X’s and O’s

Nick Scoliard’s column X’s and O’s is back. This week Nick looks at two key offensive plays from Northwestern’s Gator Bowl victory.

After the longest bowl drought in NCAA history, the Wildcats captured their first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl. In one of their more impressive performances of the season, the Wildcats were able to dominate the Bulldogs both offensively and defensively, and did not choke in the fourth quarter like so many games in the past. These Cardiac ‘Cats might have finally shed that nickname, and it was all due to some great play calling and execution. This week, I’m going to go through 2 key offensive plays, and next week, I’ll breakdown 2 defensive plays that changed the game for Northwestern’s favor. First, we start off with Siemian’s 34 yard completion to Dan Vitale that set up a go-ahead touchdown:
(Offensive assignments are in purple, defensive assignments are in red)


After three quick scores in the first quarter, the Wildcats went up 13-0. As the Bulldogs bounced back, the Wildcats’ offense sputtered, leading to 2 INTs and 3 punts. After the Bulldogs tied it up with a field goal, McCall decided to send Siemian out one the field to kick start the offense. After two incomplete passes, Siemian strung together 3 completions for 73 yards. The last one, shown above, set up a Tyris Jones run to put the Wildcats up 7 in the middle of the third. The Wildcats come out in Shotgun formation, three receivers to the right, Jones to the left, and Tyris Jones in the backfield next to Siemian. The Bulldogs line up in Cover 2 with Nickel coverage. The play call will look familiar to any fan of Madden as it’s one of the best plays in the game (and my personal favorite): Four Verticals. The theory behind four verticals is simple: Send out four receivers deep, and target the player in one on one. When defenses play Cover 2 or 3 (which means there are 2 or 3 deep safeties respectively), there are mathematically not enough safeties to double all the receivers, so as long as the receivers have space, there will be a one-on-one matchup. McCall calls a great play to exploit the Bulldogs’ Cover 2, and Vitale is the lucky man who’s one-on-one with his defender. The top safety, Nickoe Whitley is confused before the snap and goes to double Jones. The bottom safety, Jay Hughes, then looks to cover Fields’ deep crossing route, which leaves Lawrence and Vitale one on one with the entire right side of the field. Vitale easily beats his man, Zachary Jackson, to get open downfield. Siemian lofts his throw a little too high, and it would have been a touchdown if he hit Vitale in stride, but Vitale reaches up and makes a beautiful play on the ball.

Vitale2 (1)


Thanks to Four Verticals and Vitale’s nice grab, the Wildcats were able to get back the lead and never give it back. They cemented their lead even more on their next touchdown.


After Siemian’s earlier drive, the Wildcat’s defense was able to stop the Bulldogs twice, but Siemian threw an interception on their first possession. On their second possession, Siemian and Colter kept switching off to drive the ‘Cats down to the 4 yard line. After a 31 yard Colter rush, Siemian came out in the shotgun with Trumpy in the backfield. The Bulldogs were in goal line man coverage, with 5 on the line and 3 on the offensive right. Riley goes in motion before the snap, showing the defense more that the play would become a run with Trumpy to the left. Since Siemian was in, the Bulldogs assumed that they wouldn’t run an option, so they didn’t need to spy on Siemian. The ball is snapped, and it looks as if Trumpy runs right into a wall of defenders.


The defense assumes Trumpy has the ball and attacks him. Even the defensive end, barely a yard away from Siemian, dives for Trumpy’s feet before he realizes that Siemian held onto the ball. Instead Siemian runs to the right, and with help from Vitale’s block, trots into the endzone.


What happened was McCall finally used the criticism of his offensive play calling and made the Bulldogs pay. Everyone knew when Colter was in, it would most likely be an option. When Siemian was in, it would be a run with the running back or a pass. Here, he uses that assumption to free up Siemian. The defense even had a backside defender, Nickoe Whitley, intended to stop Trumpy if he made a cut to the backside. Yet Whitney gets whirled around by Siemian and falls right down. Vitale also had a monster block on Darius Slay to give Siemian a wide open lane. The play calling took the Bulldogs off guard and made it easy for Siemian to put the ‘Cats up by 2 touchdowns. The Wildcats were able to retain the lead, and win their first bowl games. These plays show how their offensive scheme catapulted them to their historic victory. Next week, I’ll look into the defensive plays that turned the game towards Northwestern (I’ll give you a hint it starts with Q and ends in uentin Williams’ Interception).


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