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Tennessee Volunteers 45 Cincinnati Bearcats 23: 4th Down Decisions The Right Ones. Sort Of.

I am going to say upfront that I agree with the decision to go for it both times. Both occurred in the no mans land between the 30 and 50 where its too long for a field goal and too short for a punt. And both were 4th and 1. Strategically going for it was the correct decision both times. Watching the broadcast and monitoring twitter most UC fans either hated the decision to go both times, or laid the blame at the feet of the offensive line both complaints are basically wrong. Did the offensive line block either play perfectly? No not by a long shot, but in their defense it is really hard for 5 guys to block 9. The problem wasn't the line. The problem was the play calling.

On the first 4th down decision UC set up in the shotgun as they had done for most of the game with two TE's to boundary and Isaiah Pead set up on the weak side of the formation. UC then shifted. It is unclear to me if the shift was part of the design of the play or if they shift was due to Zach Collaros seeing something he didn't like in the defensive alignment. At the shift Tennessee closed down the defensive line and brought two more guys into the box.* And Zach Collaros should have aggressively disliked that alignment because that put 9 men in the box who were being blocked by 7 guys. With numbers like that even if the offensive line blocked it perfectly two guys would still be running free and the chances of a successful outcome would still be at less than 10 per cent.

A smarter play call would be to show the exact same action. Bring in the two TE's, shift to the single back look, and run a naked boot to the backside. Think about it. At this point Isaiah Pead had proven pretty conclusively that he was the best player on the field. Tennessee hadn't developed a way to slow him down, and they really didn't besides letting him run so far and so fast that he hurt his own hamstring. That strategy worked brilliantly. The expectation would be for Pead to get the ball in that situation. A smart play caller always knows the defenses expectations and more importantly, how to subvert those expectations. Tennessee was expecting a outside zone run to the strong side of the formation. Everyone, and I do mean everyone crashed down hard and to their left to shut that doen. Meanwhile, on the back side of the play Kenbrell Thompkins and D.J. Woods run their defenders off and there was literally acres of green in front of Zach Collaros when he only needs a yard.

The second 4th down decision came at the Tennessee 46. This play was one of those moments when I realized that Butch Jones and this staff still don't quite have a grasp of how to best utilize the ample talent they have on hand. Again it was fourth and 1 and again going for it was the correct decision, and again the play call was a bad one. UC set up in an empty set with the offensive line overloaded to the right side and George Winn set up as a defacto H-Back. This is essentially the Wildcat grouping. Two things that you should know about this particular personnel grouping for UC. 

  1. The jet sweep look is just that. A look. When UC runs this play the Jet man will never get the ball and the play just becomes a simple dive play. No threat of the Jet, and they have never thrown out of it either.
  2. It never, ever, ever works

This is a play that Jones and Mike Bajakian basically rode to 27 wins and a conference championship at Central Michigan. It worked there not because it is brilliant schematically, or because it compromises a defense with the alignment or anything like that. It worked because Dan LeFeovur went 6'3" 230 pounds, ran like a mack truck and was far and away the most talented player on the field almost every time he crossed the white line.

At a risk of stating the obvious I will say that Zach Collaros is not Dan LeFevour and that it is long past time to stop trying to utilize him in the offense in the exact same way that the utilized Rust Belt Tebow (RBT). This feeling I get when watching UC that Bajakian doesn't quite know how to maximize the utility of the ample talent on hand won't go away. It was rampant early last year and went away during October and came back during the six game slide to end the year.

For most of today I didn't have it, but there were a few crucial plays where it came back. Ultimately I understand it. Bajakian got his first OC job coaching at Central. While coaching Lefeovur he picked up a few tendencies to his playcalling, which all coaches do. While it is undoubtedly a pleasure to coach a talent like RBT it can be a heady thing to have an an automatic first down in your backfield, but it becomes very difficult preventing that transcendent talent not to become a crutch.

Bajakian and Jones got so used to calling games where their best player was an all universe QB who did almost everything perfectly. They designed the entire scheme around that guy. There is nothing wrong with that per sea. Truth be told I would do the exact same thing. But they don't have that crutch in the form of their QB anymore. That scheme was built for a world that no longer exists, in that respect its kinda like the United Nations. The new reality is that the best player on the team still plays in the backfield, but he isn't a quarterback and he answers to the whimsical iPead. Most of the time I think they get that. But when the yards get tough and the pressure gets higher they always revert to that old world play calling. And again, it never, ever, ever works.


I just went back and watched the first 4th down attempt. I got  a few details wrong. It was a two TE grouping to the strong side with Robinson and Kelce. D.J. Woods was the only receiver on the field and he was aligned to the play side. But my point of Tennessee's crashing down hard and putting 9 in the box was spot on. As was my naked boot suggestion. No one on the Vols kept contain and Collaros would have made the first down jogging.