X’s and O’s: Northwestern versus Syracuse
WNUR’s Nick Scoliard breaks down the tape behind Trevor Siemian’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Tony Jones and Dean Lowry’s interception as the Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Syracuse Orange 48-27.
Last Saturday, the Wildcats decimated the Syracuse Orange, defeating them by a score of 48-27. However, the game was not even as close as the score shows, as the ‘Cats were able to outplay Syracuse in every facet of the game. Here, I go through an offensive play leading to a nice long touchdown, and a defensive interception that really put the nail in the orange coffin.
First, the 47 yard TD to Tony Jones (Northwestern assignments in purple, Orange assignments in orange surprisingly enough)
Coming into the 4th quarter, the ‘Cats were up 34 -13. Not much had happened since the start of the 2nd half, as the only score for either team in the 3rd quarter was a Syracuse touchdown. But that all changed on the 2nd play of the final quarter. Northwestern lined up in a basic formation – 2 receivers to each side with a RB by the QB. Syracuse, however, is in a weird formation, meant to confuse the Wildcat offense. It starts with the various right side defenders rushing back and forth from the line, disguising who is blitzing. It almost leads to an encroachment penalty as one ‘Cuse defender has to fall backwards to avoid an encroachment. The Northwestern coaching staff noticed the blitzing, and called a new play to the offense. Immediately, Vitale motions away from the blitzers and Green’s duties become blitz pickup. As the ball is snapped, Tony Jones is left with a one on one with an entire half of the field. His defender is ten yards away, and is not pressing him at all. Meanwhile, Vitale, Lawrence, and Christian Jones flood the other half of the field, taking the 2 Orange safeties with them. This leaves Tony and a Syracuse defender, with half the field to work with. Tony does what any fast receiver worth his salt would do – he out runs the defender to get wide open with no one in front of him. Which leads to…
A 10 yard gap to his closest man defender, and 15 yards to the endzone. Siemian’s throw hits Tony in stride, and he waltzes into the endzone for a touchdown.
Now, Syracuse gets the ball back, but they’re very generous in giving it back to the Wildcats.
Syracuse here calls for 2 screen passes – one on the left side, and one on the right. Most people would think the right side screen would be smarter – they have more field space to run, less defenders, and more blocking from wide receivers. However, without even looking at the right side, Allen hikes it and immediately throws to his left side screen. This leads to an interception because of the kind of play the Wildcats are running, called a zone blitz. Most blitzes, like the one shown on the Tony Jones touchdown try to rush the QB with numbers. Rush 5 or more guys, and the offensive line will be overwhelmed, and someone will slip through. This requires a man defense behind the blitzers because there aren’t enough men to defend in zone. A zone blitz works by using space and organization. It tends to only rush 3 or 4, while maintaining zone coverage in the back. They do this by attacking certain points of the line or using blitzers in ways that sneak them into the backfield. Usually, it plays on the facts they know about the offensive lineman they’re playing: if a guy always steps forward to block, he would be unable to turn around and help the other side in time for a defender to sneak through. The zone coverage also confuses the quarterback, who expected a man blitz, leading to more time for the rushers to come in and attack the QB. The zone blitz is an excellent attack, especially on short yardage throws and screens. Oftentimes, especially in the 4-3, a defensive lineman will step back and take a zone, confusing the QB even more. That’s exactly what Dean Lowry does, as he steps back to get in his zone, and is awarded a badly placed football.
If the ‘Cats continue to react to their opponents in this way, and execute like this, then this season might be even better than the last.