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September 27, 2011

Marty Simpson's big-play breakdown

In this special feature, former Gamecock football player Marty Simpson takes a look at some of the big plays from the South Carolina-Vanderbilt football game.

Gilmore's interception

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While we may have received a great call from the official (because simultaneous possession is supposed to be awarded to the offense!), I will credit Stephon Gilmore for great coverage anyway.

He has given up a few big plays this season, which has caused him to work extra hard on these jump balls in one-on-one situations.

If you notice at the beginning of the play we are playing press-man coverage, so for Gilmore to start in bump-and-run and make an interception 20 yards downfield is quite the athletic play.

Fun and noteworthy: DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger helped make the official make this call. I know this seems silly, but the "rhythm" of everything felt "right" when our guys assume it's an interception. We used to always coach our guys to do this on purpose. It has quite the hypnotic effect.

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Clowney-to-Allen-to-Ingram defensive touchdown

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First of all, notice Jadeveon Clowney jump offsides, then have the athletic savvy to jump back onsides prior to the snap. Then he has the athletic ability to gather himself while lunging backwards and still fire out of his stance well enough to end up making the sack that causes the fumble. He runs past the quarterback on the high side, but then slides down and makes him pay.

Also, please rewind this play several times in order to see Melvin Ingram's spin-move right out of his stance. This man is over 270 pounds and moves like a cat, people! I am not able to tell from this video if the offensive lineman even touched him. Also, Ingram just has a knack for finding the football. All the great ones do. In this case, Ingram "finds" the ball in the end zone.

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Antonio Allen almost had his fourth defensive touchdown in the last five regular season games, but it seemed like a sniper got him as he recovered the fumble causing him to not quite hit his stride.

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Credit Vandy's running back for making a great fumble-causing hit, but, of course, "BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL" Melvin Ingram was there to pounce on it!

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I mean this with all sincerity (and football coaches will know what I mean by this) but falling on a fumble in the end-zone is not as easy as Ingram makes this look. I am sure in other seasons in Gamecock history this same play could have ended as a touchback as someone less talented than Ingram slid on top of this ball and squirted it out of the end zone, as all the women in the stands turned to their dates and with a perplexed look on their faces asked, "Why is that a touchback, honey?"

Ingram swooped down on this ball like a bird of prey snatching a small rabbit.

One thing worth noting at the end of the touchdown is Jimmy Legree's successful signaling of the touchdown. This is a great improvement over two weeks ago and his premature signal in Athens. I wonder if Jimmy has worked as hard on his touchdown-signaling techniques as Gilmore has on his jump-ball fundamentals?

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Lattimore's 22-yard run for a touchdown

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Marcus Lattimore has incredible field vision. He breaks through the line of scrimmage and intuitively knows from which direction the first defender will be attacking him. In this case, it is to his left and from a wide position. This backside-gap-filling defender should squeeze the ball BACK into the middle of the defense where he has help. In this play though, Lattimore was able to defeat the backside contain man crashing down on him with a simple lateral move. (Lattimore makes it look simple!) Great blocks on the left side help him get to the second level untouched. When that happens it's hard to stop Lattimore from gaining huge yards.

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Then the touchdown happens because of incredible stalk blocks by Ace Sanders and Alshon Jeffery.

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Lattimore's 16-yard reception off the rub play

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This is backyard football at its finest. This is a simple "rub" play. In college football it is illegal to actually set a pick on a defender like in a basketball game, but in football the players are allowed to run anywhere they want and versus man-to-man coverage the defenders will follow. This congestion of bodies means the primary receiver running through all this traffic will likely have his defender get bottle-necked inside. (Later this same concept will not work versus zone coverage on the goal line and it leads to an interception.)

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That's what happens on this play. As Marcus catches it, his man is "trying to catch back up" with him after the "rub" happened. NOTEWORTHY: This is the same play that Connor Shaw didn't complete later in the game, but the rub was set for the backside tight end instead of the tailback. Steve Spurrier has always liked these rub plays out of multiple formations and to multiple primary targets.

