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X’s and O’s

In this week’s X’s and O’s, WNUR’s Nick Scoliard breaks down Dan Vitale’s 41-yard reception that set up Northwestern’s game-winning field goal.

Xs and Os: Beating the Tampa 2

In Northwestern’s last real game of the season (Illinois, rivalries only exist when both teams have a chance), Northwestern came out of the gate and played…OK. The defense did what it had to do, keeping the Spartans to 8 for 17 on 3rd downs and got 2 interceptions, one for a touchdown. The offense only gained 303 yards total, 246 passing (the Wildcats can pass?), and a dismal 57 rushing. It’s hard to realize how important Colter and Mark are until you see this game. Siemian, however, came in to help the ailing offense, going 13 for 23 with 165 yds. While he didn’t score any TDs, he set up Budzien for the winning FG with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter. A key play on that drive was his 41 yard completion to Dan Vitale, which after closer inspection, was a designed Tampa 2 killer.
(Purple represents Northwestern assignments, black represents opponent assignments, and receiver’s names are listed)

Michigan State here is in a Tampa 2 formation. I’m not sure if they base their defense on the Tampa 2, but this is definitely a play from Tony Dungy’s playbook. Basically, a Tampa 2 zone is a Cover 2/Cover 3 hybrid. There are two deep safeties, two corners, and 3 linebackers and 4 linemen. The middle linebacker reads the play, and drops back to deep coverage if it’s a pass. The outside linebackers and the corners cover the short field with evenly spaced zones. It’s a good hybrid to defend against both run and pass plays. However, the Wildcats came out in a Shotgun 5 WR set. On such an obvious pass play, a Cover 3 would have been better, but the Spartans couldn’t change their personnel on the field because the Wildcats were running the no-huddle. McCall calls the perfect play to exploit the personnel on the field, which is basically a Tampa 2 killer. First, T. Jones and Lawrence run curls on the sidelines, taking away the flat zones and opening up lanes for Vitale and Trumpy, who run corner routes. Christian Jones runs a drag, taking the middle linebacker with him. The top safety stays on Trumpy, but the bottom safety, Kurtis Drummond, for some reason plays on the Spartan’s 40, maybe thinking Christian Jones would cut to the endzone. Drummond seems to be trying to play both C. Jones and Vitale, which is never a good idea in a deep zone, especially because Vitale and C. Jones were very far apart. The corner on the bottom, Darqueze Dennard, should be playing closer to Vitale, but gets caught up with T. Jones. Basically, this leaves Vitale with a great window between Drummond and Dennard. The corner routes are the hardest for the Tampa 2 to defend because of how the zones are spaced, especially if multiple guys are sent to the endzone. Vitale or Trumpy were probably the go to guys in this situation, as the Jones’ and Lawrence were just trying to open lanes for them. It works here for Vitale, and gets a nice completion off it.

The play was a great demonstration of how the fast-paced Wildcat’s offense can create mismatches to exploit. Even on an obvious passing play, there weren’t enough defensive backs on the field to really keep up with receivers. Having to go in a Tampa 2 zone instead of having another safety caused an open lane for Vitale, and set up the winning FG for the Wildcats. After games against Nebraska and Michigan where the Wildcat’s lost even after playing extremely well for most of the game, it was nice seeing the Wildcats win late after playing subpar. While it wasn’t the statement game many hoped for, it was a win to right the ship that seemed to be sinking last week. Next week, the Wildcats host Illinois in the “much-hyped rivalry” to close out the season.

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