Welcome back to Part 2 of our discussion of Jeff Grimes and his "Reliable, Violent Offense". In Part 1, we looked at the base concept of the RVO, the wide zone. In Part 2, we're going to look at the play-action game and the other concepts that complement the wide zone and make up the rest of the offense. I'm not going to go into every single concept I've seen Baylor run because this article would have to be broken into like three or four more parts. I'm going to start with the play-action concepts and then get into the complementary plays, which will primarily focus on the role of the fly sweep and fly sweep motion (which was already discussed some in Part 1).
Play-Action Passes and Screens
Baylor's play-action passes off of their wide zone concept are fairly standard, so I won't go into too much detail about the concepts themselves and focus more on the way they're presented from different looks, which fits with the offense's ethos of running the same plays over and over with new window dressing for the defense.The two main types of concepts Baylor uses in its play-action game are flood concepts (generally off of bootleg action) and shot posts (primarily the Yankee concept) off of straight play-action dropbacks, so we'll look at a couple of examples of each of those.
This is a very basic example of a bootleg flood pattern from the Iowa State game. Facing fourth and short deep in ISU territory, Baylor correctly decides to go for it. The playcall is a boot flood from under center. The idea of these bootleg passes is to use the wide zone action to influence the defense to flow hard to one side (since they need to get numbers to that side to stop the wide zone, as we discussed in part 1), then roll the QB out to the other side with multiple receivers flooding the (hopefully vacated) zones on that side. In this case, Iowa State flows hard to the zone action, leaving the TE wide open for an easy touchdown.
In this clip from the Kansas game, we see a virtually identical concept, but from the pistol. Baylor again shows wide zone action to the left and then runs a bootleg to the right, where Shapen finds his wide receiver open on the out route.
In this example, Baylor shows the utility of these bootleg passes in a goal line situation. This is a one-receiver route off of a naked bootleg. Shapen's read here is probably the end man on the line of scrimmage on the backside; if that guy stays home and covers the receiver, Shapen can run it in. However, in this case, he bites on the run fake, leaving the receiver wide open for a touchdown.
Baylor can also use other wide zone actions to set up their play-action game. In this clip from the West Virginia game, they show a toss sweep action (with wide zone blocking), which again induces the defense to flow hard to the outside. In this case, however, the goal seems to be to open up the crossing route from the playside, rather than attacking the backside zones. Regardless of what the QB's actual progression was, the playside DBs bite hard on the fake and the cross is wide open for six.
Baylor can also show a bootleg off of toss action from their I formation looks. In this case, they fake the toss sweep and bring the slot receiver across the formation for an easy completion.
The other concept Baylor uses heavily in their passing game is Yankee, in which one receiver runs a deep post while a receiver from the other side runs a deep crossing route. It's very similar to the post-dig (NCAA) concept that was used on Gus Malzahn's infamous "Little Rock" play. This concept attacks a single high safety by forcing him to choose between staying in his deep zone to cover the post or closing down to take away the crossing route. It's an easy read for the QB, and if the defense is committing numbers to the box to stop the run, it can generate big plays because that safety is going to be isolated.
In the first example here, we see the basic Yankee concept in action out of a pistol look. The deep post is wide open.
In this clip, we see a different presentation of the same concept. This time, Baylor is in an offset alignment, and has two receivers lined up to the right. The inside receiver runs the deep post, while the outside receiver runs some type of vertical route to draw off the deep zone defender on that side, helping to isolate the safety. This should have been a touchdown, and it would've been with a better throw from Shapen.
The second type of play-action we're going to look at in Grimes' offense is the screen game. Baylor has shown a variety of screens off of wide zone action this year. In this case, the Bears fake wide zone to the RB, show bootleg action away, and then throw the screen back to the RB they faked to initially. This is a great way to control the defensive line if they're playing too aggressively against the bootleg action and causing problems in pass protection. This is the only clip I'm going to show for now, but I'll come back to the screen game in a moment.
Getting Tricky With It
Before we move on to other components of the RVO, I do want to note one other play I saw, just because I know all of you will instantly recognize it and it's very funny. This is a straight up Gus play. It's absolutely identical to the way Gus ran it out of the pistol, except unlike Gus, Grimes actually uses the pistol for other stuff so it's not totally obvious what's coming. Of course it works regardless because the reverse flea flicker is awesome, and it goes for a long touchdown.
