The first half of the Rice football season is complete, but before we turn the page, we take one last look at the UAB game in this week’s film room.
It’s time for another edition of the Rice Football Film Room, as we head into a bye week coming off the Owls’ loss in a weird, waterlogged, lightning-delayed game against UAB at Legion Field. Just a couple plays this week, since we’ll have a separate column to look at UTSA next week.
I(-formation) Have the Power! (Toss)
I am so sorry for that heading.
Actually I’m not sorry at all. Anyway! This is Aston Walter’s long touchdown run from the first drive, giving us another example of what it looks like when everything goes to form for the Rice running game. The concept is the same as the power toss Rice ran for a Walter touchdown last week against LA Tech, but the look upfront is different. This shows how you can add variety to a running game just by tweaking formations and personnel but keeping the base concept the same.
It’s the game’s second play from scrimmage, after a one-yard Walter run. It’s 2nd and 9 at the Rice 36. Rice is in a 12-personnel I-formation (Brendan Suckley is the FB), with a wrinkle. Take a look at the ends of the line. That’s not Clay Servin at left tackle—it’s freshman TE Jack Bradley. It’s an unbalanced look, with Servin instead lined up at right tackle, with Justin Gooseberry kicking out to “tight end”*. UAB has 7 in the box to Rice’s 7 blockers, so the nickel DB (lined up on the seam as the “overhang” defender) could give UAB a numbers advantage in the run game here.
It’s power toss to the right, with LG Nick Leverett pulling and lead blocking for Walter and Suckley kicking out from his fullback spot to wall the nickel off outside and keep the gap open. With Leverett pulling and No. 14 for UAB, who was lined up outside Bradley, left unblocked, Rice neutralizes UAB’s numbers advantage and is able to get a hat on a hat to the play side.
It’s a slow enough developing play that Leverett can’t get to his man (he wraps around the TE, in this case Gooseberry, and blocks the first guy he sees, inside to out), the SAM linebacker, in time to seal him inside and keep the outside gap open. Instead, he walls him off to the sideline. Now let’s check a still here to see what Aston sees:
The biggest hole here is between Servin and center Brian Chaffin, but if Walter runs there, No. 12 for UAB is going to fill the gap and probably make the tackle for a short gain. Instead, Aston displays stellar vision by choosing the gap between Leverett and Gooseberry, which widens into a chasm as Gooseberry drives his man to the sideline. Walter’s through the hole in a flash, and the routes by Rozner and Austin Trammell have cleared out the DBs to the play side. Walter bends his run to the other side of the field and uses his speed to take it all the way to the house for an early Rice football lead.
It’s the beginning of the second quarter, with Rice still up 7-0. UAB has the ball 3rd and 10 on the Rice 46.
UAB is in a 10 personnel look, with two receivers to each side and the back to Tyler Johnston’s right. Rice is in dime personnel, with three down linemen and Blaze Alldredge and Anthony Ekpe lined up as off-ball linebackers. They’re showing a 1 high look, with Naeem Smith as the deep safety and George Nyakwol lined up just six yards off the ball. This could be a disguise for the coverage, but even before the snap Nyakwol is already moving towards the line, so it looks like this is going to be a single-high coverage.
It’s Cover 1 Man, with Smith deep and the other DBs playing man on their receivers. Ekpe, Alldredge, and Nyakwol are all blitzing. Ekpe and Alldredge exchange gaps as they close to the line, and the right guard chooses to let Nyakwol by and block Ekpe. This leaves the RB to block Nyakwol, and he manages to hit George just in time to knock him off his trajectory and give Johnston time to make a throw. If he’s a split second later (or if Johnston isn’t as poised), it’s a sack or an incompletion and Rice will have made the stop. But Johnston gets the ball out clean.
He’s looking for slot receiver Kendall Parham, who stems his route vertical before running a fade to the sideline. It’s nothing fancy, but Parham is blazing (pun intended, don’t @ me) fast and Prudy Calderon loses a step as he flips his hips to run with the receiver. Naeem Smith can’t get over the top of the route from the middle of the field (perhaps he initially stepped toward the slot WR from the other side, who fakes a post before breaking into a dig route, but it’s hard to tell from the broadcast view). It’s a well-thrown ball under pressure by Johnston, and a touchdown for UAB.
This play shows the high-risk/high-reward nature of both Rice’s defensive schemes, which require either the pressure to get home or the DBs to hold up in tight man coverage down the field. It also shows the same for UAB’s aggressive downfield passing; this one could have been intercepted if it had been underthrown (by Calderon) or late (by Smith). But this time it’s UAB that executes, and it’s a touchdown for the Blazers.
*Note that Gooseberry is not actually an eligible receiver on this play because he’s “covered up”—i.e., notice that to the top of the screen Brad Rozner is lined up on the line of scrimmage. Only players lined up in the backfield or as the end man on the line of scrimmage are eligible. An unbalanced look like this could be used for a trick play (a throw to the tackle in the end zone, perhaps), if Rozner just takes a step back off the line. Only time will tell if the Rice coaches love us enough to run such a glorious play. a
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