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Auburn Football Film School: The Inverted Veer Shreds LSU

One play in particular led Auburn to a dominant rushing performance against LSU in 2010. Let's see how it worked.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The inverted veer, or dash read or power read, was not invented by Gus Malzahn. The first quarterback to run it was not Cam Newton. According to the research of Chris Brown of Smart Football, it may have been then TCU offensive coordinator Justin Fuente and quarterback Andy Dalton that may have brought the play to college football in 2009. The TCU staff may have "stolen" it from someone else, but no team used the play like Auburn in 2010.

Inverted Veer Design Chris Brown

The concept of the inverted veer is a simple one. The quarterback reads the unblocked End Man On the Line (EMOL). If he stays at home, the QB hands off to the RB (or possibly a jet motion player, this was one of Auburn's modifications of it in 2013 with Nick Marshall and Ricardo Louis). If the EMOL comes upfield, the QB runs past him upfield.

The Setup

The LSU game was far from the first time Auburn ran the play all season. It had been successful against South Carolina (Cam's most famous run to this point, a 56-yard romp that ended with a 7-yard Superman dive into the endzone came on inverted veer). It had been very successful against Arkansas as well. But LSU struggled to defend it most of the afternoon. For the most part, LSU forced Newton to keep the ball all afternoon. Perhaps their thinking was that no one could run that often against their defense without breaking down by the fourth quarter. Even with Mario Fannin as the running back, a talented player but not the fastest and quite fumble-prone, LSU preferred to let Cam beat them. And with 11:25 remaining in the 3rd quarter of a tie game, he did.

Newton's keeper here became his Heisman moment. College football hadn't seen this combination of speed, power, and athleticism at the quarterback position. There had been running quarterbacks before, sure. But a quarterback that could be the core of your inside running game? That gave Auburn an offense that became one of the most productive in college football history.

But Newton's Heisman moment isn't what I want to break down. Other than solid blocking against LSU's front 7, it's mostly just Cam being Cam. This was, to quote Uncle Verne Lundquist, "a young man living up to his athletic potential". This was the proverbial "Jimmie's and Joe's" more than "X's and O's". I bring up this play, to bring up the play that gave Auburn the lead for good. A play that took 11 players performing their tasks perfectly.

We start with Auburn taking over possession after an LSU punt (which was preceded by a devastating Nick Fairley sack of Jordan Jefferson I might add) at their own 10 yard line. On first down, Auburn ran inverted veer with 3 WRs to the left of the formation from the right hashmark. Newton kept the ball, broke into the LSU secondary and cut right. Newton gained 15 yards before he was knocked down at the Auburn 26. On the second play of the drive, Michael Dyer gained 4 yards on a buck sweep, setting up 2nd and 6 with just under 5 and a half minutes to go in the game.

The Video

The Breakdown

A key to Gus Malzahn's offensive philosophy, and in truth many other play designers, is running the same play from several different formations. Cam's signature run in the 3rd quarter came on inverted veer from "20" personnel. Eric Smith was lined up as an H-Back, and Mario Fannin was in the backfield with Newton before the snap. On the first play of this drive and the play in question, Auburn ran inverted veer from a spread look. At first, Auburn shows 5 WR, but Onterio McCalebb motions into the backfield before the snap (one AU player is not pictured; WR Terrell Zachary is wide to left of the formation). The spread personnel has LSU in a nickel look, which gives Auburn a 7vs6 advantage in the box.

Let's break down some of the key components. Auburn will be running this play to the wide side of the field. Lavar Edwards, #89, is the man that will be unblocked. Auburn's left tackle, Lee Ziemba, will bypass him and attack the linebacker farthest from him. Emory Blake, the inside-most receiver, will "crack" the other linebacker, #11 Kelvin Sheppard. Right guard Byron Isom will pull to his left and lead through a potential hole. It is then on Newton to make the right read.

This is an end zone view. Blake's job is to react to where the linebacker and safety go. If Sheppard stays in the box, it must mean Cam has kept the ball, and Isom will pick him up, and Blake will attack the safety. If Sheppard comes outside, Blake must wall him off to provide a lane for McCalebb.

It looks like LSU is finally tired of Cam beating them. Edwards pinches inside to cut off Cam's running lane. To be honest, this may even be a called handoff. Either way, Isom simply rolls Edwards into the rest of the line. That eliminates him. The bigger problem for LSU is that their linebackers both have their eyes in the backfield, and Blake and Ziemba are about the wall them off of this play. Barely a second into this play, LSU's entire front 6 has been effectively eliminated.

Here's where it is on McCalebb to make one man miss. The idea behind read plays is that it forces a defense to play 11v11, rather than ignore the QB and play 11v10. LSU's safety has reacted well to the sweep. A good angle and tackle should at least force a 3rd and short. A bad angle or tackle could really put LSU in a bind.

That's a very, very bad angle. McCalebb plants his foot and darts upfield. He needed to make one man miss. Job done.

One of the most important features of a sweep is the blocking on the perimeter. Wide receivers don't have to be great blockers. They have to be effective blockers. Blake has made an effective block. He has slowed Sheppard down enough that Sheppard can't catch McCalebb after he makes his cut. Burns and Zachary have made great blocks. Burns has locked up Tyrann Mathieu and driven him outside the numbers. Zachary has driven Morris Claiborne to the ground. I don't know how far off of Zachary Claiborne was playing, but Zachary kept him out of the frame until McCalebb flies by as Claiborne goes to the ground.

Sheppard can't get close enough, and McCalebb is too fast. Claiborne can only grasp at air as he flies by. LSU's backside safety isn't fast enough. Patrick Peterson actually closes the gap towards the goalline, but makes maybe the smartest play he can. If he reaches McCalebb and manages to push him out-of-bounds at the 1, then Auburn runs another 25 seconds off of the clock, Newton crashes into the endzone, and LSU would have 25 fewer seconds with which to mount a comeback.

The Aftermath

Nick Fairley's devastating third down sack that setup up Auburn's TD drive took Jordan Jefferson out of the game. With Jarrett Lee at the helm, LSU went 4-and-out, including a completely disastrous 4th down play in which they originally lined up with only 10 men on the field...after a timeout. Never change Les. Never ever change.

Auburn took over with 3:20 left in the game. Cam Newton ran 5 times, gaining 9, 2, 4, 0, and 11 yards. The first of those gave him 200 yards rushing for the game. He would finish with 28 carries for 217 yards, but it was the handoff to McCalebb, picking up 70 of his 84 yards on 4 carries, that won the game.