining up on the wide left as a decoy.  I would submit that AJ McCarron was a much better decoy, as well, versus Greg McElroy’s effort.

4) Both plays involved an unbalanced line to the left with a tight end covering the guard on the right side.  In both cases, right tackle D.J. Fluker lined up inside the left tackle and the left guard.

5) Both plays involved a receiver lined up on the right motioning to the left side.  DeAndrew White motioned in 2011 and Julio Jones in 2010.

6) Each time the defense lined up in a 4-3 with the safety about 7-8 yards off the ball.

But there were also some differences…

1) Both years the Tide’s H-back, Preston Dial in ’10 and Brad Smelley in ’11, line up behind the left side of the offensive line and run into the right flat when the ball is snapped.  Dial lines up closer to the line and behind the outside-most offensive lineman.  Smelley lines up deeper and a tad bit inside.  But here’s the biggest difference, Dial was hit by the left defensive end who attempted to alter Dial’s pattern; Smelley was came off of the line clean and was covered by left cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

2) The left defensive end – the one that let Smelley go by untouched – then crashed on Maze and altered his throw.  That end was Barkevious Mingo, a player with enough speed to put pressure on Maze.

3) In both plays, Bama has a receiver lined up on the left side on the line of scrimmage – Darius Hanks in ’10 and Brandon Gibson in ’11.  Hanks runs a skinny post and is wide open.  Gibson begins the play by being covered by Eric Reid and appears to break his skinny post off to a crossing route at about 10 yards.  More on this later…

4) Michael Williams lines up at tight end on the right side in both plays.  In ’10 he comes off the line cleanly and runs basically a flag route to the right corner of the end zone.  In ’11, though, an LSU linebacker shoves Williams, forcing his route to slightly altered.

5) LSU also defended the receiver in motion differently than Florida.  In ’10, Florida’s nickel back first commits to stopping a possible hand off to Julio Jones.  When the nickel back realizes Jones doesn’t have the ball, he pursues Tide wideout Hanks, who by that time is wide open.  In ’11, the Tiger nickel back is Eric Reid.  Yes, that Eric Reid.  Tiger safety Brandon Taylor was responsible for covering White, who had motioned from right to left and to whom a hand off had been faked.

6) Meanwhile, Reid is covering Gibson and because Williams has been shoved off of his route, Williams runs right into the area of Reid, who has been following Gibson’s broken-off route.  Reid shifts to Williams and makes an incredible play for the interception.

What if just one or so of the above had been just a bit differently?  For example…

1) If Mingo is even touched by Smelley, Hanks would have been able to step into his throw and make a better pass to Williams.

2) Did Gibson run the right route and if so, was the route run correctly?  How much difference did it make for Gibson to be in the game instead of Hanks?  If Gibson continues to go deep with the route, Reid would have had to stay with him and leave Williams uncovered.

3) If Williams had not been shoved off course – and into the path of Reid – he scores.

4) And finally, I can’t help but think that LSU would have had to account for Julio a little differently than they accounted for White.  The Tigers covered White with a safety at least eight yards off the ball.  Florida appeared to be using their nickel back to account for Jones.  (Of course, then Tiger safety Taylor may have been able to pick up Williams.)

But, like they say, football is a game of inches.  And back in November, LSU won just a few more of those inches.