Friday, September 13, 2013

Inside the Playbook: Y-Stick, Z-Snag, and Things That Look Like it But Aren't (A BDS exclusive)

Michigan ran a two plays last Saturday against Notre Dame that where the same exact concept. Intended to take advantage or the Irish getting lost in zone or getting rubbed in man, these two plays are the Y-Stick concept and the Z-Snag concept. Both are essentially the same play but with different receivers running extremely similar routes to similar parts of the field. Michigan would run it once early to see what Notre Dame was giving them. They’d run it a second time but get presented with a different look. They’d run it a third time for a huge pick up as they saw what they originally saw early in the game. Then they’d run it a fourth time, or, they’d present it a fourth time, but then run something very different for an easy TD.

Y-Stick Pass Concept
The Y-Stick Pass concept is relatively new as far as concepts go, but also fairly common. A staple within most West Coast Offenses and Air Raid Offenses, it provides the QB with simple reads and can attack both man and zone coverage. MGoBlog talked about it in their offensive UFR and Borges talked about it in the press conference. Here it is drawn up:
(Click to embiggen)

This is how Michigan ran it on Saturday. Most teams will run a corner route on the Stick side, but it isn’t a requirement. What Michigan is doing is running a single high safety beater opposite of the snag concept instead. This includes two quick outs and a fly/seam/post option route on the outside.

Here, Gardner’s (Michigan’s QB) first read is the weakside safety. If he’s dropping single high, DG knows it’s either man under or cover 3, in which case he has an easy coverage beater to that side.  The outside route should run any defender off on the outside. If that defender cheats off, Gallon will be open against a safety, likely for a back shoulder fade or something. If they remain in their coverage, the #3 receiver is the first read. He will also be a hot read on any interior blitz. He is the first read because a) he’s an easier throw; and b) because the outside receiver running an out will take the defender with him, vacating the area behind him for an easy pitch and catch. If that defender doesn’t vacate, and easy out into the flat will be open for Gardner.

Gardner hits his out before he even breaks, for an easy pitch and catch.

You can also note something that Borges sees in the play: the fact the the RB isn't being picked up out of the backfield. You'll see how quickly Gardner goes through his reads on the next play, he knows what to anticipate.

The second time they run this exact same play, Gardner’s eyes again take him to the weak side safety, but this time he reads a two deep look. This means cover 2, cover 4, or cover 2 man under, in which a LB will be forced to pick up the RB or TE, either one being a mismatch on their route. The QB’s eyes will go directly from the weakside safety to the flat defender.

Against man, the RB has a head start on the LB to the flat with his swing route. On top of this, the LB is also essentially picked by the Stick route. As an aside: A stick is typically a 6 yard and turn back inside, and if you do not catch the pass right away, you will start working back out toward the sideline. Against zone, working back out is to find a hole in the zone to settle in; against man you’re just trying to get open. It is named “stick” because it means “get to the sticks” or the first down marker. So this means if the TE defender and the defender on the RB switch, the TE will easily wall off the LB and should have an easy catch himself. So by keying the flat defender, if he follows the TE inside, the QB will throw the swing. If he switches off, he’ll look for the stick.

It’s really the same against man. In cover 2 he’ll read the corner in the flat. If the CB squeezes inside, he’ll throw the swing. If the CB stays on the RB, he’ll wait for the TE to seal the LB and throw to him. On the other hand, if the CB drops into a cover 4 look, he’ll move his eyes to the LB who is responsible for covering the flat and read him much the same way.

The second time Michigan ran the same play, the Y really squeezed his route and pulled the CB with him, leaving a huge vacated area for Gardner to hit his first receiver in his progression (progression goes RB and then TE; if there is a corner route on top of it, it’ll go RB, Corner, stick) and get a huge gain.

Z Snag Concept
You will see here, that where the receivers end up, this is essentially the same exact play but with different receivers. The Z receiver will slant inside to get into the same spot a Y-TE would. But he again puts a foot in ground, breaks back to the ball, and if they ball isn’t there he goes back to the sideline. The RB runs his swing route, and a third receiver, here the Y-TE, runs the corner route to hold the defense deep and prevent a safety from cheating the underneath routes and putting the cover 2 corner in a position where the QB can pick on him.

