Motion vs. Man: EMU Dared San Jose State to Throw It
A film breakdown of how EMU trusted its man coverage to limit San Jose State's big plays through the air.
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Today, I want to break down a 4-play series from Potato Bowl which, as you know, is when Eastern Michigan its first bowl win in 35 years over San Jose State (41-27).
The drive I chose was San Jose’s opening drive of the second half. These half-opening drives are good to determine what a team saw in the first half that’s worth exploiting. There was some scheme breakdown from EMU’s defesnse that SJSU’s offense was able to take advantage of but ultimately the Trojans hurt themselves with some pretty costly mistakes.
SJSU was down 30-13 and its defense forced EMU’s offense off the field with a three-and-out. After a 47-yard punt from Mitchell Tomasek, SJSU took over on its own 25.
Play 1: SJSU ball, 1st and 10, ball on own 25 (14:05, 3Q)
Pre-snap, SJSU’s offense, in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) comes out in a 5-wide formation with the RB and TE both lined up on the left side in the slot. EMU’s defense comes out with MOFC (middle of the field closed by safety up top) and quickly realizes the personnel mismatch. Free safety Quentavius Scandrett has to come down and take on the running back. This causes the defense to show it has no deep help and that the call is Cover 0; all defensive backs are in man coverage.
When the running back (#0 Isaac Jernigan) goes in motion, this leaves 2-on-2 situations for EMU to defend on top and bottom of your TV screen. The receiver at the bottom is going to bubble toward the quarterback (#2 Chevan Cordeiro) for a screen play. The tight end (#85 Jackson Canaan) makes his block on EMU corner Kempton Shine, the left tackle (#79 Fernando Carmona Jr.) hustles to block Russ Vaden (defending the TE), and the left guard moves downfield as a lead blocker. Since EMU opened in Cover 0 and the RB motion took Scandrett out of the play, SJSU opened up the second half with a 25-yard gain because it found a 3-on-2 blocking advantage.
Play 2: SJSU ball, 1st and 10, ball on 50
San Jose remains in 11 personnel with the RB and the TE as part of the offensive backfield. EMU stays with its single-high, MOFC look. SJSU calls for an inside zone run and its linemen to leave All-American edge defender Jose Ramirez unblocked since the play is designed to run away from him.
On the snap, EMU D-end Grant Trueman steps inside of San Jose’s LT and just has get by the left guard (#70 Malik Williams) to make a tackle. Williams had to block both defensive tackle Jordan Crawford then the incoming Trueman. The LG was able to at least get a piece of both guys, but Trueman was still able to force the RB to run toward the unblocked Ramirez, joined by defensive tackle Peyton Price. The result is only a 3-yard gain.
Play 3: SJSU ball, 2nd and 7, ball on EMU’s 47
No personnel change from San Jose. Its TE splits wide for the offense to be in a traditional, 2 x 2 receiver set. On this play, EMU’s defense runs Cover 1 Robber (safety in center field, man across the board, and one linebacker in a mid zone.) SJSU calls for a quick set pass with a 1-step drop: the QB will turn and fire the ball nearly immediately. It looks like this whole play is a pre-snap read. The QB reads the coverage and chooses to target his wide receiver (#7 Charles Ross) at the top of your screen, guarded by Joshua Scott. The QB is going to force a jump ball situation down the far sideline.
This ends up being a phenomenal play by Scott. Rather than turning around and getting lost by the ball’s location, he does a great job of playing the ball through the receiver’s hands to force the breakup. He’s with the receiver, step-for-step, the entire route as well. That’s just great defense from Scott on an island.
Play 4: SJSU ball, 3rd and 7, ball on EMU’s 47
SJSU adds a second tight end to be in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) and some pre-snap motion throws EMU’s defense, which added a seventh defender in the box, off.
Cannan, the TE, motions left-to-right and safety T.J. Peavy follows across the middle. It looks like Cover 1 Man. There was a bit of delay by Peavy at first, but the play was designed to pick him regardless, so the targeted receiver was likely going to be open no matter what.
Nobody is within 10 yards of Canaan and he simply drops it. This is easily a first down if he hangs just on. EMU gets very lucky here, and the defense holds to force a punt from SJSU.
The purpose of focusing on this drive is it shows that the Trojans’ game plan was to capitalize on 1-on-1 matchups by using motion to create blocking advantages for its playmakers. San Jose knew it’d see man coverage and used that motion to exploit it.
EMU likely wanted to stay with a one-deep safety to bring another into the box to continue to stop the run and dare Cordeiro to throw (game stats: 26/44, 366 yards, 3 TD, 2 interceptions). EMU disrupted the run and held its own when there wasn’t any pre-snap motion. Motion caused disruption and would’ve given up a second big play if not for Cannan’s drop.
Two drives after this, EMU stayed in some man situations and San Jose would continue to pick on Scott in is passing attack. He got beat once and gave up a TD two plays later on a similar play to the one we discussed.
Motion was continuously used by SJSU and this created more matchup issues for EMU and led to a few more big plays until EMU adjusted with some zone coverage looks. With the MOFC look for most of the second half, EMU’s defense gave up only 40 rushing yards (10 attempts, 4 yards per rush) to 191 passing yards (27 att., 7.1 yards per attempt) in the second half. These stats can be expected when a team has is down three scores at halftime, but EMU gambled on its man coverage and it paid off.