One of the most important components of Grimes' offense is the use of fly sweep (aka jet sweep) motion. Much like the wide zone play-action we discussed above, fly sweep action is very effective at inducing the defense to flow hard in the direction of the motion because the way to stop the play is to get numbers to the outside and string it out. This is even more effective nowadays, since most defenses want to stop the run primarily by "spilling" plays into the wide areas (closing the inside gaps and forcing the runner outside).
First, let's look at a couple of clips of Baylor running the fly sweep. The ironic thing is that they don't actually run it that often. I charted five of their games this season and I never saw them run it more than once in a game. I guess it's sort of like Woody Hayes' philosophy that the threat of the pass was more dangerous than the pass itself, except applied to the fly sweep. In this case, Baylor is under center and has basically everybody lined up to the front side of the play except the guy who's going to run the fly sweep.
I honestly don't love this design just because the formation is going to cause the defense to over-rotate to that side before the snap, meaning they'll already be in position to stop the fly sweep. Gus used to do something similar, but it was generally a fire alarm out of the sugar huddle, which limited the amount of time the defense had to align to the formation. Unsurprisingly, this doesn't really work here and BYU is able to string it out effectively.
Here's another example of Baylor running a fly sweep, this time from the shotgun with an empty backfield. Again, this is kind of a problem because they don't go empty a lot in other circumstances, but they do a good job of getting this one blocked up and because Iowa State has three safeties standing around with their thumbs up their asses 15 yards off the ball, they're able to get a solid gain. Note the perimeter blocking scheme: both of the receivers near the formation are crack blocking (blocking down on a defender in the box) while the playside tackle pulls around to block the run support player. This is very similar to the way they block the toss sweep, showing how they can get more mileage out of a blocking scheme by running two different backfield actions with it.
Fly Sweep Play-Action
Now let's take a look at how Baylor uses the fly sweep to set up play-action. Many teams respond to fly sweep motion by moving their secondary players to get extra numbers on the playside (often by spinning the playside safety down into the box), which opens up opportunities to attack the deep zones in the passing game. It should be noted that the actual pass concepts they use here are basically the same as the ones they use on their wide zone play-action passes, so there's not much new teaching going on aside from the new backfield action. In this first case, we see them running the same type of flood concept we talked about above.
In this clip, they use fly sweep motion combined with split zone action to set up a post-wheel concept to the playside, with the motion man running the wheel route. I don't know why they tried to run this into the sideline like this, although I assume they expected the defense to bite hard enough on the split zone action to open up the wheel route. It didn't really work and Shapen is forced to check it down to the RB.
In this clip, Baylor is working from an offset alignment. They run a deep post off of the fly sweep concept, hoping to take advantage of the safeties' rotation.
In this last clip, Baylor uses a similar fly sweep action from an offset alignment, but in this case they use a Yankee concept and target the backside receiver on the deep cross, similar to the way we saw them attack off of the toss sweep action in the clip from the WVU game above.
Fly Sweep Screens
Finally, let's take a look at how fly sweep motion is used to set up screen passes. Again, we have fly sweep action combined with split zone action, which is used to set up a screen to the H-back, who pulled backside to set up the split zone action. (Sorry for the blurry diagram, but you get the idea.)
Here's an example of a similar play, except this time on the backside of the fly motion. In this case, Baylor is in the pistol and they show fly sweep action to the right, while the H-back was showing wide zone scoop action. The defense flows to the playside and he's just kind of standing there all by himself.
In this example, we see a screen off of fly sweep motion from an offset alignment, this time with the ball going to the RB. This is kind of a weird design, as they set up the screen to the same side as the fly motion. I think it would've been more effective to have the screen set up on the other side, since you're inducing the defense to flow to the right and the grass should be to the left.
Finally, in this last clip, they use the fly sweep motion to set up a tunnel screen to a receiver on the backside of the play. This one is here more for the idea than the execution, as the screen doesn't really develop properly and the play isn't successful. I think the expectation was that they would induce hard pursuit of the fly motion from the backside perimeter defenders, opening up the alley for the tunnel screen, but Oklahoma State stays home and there's nowhere for the receiver to go.