Lattimore 52-yard screen pass for touchdown

To clarify what a "screen pass" is as opposed to just a short dump off pass to the running back we have to look at the position of the offensive linemen in relationship to the line of scrimmage. Often, the last resort in a pass route is the dump to the running back near the line of scrimmage, but the linemen may not have run down field yet. This is not a screen pass but is often referred to one by the "know-it-all announcers" that cover the games for television.

On this particular play, we can know for certain that it is a pre-determined screen pass because the linemen have already attacked down field. The key ingredient from a "legal" standpoint is that in order to make this play not break any rules, the recipient of the forward pass cannot have passed the line of scrimmage prior to catching the ball.

On this particular play you can see that Lattimore receives the ball well behind the line of scrimmage (the black line in the image below.) And you can see that three of our linemen are all downfield prior to the ball being thrown.

screen1

One lucky stroke for the Gamecocks on this play was Vanderbilt's attacking up field with its linemen. They were thinking they should get a good pass rush, which makes for a natural fit for a screen pass as the rushing defenders ran by the screen. Spurrier should get the props for this call.

There were five outstanding blocks made on this play. Here they are.

Block #1 - Terrence Campbell is a 6-foot-3, 296-pound man sprinting down field like a fleet-footed wide receiver running interference. He actually makes a pretty good collision while down field, which is not easy to do.

Block #2 - T.J. Johnson is a 6-foot-5, 316-pound man turning back to peel off one defender like he is an agile lion throwing attackers off her baby cubs! His decision to peel back is made on the fly, and I feel like he made a good decision. This defender could have dove and tripped Lattimore for a nice gain, but it would have prevented the touchdown.

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Block #3 - A.J. Cann is a 6-foot-3, 299-pound man 12 yards down field running interference along with tight end Justice Cunningham. Neither player gets a huge piece of the defender, but they do a great job of getting involved and making it impossible for their defender to make the tackle.

Block #4 - Ace Sanders makes an outstanding downfield block to keep a very athletic defensive back away from Lattimore. I have lost track of how many times I have highlighted Sanders making a great block. He has proven to be an outstanding asset in the stalk blocking department for the Gamecocks.

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(It's worth noting that Jeffery was hustling and made a savvy effort to sprint out in front of the ball carrier which allowed Lattimore to make a cut off of his interference even though he made no contact with any defender. Some less savvy players would have turned back looking and slowed down enough to actually get in the ball carrier's way.)

The best block of the run was made by Lattimore's high school teammate, Nick Jones. Sometimes it is these blocks just behind the ball carrier that will get flagged for illegal block in the back. Also, in most cases when illegal block in the back is called, it will be true that the block wasn't even necessary for the result of the play to be the same. My father and I refer to these type blocks as "bonehead plays." My father would say that capital punishment is a proper consequence for such actions, and I am sure some of you would agree if it had called back this touchdown.

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HOWEVER, in this case, I think Nick Jones' block was necessary as well as executed perfectly! When a player is JACKED UP the way Jones JACKED UP his defender the referees will ALWAYS look to see how the defender landed. If a defender lands on the ground on his face, he was most likely hit illegally in the back. Make sense? But notice on Jones' block how the defender lands flat on his back, giving physical evidence to any referee trailing the play tempted to call this a block in the back, that he was actually struck in the front, thus landing on his back.

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Then the most encouraging thing on this play happened. Lattimore showed us he does have another gear left in the tank. His explosiveness displayed on this run was like no other play I have seen him execute in two years. Two defenders clearly had an angle on him to make the tackle and he simply outran them both. (One of them was the one that got JACKED UP by Jones.)