On the backside, Michigan is running a fade-out combo, designed to either get the slot open against an inside defender or have the outside receiver in single coverage. It would mostly be utilized as a hot route or alert route if one of them had a favorable match up. As is, in this play scheme, it’s being used to hold defenders and get the defense away from the side they want to pick on.

So you can see how this is pretty much the same exact look but a little different for the QB.

Here, Gardner is trying to hit the Z-snag as he thinks he sees the CB covering him playing hang coverage, or flat and outside, giving an inside release. Because of this he progresses from his first receiver (the RB) and moves to his second in the progression (the snag), but the defender covering the flat undercuts the route, so Gardner decides to scramble.

For what it’s worth, the TE here is an alert route, where you attack if you like the match up. The defense was essentially bracketing the TE, with the initial defender slowing his timing and playing outside, and the single high safety flowing over the top.

The Same Play But… Oh Wait, It’s Not the Same Play At All.
Michigan starts off in a “Gun Pro Split-Squeeze Stack Divide” formation (they likely have a nice, short little nick-name for it). “Gun” here means shotgun; “pro” means you have a WR on opposite sides of the formation and a single TE; “split” means that TE is split; “squeeze” means they are lined up tighter to the line; and “divide” is the 2 back set. One of the backs – who is actually a WR – motions out so that it is a “Gun Trips Split-Squeeze Stack”. This motion reveals what Borges, Michigan’s offensive coordinator, already believed: that at this area of the field, near the end zone, Notre Dame would be in man coverage. Well now Gardner knows it as well.

Here's the Video

Here’s how the play looks coming off at the snap.

This looks familiar and the defense thinks so too. The nice Notre Dame blog "One Foot Downbreaks this play down to a degree, and comes away with the complaint “why the hell are you all playing outside the person your defending?!” While, seriously, why the hell are they each playing outside the person they’re covering when they are in cover 0, you see what they see above, and it looks extremely familiar. It looks like…

But it’s not that. Here’s what it really is, with the dashed lines showing the previous concept and the solid ones showing what it really was.

And the play alone

Yeah, this is a set up. Herbstreit claims Dileo, the Z receiver, runs an option route, because that’s what it looks like, but it’s not. Dileo runs his stick, turns back in to the ball, fakes outside like he would on a stick, and then comes inside for a wide open catch. On top of that, you know it isn’t an option route because of Jackson’s, the F receiver, route. If it was an option route, Jackson would either completely vacate the area so Dileo could work alone, or he’d come back inside flat to either run double ins if Dileo optioned inside, or would provide a rub if Dileo broke outside (he would break away from where the defender lined up). This isn’t an option route, this is Borges setting up the defense.

So this shows the various ways you can give your QB the same look from multiple sets and with multiple receivers, pick on certain things a defense is doing without getting overly repetitive, and then when the defense adjusts after getting burned, you burn them again by setting them up. And this is all gathered from the second offensive snap of the game. Three crucial plays in three crucial situations, all seen on film and confirmed from one play on the first drive of the game. This is what getting first downs allows you to do, the places in the playbook where it allows a OC to go. This is how a good OC scripts his early plays, so he knows what the defense is presenting to take advantage later.

A plan for a plan for a plan. A reaction to a defensive reaction to a successful play and scheme. Like most OCs, Borges sits up in his high box twisting his maniacal mustache that doesn’t exist – unless it does exist, then they are likely a walrus and not likely to be an evil mastermind. But like most OCs in this situation, he laughs so boisterously that the opposing coaches can hear it like the triumphant horn of a rival, warring country. When the laughter stops, he says things like “indubitably”, then follows it closely with “you mother f***in’ c***s***in’ dirty rotten piece of sh** wh*** bastards,” because he’s finally able to release his pent up anger in deviation from his normal nerdish, chess-player exterior. That’s the life of an OC when things work. And when things work it’s pretty damn awesome to be the one calling the plays.


  1. This is a phenomenal post. Thanks so much.

  2. Space Coyote,

    I followed you over to this page from your signature on MGoBlog. This is the kind of content I most enjoy. I never played football after 7th grade and I appreciate any chance to be a more informed fan. Especially this week its hard to wait 72 hours for the UFRs to better understand what the heck happened.

    1. Make sure to check out my post-game "Coaching Points" on Maize n Brew. They'll give some kind of look into the game from a coaching perspective immediately following the game.

      Thanks for reading as well. These are the posts I want to do more of, but they take some time and patience, and proper film. But hopefully this becomes fairly regular type thing.