Film Study: UH Carves Up The Middle

Christian Trahan up the seam / Photo by Mario Puente

The UH offense came limping into the SMU game, literally. With numerous injuries, redshirts, and a quit to deal with, everything pointed to a blowout loss to #16 SMU.  Instead, Dana Holgorsen put together a great gameplan and the UH passing attack had it’s best outing of the year.

But it wasn’t all pretty. There were a lot of mistakes and a number of head-scratching decisions.  SMU pressured Tune all night and finished with 7 sacks and 4 QB hurries.  But the offense was able to claw back into the game over and over for 2 simple reasons:  They attacked the middle of the field and got the ball out as quickly as possible.

Clayton Tune was 8/12 on passes to the middle of the field.  Two other passes over the middle went for 15-yard penalties and another was a two-point conversion.  Tune had 16 attempts over the middle – by far a season-high.  But it’s important to note that these passes weren’t about the QB sitting back and surveying the field, checking down to a second and third option.

Tune was excellent in the middle of the field – click to enlarge

Those completed middle throws were all quick strikes that were released in under two seconds from the time he received the snap.  Out of the 33 passes on the night, only 2 were completed when released past 2 seconds.  Tune’s only real options were to get rid of it quickly or try to avoid a sack.

SMU had a pretty basic plan for this offense: sell out on the run and put as much pressure as possible on the QB.  In the clips below, Tune was able to use that against them with his play-action passing game.

In this video, SMU was shocked to see us use the TE like this. So was I!  The linebackers bit hard and Tune was able to pop one up the middle to get us out of a big hole. No one pays Trahan a second of attention.


Take note of this play because we will see something similar later on.  Here is another play-action throw, this time with the threat of Bryson Smith coming in motion.  The LB committed to Car and had crept up 3 steps as Trahan ran right by him. The safety rolled up to stop the end around and was 10 yards behind the play when Trahan made the grab.  A well-designed play left Trahan wide open up the seam for another big gain.

Right into my veins, Dana!


In the play below, there was no play-action but Porter flares out for a swing pass, pulling the strongside LB out of the passing lane.  Tune looks off the other LB to give himself a wide-open shot at Lark on the slant.


This is a simple RPO with Lark on a five-yard stop in the open spot of this zone. A perfect example of the type of plays we’ve been missing.


Here, the nickel commits to stopping a swing pass to Porter while the middle linebacker gets paralyzed reading the same. Tune did a good job moving the safety with his eyes and Lark’s slant route worked perfectly in the massive hole created in the middle.


Remember when I said to look for that 2nd play again?  Here you have the exact same formation with Smith going in motion and running play-action off of it.  The nickel safety goes in motion leaving Stevenson 1-on-1 with a corner playing eight yards off the line. 

The play-action freezes the nickel long enough to give Tune a lane to hit Stevenson on a short stop-route.  Get the ball to Marquez in space! If he gets a step, he is gone. Another angle:


And finally, here’s another play action for a big gain and TD.  The design of the play makes this play happen. Watch the far side of the field.  We sold the quick screen to the slot and the safety crashed hard on it.  That left Stevenson 1-on-1 with the other safety with no help.  Perfect design and perfect execution.


I have said it on The Veer, I have said it on the podcast, and I will say it again here.  The only thing I ask from my coaches is to put players in a position to succeed. 

Even though this team had a lot going against it personnel-wise, Dana did a great job of adjusting his scheme and gameplan to take advantage of the strengths of the guys on the field. Maximize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.  Even though the final result was a loss, there were a lot of good things to build on.  I hope to see this continue and evolve the rest of the year.


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