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Just a kicker's side note on Wooten's missed FG

I am glad Jay Wooten went ahead and missed a kick. This was a game where the Gamecocks didn't "need" his high-pressure kick. He took care of the law of averages by going ahead and missing one early on like this. This way when we are at Clemson and need the game-winner from 48 yards the announcer won't be able to jinx him by saying, "You know, Wooten hasn't missed a kick all season long, Bob."

Special note from Marty

As much breakdown of the Gamecock defensive scheme and execution I did last week made me want to do the same thing for the offensive scheme and execution versus Vanderbilt this week. Therefore, the next few plays are actually on the Vanderbilt highlight reel, but I chose to break them down for illustrative purposes.

Barnes stops Lattimore

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Basically, Vanderbilt sold out by putting nine men in the box. By design that means there will be one unblocked player that Lattimore is responsible for making miss. This was the same play the Gamecocks ran versus Georgia with great success. The fullback goes left for the cutback linebacker and Lattimore is reading the playside A-gap for cutback on the right.

I don't know this for certain, but based on how the Gamecocks blocked this versus Georgia in week two, it would appear that the left tight end missed an assignment here. If he didn't then I would suggest to the coaches to change their blocking rules on fourth and inches. The reason being the backside tight end passes up the defensive linemen to his inside, leaving him for the fullback to block.

In a normal scheme this could very well work because the immediate penetration may not be coming with such force, but in a goal-line/short-yardage look, it's not fundamentally sound to leave a down lineman unblocked at the line of scrimmage. This creates unwanted penetration and causes havoc in the backfield.

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As you can see if you watch this play several times, the backside backer that goes unblocked gets too much momentum moving forward for Lattimore to drive him backwards for the needed inches. The backer collisions Lattimore in the hole just right and this creates the stop for Vandy.

However, it falls back on either the scheme or the execution of the scheme. Blame the scheme if the backside tight end did in fact do his job, otherwise blame the backside tight end for the missed assignment.

Most likely, on many other plays during any Carolina football game there are similar missed assignments that Lattimore's ability to make folks miss covers up. This time, however, he was unable to hide the mistake. (Like last week's fourth and one versus Navy when on toss sweep left, the left tight end didn't block the man standing in front of him at the point of attack... go figure!)

This also brings me to one other huge problem with our offense. Our ball fakes are terrible. No ball fakes were executed on this play, but this play illustrates something I am trying to get across about our ball fakes.

The backside linebacker is the primary hit in the hole, but if you watch this play again you will notice the secondary support tackler that causes the real stop is the FREE SAFETY! The token faking the Gamecocks do on their play action passing game never fools the secondary. The ball fakes have got to improve especially if the free safety is making tackles for no gain on our short yardage plays!

Coach Spurrier seems to coach the quarterbacks to make a token fake with both hands still on the ball for some reason. Both quarterbacks do it this way so it would stand to reason that it's being coached this way. Connor Shaw even made a two-hand on the ball pump fake on a forward pass pump fake at the end of the regular season Auburn game last year. It fooled no one and he threw an interception that ended that game.

Maybe the Gamecock quarterbacks have unusually tiny hands? But these types of ball fakes fool no one and only telegraph the play-action or pump-and-go to the defense. This has to change. Coach Spurrier's Duke teams and Florida teams definitely ran more effective ball fakes, so I blame G.A. Mangus on this one. The Gamecocks need to start watching Peyton Manning's game films from 2007 and take some notes.

Hal intercepts Garcia

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I want to give the offense as thorough a treatment and analysis this week as I did the defense versus the triple option last week.

Keep in mind that I am more of an expert on triple-option football than I am on all the complex pro-style passing routes that the Gamecocks run. With that preface, here is my complete and thorough analysis of this play.

Stephen Garcia should not throw the ball into the chests of the other team.

But remember, I am no expert on the pro-style passing game, but I think I am on to something with my analysis.

