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Anatomy of a Play: The Knockout Blow That Wasn't

Still standing.
Still standing.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

When people ask why recruiting matters, the simplest answer is often the best: because sometimes, despite the best efforts of coaches, the play breaks down, and an incredible individual effort is required to make something happen. Down two scores against South Carolina in the fourth quarter, Tennessee fans had the opportunity to see the difference that top-shelf talent can make in a truly scintillating play by freshman five-star running back Jalen Hurd.

The Situation

Score South Carolina 35 - Tennessee 21
Quarter 4th
Time 6:48 remaining
Down and Distance 4th and 6
Field Location Carolina 21 yard line
Possession Volunteers

The Play Call

It's no secret that Butch Jones was heavily influenced by his time coaching at West Virginia under Rich Rodriquez, and Tennessee's screen game is no exception. The play call on fourth and 6 is a new wrinkle on an old standby from Rich Rod's playbook: Radar. The base play is a screen from the shotgun spread where all of the interior linemen punch block the man directly across the line of scrimmage, then run to engage the linebackers. The backside tackle cut blocks the end man on the line of scrimmage to give the play time to develop and protect the quarterback's backside, and the playside tackle cut blocks the end man on the playside.

The first diagram below is the base play, Radar Lava (left), run from the Reo personnel grouping (four wide receivers; one left and three right). The line blocks as described above, the superback fakes a block on the left side of the formation, and the wide receivers run out to block (but with an option to call a quick screen pass to either X or Y receiver).

The second diagram is Radar S, run from the Ram personnel grouping (one wide receiver left; two wide receivers and a tight end to the right). The line blocks as previously, but this time, the tight end seals off the outside linebacker while the two right side wide receivers take the coverage players deep down the field. The superback fakes a block on the right side of the line, then leaks out into the area vacated by the tight end and receivers.

The Play

Tennessee is in the shotgun spread, with running back Jalen Hurd set to the right of quarterback Joshua Dobbs. There are three wide receivers and a tight end on the field: Josh Malone (X) is alone to the left of the formation, tight end Daniel Helm (T) is split out to the right, Von Pearson (Y) is aligned to the right hash mark, and Jason Croom (Z) is far to the right on the numbers.

The play is a quick screen to Jalen Hurd, while all three wide receivers run deep down the field taking the coverage with them, and tight end Daniel Helm blocks the middle linebacker.

Prior to the snap, the Gamecocks show blitz from the left side of the formation, with the weakside linebacker/SPUR walking up on left tackle Kyler Kerbyson's outside shoulder. The strongside linebacker is aligned over the tight end with a safety shaded towards him over the top.

At the snap, South Carolina brings a blitz on the right side rom the strongside linebacker and drops the weakside/SPUR into coverage. It looks like a form of three deep zone coverage where the defense is determined not to give a play to the outside or anything down the field to the wide receivers.

Jalen Hurd fakes a block on the blitzing linebacker and turns around a yard shy of the line of scrimmage to receive a pass. Daniel Helm has a great angle on the middle linebacker and seals him off from the play entirely.

Unfortunately, no sooner has Hurd secured the ball and turned upfield, when trouble emerges: Brison Williams (#12), the strong safety responsible for underneath coverage to the outside is in a position to make a tackle short of the first down marker.

...and there it was, the Knockout Blow that every Tennessee fan had been dreading: another trip inside the red zone without points (following two missed field goals) and another missed opportunity.

Except that Jalen Hurd makes an outstanding individual effort and a truly scintillating play is the result. As Williams drops his shoulder and helmet for the tackle, Hurd shifts his weight and begins to spin. Williams' helmet bounces off of the running back's thigh, because Hurd's leg is already free as he transition to his other leg, leaving the South Carolina strong safety grasping at air. With Williams behind him and nothing but green space ahead, Hurd accelerates downfield for a 21 yard touchdown reception to pull the Vols within a single score.

And that was it, the Knockout Blow that wasn't.

Sometimes, you can have the correct play call, but still need a spectacular individual effort to make the play. As Butch Jones continues to upgrade team speed and athleticism, expect to see more Knockout Blows that Weren't in the near future.

The Whole Play in Realtime, at 2:42 Below