The Rest of the Story
I wanted to round out our look at Jeff Grimes' offense by taking a moment to discuss the rest of his offense outside of the wide zone and fly sweep series. I'm not going to show clips or go into detail here, but I do want to speak generally about the run and pass game outside of the concepts we've already looked at.
In terms of the run game, the main complementary plays I saw Baylor use in the games I charted were inside/tight zone, dart (one-back power with the tackle pulling instead of the guard), and toss sweep. They also occasionally ran standard power O from the I formation. None of these concepts was ever used more than a couple of times a game, but they do allow Baylor a bit of diversity and new ways to attack defenses that overreact to stop the wide zone.
Okay, I lied, I do want to show one more clip, just to demonstrate a point I like to make about football coaching, which is that the best coaches are really just the best thieves. It's very rare that something truly new comes along in football, and when someone has a good idea, smart coaches are quick to steal it. This clip is a great example of this point. For the first couple of steps post-snap, it looks like the QB and RB are going to mesh for some type of zone or zone read run. However, they then reverse course and run a speed option off of the playside DE, the idea being to catch the DE flat-footed and hopefully open up the pitch. They stole this design almost verbatim from Coastal Carolina, who had been running this sort of neo-freeze option for a couple of years. It's a clever concept, and clearly Grimes realized that too.
The dropback passing game isn't really Grimes' forte, and has been influenced by the coaches around him. At BYU, working with Kelani Sitake, the dropback passing game had clear air raid and West Coast offense influences, featuring quick, underneath passing concepts like mesh and shallow cross. At Baylor, however, Grimes' dropback game has been more vertically-oriented, with a heavy dose of three and four verts concepts and vertical stem concepts like slot fade and all curl.
The Case for Jeff Grimes
Now that we've got a clearer idea of what Grimes likes to do in terms of Xs and Os, we should answer the big question: is he a good fit for Auburn, and if so, why? I think the answer to the first question is obviously yes. As to the second question, the why, there are a few different reasons I would point to.
First, Grimes has extensive experience coaching and recruiting in the SEC, thanks to his previous stints as the offensive line coach at Auburn and LSU. The fact that he has direct connections to Auburn is an added bonus, since Auburn is a unique place for a coach to work, for better or worse. Those pre-existing relationships with the community and TPTB are valuable, and the fact that his tenure here was successful and included a national championship means that he would likely start with a good deal of capital, which ought to buy him some time and patience during the inevitably rough transition and rebuild period that will be necessary after the Harsin debacle.
Second, his experience as an offensive line coach makes him the perfect person to fix the problems that Auburn has faced over the last ten years or so. Our offensive line hasn't been the same since his last group of recruits left the system, and the single most important thing for the coming rebuild is going to be recruiting and developing offensive linemen. Grimes has a strong track record of developing linemen who have strong college careers and go on to next level, which should help finally fix the problem that will soon cost a second consecutive coach his job.
Finally, an admittedly more speculative point is that Grimes seems to be a good cultural fit for Auburn, in on-field terms. If you listen to him and his staff members talk football, it's clear that they're meticulous, detail-oriented coaches who emphasize the finer points of technique and scheme that make good teams successful. This is something that has obviously been sorely lacking under the Harsin regime; no matter how many football coaching cliches he spouts, the proof is in the pudding, and his teams have constantly failed at very basic aspects of the game. It's essential that we find someone who will reverse that trend, and Grimes seems to fit the bill there.
Obviously the main criticism of Grimes as a candidate is that he's never been a head coach, which is a fair criticism. Of course it would be ideal if Auburn could get someone who was an experienced, proven head coach, but I just don't think there are many candidates that fit that bill who would be available to Auburn at this point. There are only a couple of P5 coaches who fit the bill for Auburn who would also be available (the most notable being Lane Kiffin, whom we've already discussed), and there aren't a lot of great options at the G5 level right now either (Luke Fickell is unlikely to want the job and Willie Fritz and Jamey Chadwell are unlikely to get a call from Auburn). Barring a successful effort to poach a sitting P5 coach, Grimes is the best available option, and hopefully I've explained why he'd be a good fit for Auburn and allayed some of the concerns about hiring someone who doesn't have head coaching experience by outlining the hyper-competence of his offensive coaching.