Marve intercepts Garcia

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This play has multiple problems from the start. The first problem is that Vanderbilt sat in a zone coverage when this play is clearly designed for man-to-man. However, the Gamecocks motioned Jeffery across the formation and the reaction by the defense tells them it's zone defense. (No particular defender ran across the formation as if to indicate that he had Jeffery man-to-man. Which, by the way, is a simple trick to detect zone vs. man on any EA Sports football game since 1991.)

I would assume that Garcia is supposed to see that it's a zone defense and not keep Jeffery as the primary target. It's a clear out route. The two offensive players on the side with Jeffery after he motions run their routes deep into the end-zone "clearing" out any defenders that would be in Jeffery's way. But since Vanderbilt stayed in their zone defense this clogged the middle and left Jeffery, in essence, double, if not triple, covered.

Garcia was wise to tuck this and run with it initially. Then Garcia realized he had created that old play on Tecmo Bowl when you would run with the quarterback and the defense would come up and then you would hit the pass button just in the nick of time to complete your pass as the defenders left their coverage to tackle the quarterback. Remember that play? I know my teammates from the Roost would.

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Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, what Garcia didn't remember was that this didn't work for him in 2009 at the end of the Georgia game, and it didn't work this time either.

The problem here is that Jeffery was the primary target on a clear-out route to begin with and therefore Garcia had locked on him from the get go. When Garcia scrambled he made a heck of an athletic play to even get the ball out to Jeffery, but he missed who was really wide open. Lattimore was sitting to his right with no one covering him while he scrambled.

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While you are getting mentally ready to give up on Garcia, I would actually take pause and credit Vanderbilt for their unorthodox zone defense call so close in the red zone. Spurrier just got outcoached on this play. If Garcia had been able to pull off the magic toss to Jeffery or Lattimore, all Gamecock fans would be applauding his vision and effort. This was just a bad play from start to finish. Gamecock fans can pray that Garcia is savvy enough to just take the 2 or 3 yards on the scramble next time instead of trying to make chicken soup out of chicken poop!

To say this play was bad from start to finish is actually not accurate, because Kyle Nunn makes a terrific tackle to save a 100-yard return on what would have been a game-changing play. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the offensive linemen have had a lot of practice at chasing down defenders that have just intercepted passes.

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Just like my father's golf game is fantastic from out of the woods. He can always hit crazy bending trick shots from behind trees. But the reason is because he has had LOTS of practice from behind trees. I would just as soon have an offensive line that wouldn't know what to do if an interception happened!

Hayward intercepts Garcia, 23-yard return

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This is a tough one to analyze because it would appear that this is a read route and Jeffery and Garcia were not on the same page. Jeffery didn't run his comeback because he saw the defender squatting in place on his inside, but Garcia had already thrown the ball just prior to Jeffery making that decision. In Jeffery's defense on this play, I am certain he assumed the ball would not be coming his way since there was so much coverage in his general vicinity, therefore, he didn't look back soon enough.

Vanderbilt seemed content to sit in zone coverages and read Garcia's eyes. I am surprised Spurrier didn't pick up on this and run more combo routes that would put more leverage on the zone defenses. There is an outside chance that Spurrier is so used to seeing man-to-man coverages because of all the attention paid to Lattimore in the running game, that he is calling plays based on that assumption.

Then, in turn, he is also trying to keep things as simple as possible for Garcia and therefore not changing the play at the line of scrimmage like he maybe did a few years ago when we led the nation in delay of games and procedure penalties.

And again, I am no expert on the pro-style passing game, but I don't think Garcia should be hitting the chest of the defenders with these passes. I used to always coach my quarterbacks to make the defenders at least reach out for their interceptions!

Vanderbilt stops Garcia short of first down

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There are few things wrong with this quarterback sneak.

For starters, I hate the quarterback sneak when it's a true one yard or even a little bit more to get. Next, Marcus Lattimore was not on the field for this play. I realize the announcers said he "threw a shoe", but I think you need to use a timeout to make sure Lattimore is on the field on this type of scenario, if for no other reason to prevent the defense from absolutely knowing you are running a quarterback sneak. As well as the added push he always gives on the quarterback sneak!

