Rice Football went 1-0 last week, topping Middle Tennessee behind a fantastic offensive performance, highlighted in this week’s film room.
Hey everybody, and welcome back to the Rice Football Film Room. Sure feels good to be coming off a win, doesn’t it? So in honor of Rice’s best offensive performance of the year (even if almost all of it was in the first half), we’ll focus on that side of the ball this week.
It’s late in the first quarter, with Rice holding a 3-0 lead. The Owls have the ball at the MTSU 30. They’re in the I-formation with 21 personnel (presumably—the camera angle is too tight to see the receiver to the top but I’m guessing it’s Trammell) with Brendan Suckley as the fullback. Aston Walter is the running back and Jaeger Bull is the inline tight end to the left.
MTSU is in a base 4-3 look with two deep safeties. The boundary corner (remember, the short side is the “boundary”, the wide side is the “field”) is showing press coverage on Bradley Rozner, who is the wide receiver to that side.
MTSU brings five rushers, with the weakside linebacker blitzing. Both backs stay in for Rice. So even with Bull running a stick route the Owls have numbers in pass protection and manage keep Tom Stewart clean.
Rozner stutter steps at the line, preventing the corner from jamming him and getting a clean outside release. From there, he runs a simple go route (or “fly route” or “streak” or whatever you prefer—football coaches have an annoyingly large number of terms for “run straight down the field toward the end zone”). With the free safety stepping up (I assume he has responsibility for one of the backs if they leak out on a delayed screen to his side), there’s no help over the top. Stewart just lofts the ball into the end zone.
From there it’s all on Bradley, who as always, does an excellent job of boxing out like a power forward and coming down with the ball. An MTSU fan watching this play might be screaming for a push-off, and Rozner does extend his arms a little bit to gain separation. But there’s enough contact both ways that I think it’s a good no-call.
We’ve talked a lot lately (here and on the podcast and in numerous other pieces on the site) about the ways Rice is modifying the offense to get more points. But they’re not going to abandon Bloomgren’s base principles entirely, and this play archetype (draw defenders into the box with heavy personnel, throw over the top to big/athletic receivers in single coverage) was working perfectly for the Owls on Saturday. The other two of Rozner’s TDs, while using different formations and personnel groups (the second, for instance, was out of a two-back shotgun spread set with three receivers), were just variations on the same principle.
Walter to the House
It’s late in the first half and Rice is now clinging to a three-point lead after MTSU clawed its way back from a 17-0 deficit. Rice has the ball 2nd-and-4 from about the MTSU 34. They’re in 22 personnel: Suckley and Walter are the backs again, and Bull and Jordan Myers are the TEs, both lined up inline to the right (Rozner is the single receiver, his feet visible way up at the top). MTSU responds with an appropriately loaded box, with nine guys within seven yards of the line of scrimmage and in or just outside the tackle box.
This looks like the power toss play that we’ve highlighted (both here and on the podcast) before, but it would more appropriately be called a toss sweep, I think. “Power” runs involve a backside guard pulling. The puller on this play is actually Brian Chaffin, who at RG is the frontside guard.
Some sweep plays involve pulling both guards, but LG Nick Leverett is instead sliding inside to take the 1-tech DT, who knifes into the space vacated by C Shea Baker (who climbs the second level right away). It’s a good job by Leverett, too; if he doesn’t get that block the 1-tech probably catches Walter in the backfield, but he manages to redirect the bull rush and shove him out of the play.
Anyway, the run is well-blocked to the playside, but with the strong safety charging hard Rice doesn’t have a numbers advantage, even with Suckley as a lead blocker and Chaffin on the kick-out block executing perfectly. Bull and Myers do a great job sealing the edge as well, which gives Walter two gaps he can work with. When the safety choose to plug the outermost gap (and gets caught in the wash of Suckley’s block), Walter showcases his excellent vision and cuts back inside, slipping between Suckley and Myers.
Now the free safety is in position to make the tackle, but Walter again shows off his vision and savvy. He’s got more green grass to the near side of the field, but he can see the FS has an angle on him to make the play that way. So he cuts back the other way through a tighter window, using the safety’s momentum against him and slipping free into the open field for the score. It’s not even a particularly violent cut—Aston doesn’t have the short-area explosiveness that, say, Juma Otoviano does—but he makes it at just the right time to catch the safety completely off-guard. It’s a really excellent piece of running.
Sealing the Win
Two minutes to go. Two MTSU timeouts. 3rd-and-11. A three-point lead and the offense has done almost nothing the whole second half. It’s big boy time, y’all.
Rice is in 12 personnel, a two-back shotgun look. Walter and Charlie Booker are to either side of Stewart. Rozner is wide to the boundary. Jaeger Bull is in the slot. Austin Trammell is split so wide to the field that you can only barely see him enter the play at the end of the gif. MTSU’s in a three-man front with two stand-up edge defenders, a single off-ball LB, and five DBs (two deep safeties).
Now here’s one we haven’t broken down before: it’s outside zone! And an uncommon variation, too: you don’t see a lot of two-back shotgun outside zone. Again, I’m not the person to break down the minutiae of blocking schemes, but essentially, in outside zone, the whole line flows one way toward the sideline and the running back follows, looking for a crease to cut through. Like I said, there’s usually not a second back, but here he acts as a lead blocker to help keep the playside edge defender from sealing the edge.
Here, the playside edge guy manages to get upfield pretty far before Clay Servin and Booker can seal him off, so right away Walter knows he’s going to have to cut the run inside. As it happens, the hole opens up (and it’s not a big one!) between Chaffin and RT Justin Gooseberry. Walter shows outstanding vision to see the crease developing—based on the angle of his head there it must have been at the very edges of his peripheral vision—and he stops on a dime and explodes upfield.
He’s into the secondary in a flash. Two MTSU DBs maybe have a chance of stopping him just short of the marker, but one is erased by a beautiful downfield block by Bull and the other simply doesn’t have the angle to counter Walter’s speed.
First down. MTSU does get the ball back, but even a backyard lateral play can’t save them, and Rice football gets its first win of the season!