Lastly, when are we going to see the Spurrier of old? The one that would have had the guts to fake a quarterback sneak and then hit the tight end running down the field with no one within 20 yards of him. I remember the old Florida teams doing things like this all the time. I think the stiff, non-savvy play of some of our players has made him scared to call things like that, but I believe this year's team has the talent and football skills to pull something like that off.

I cannot blame an offensive line for getting pushed back when everyone and their uncle knows we are running quarterback sneak without Lattimore in the game. Chalk this one up to a "crappy" (Spurrier's word) call and move on. With the defense playing as well as it played, it would have actually been a better decision to go ahead and punt anyway! (Although I do love going for it in our own territory though... seriously, I do like that.)

Hayward intercepts Garcia

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My gut tells me that the quarterback should not throw into triple coverage off his back foot as he is falling down.

Garcia's bullet-headed mistake almost makes me want to move on, but what Vanderbilt is doing here on defense is so impressive I have to extrapolate it for you. Seriously, this is very elegant pass defense and worth studying.

As the play starts Vanderbilt appears to be in a basic 4-3 defense with cover 2 behind it, but they don't stay that way.

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It will require that you watch this play several times to pick up the nuance of what is happening here. They convert on the fly to man-to-man, sort of like a zone-matchup defense in basketball.

The hard corner is coached to have the flats near the line of scrimmage unless the back out of the backfield runs a wheel route (which is exactly what Lattimore is running). He is coached to look for the wheel if the receiver he is jamming is slanting hard inside (which he is).

So the front-side hard corner sniffs out the wheel route like clockwork and runs with Lattimore all the way up the sideline (which is not easy to do, by the way).

The front-side linebacker would usually be the curl depth defender as illustrated in the first diagram, but what Vanderbilt obviously coached the linebacker to do was to "lock up" man-to-man with Lattimore on any passing routes. This provides a double team on Lattimore out of the backfield which is just good coaching considering we indeed where throwing it to him!

The playside deep half (in a normal cover 2 look) actually disconnects as it converts to cover one (one safety floating to the middle of the field) which compensates for the playside backer leaving the curl area to run with Lattimore. This is complex, people!

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But all of this was made possible by the pressure in Garcia's face. Obviously the play was called to try and slip Lattimore out of the backfield and down the sideline and Garcia really never looked to see if the play was open, he just threw the ball hoping for the best. This is not the best of plans versus such a nuanced, complex, well thought out defensive plan.

The only thing I will mention in Garcia's defense though is earlier this season he was booed for not throwing the ball away during a similar play. Is it possible the fans should stop coaching with their boos as it produces reflex actions in Garcia like this? Probably not.

All in all, this was a catastrophically stupid throw to try and make. This was the type of throw you would see Brett Favre try and make and get picked off too. Unfortunately for both Favre and Garcia, the mechanism inside their brains that should fire telling them to NOT throw this ball just doesn't work that well (or to send that text message with pictures in it in Favre's case either).

Before you give up on Garcia though, remember that same broken mechanism caused him to launch that ball down field that Alshon tipped to Ace for the long gainer in this same game! You win some and lose some, but hey, it's what the Gamecocks are going to have this season. So we might as well get behind it and start pulling for it! Seriously. Have you realized that we are 4-0, and 13-5 over the last two seasons?


From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former Academic All-Conference player for USC who scored the Gamecocks' first 6 points in the SEC. During 8 years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals and saw one player advance to set an NFL rookie record. Simpson now divides his time between his family, running a multimedia company named Blue-Eyed Panda and traveling the country performing stand-up comedy for clubs, churches, and corporations.

Check out Marty's comedian website here.

[Complete USC-Vanderbilt game coverage: Click here]

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