In the preseason, I wrote that Clayton Tune HAS to be the man for this job. The first few games were a little rocky, but the man has arrived in the last month weeks and has done it in a big way.
In the last four weeks, Tune has been explosive. He’s 90/128 (70.3%) for 1254 yards, 12 touchdowns with no interceptions. What I find most impressive is how he has done it: he sees the field better, he’s getting the ball out on time, making quality throws, and using more of the field.
Tune’s game has evolved thanks to several reasons. First, he’s fully healthy. The bye week could not have come at a better time for him, giving his leg time to heal. Second, he’s shown patience; he is more comfortable in the pocket and gives himself more time to throw. He’s also been more mobile behind the line of scrimmage, allowing plays to develop and he’s been better at adjusting to pressure than before.
Perhaps as important, Dana and the offense are using play-action passes more frequently and that has allowed Tune to attack the middle of the field.
In the first four games, the offense ran play-action 18 times (4.5 per game). In the last 5 games, UH has run play-action 47 times (9.4/game). The best way to slow an opponent down is to make them think before they react. Against SMU, UH didn’t even need the threat of a big run game. They just had to fake the run and that was enough. Play-action forces the defensive line, linebackers, and safeties to make decisions before reacting.
The DL can’t just push straight through to the QB, and the LBs and safeties can’t be instinctive and drop into coverage. This is a great adjustment Dana and the offensive staff has made. It helps out a struggling offensive line and gives the receivers an extra step in their routes. And when you eventually mix in a real run game, you see the offensive devastation similar to what happened vs. USF.
Here is an example from the SMU game:
Tune gets the safety to step forward and hesitate as he decides whether he thinks it is run or pass. Even better, he gets the safety’s hips turned. Now the safety has to try and play catch up to get in position, and the throw to Carter goes right over his head.
Here is another example: #14 bites hard on the play-action in this one, and Tune drops it right over his head in front of the safety.
Tune goes over the middle
Over the last few games, Clayton Tune has relentlessly attacked the deep middle (over the middle pass where the ball travels 10+ yards in the air). In the first 5 games, Clayton was 14/29 (48.3%) to the deep middle but in the four weeks since the offense increased the amount of play-action, Tune is 25/29 (86.2%) with six touchdowns.
I have always been a proponent of using the middle of the field because there is usually so much open space. Defenses are vulnerable in the 8 to 15-yard space, whether splitting the safeties or hitting a slant. Once you prove that you can and will attack that area, the outside opens up. The safeties cannot cheat to cover over the top and the linebackers must be disciplined to get enough depth in their zones.
Tune has done a great job taking what the defense is giving him and picking them apart. During the ECU game, an announcer mentioned that Tune spent a lot of time working on his pre-snap reads and gave it extra focus over the bye week. I don’t know what was done behind closed doors, but the results are clear. Tune looks calmer when delivering the ball, he is getting the ball out on time, and he’s not throwing into windows that aren’t there.
This is what it looks like when it all comes together: Tune sees the safety showing man coverage on Dell in the slot and knows there are not many safeties that can cover Dell down the field. He also knows that if the free safety steps up on the play-action, he will come hard on the curl route at the top of the play. Then Dell will be there with just an overmatched safety in coverage and that a good throw gets you six.
Tune made a perfect throw instead.
This is a better look at what made this play happen. You can see the play-action draw in the LB, opening a perfect throwing lane for the curl. Tune holds the free safety with his eyes then he instinctively bites on the curl. If the safety runs deep, the short route is open. But if he takes a step forward, Tune knows he is going downtown.
It was a great call, great routes, a great read, and flawless execution. The offense is humming and Clayton has become a dynamic QB. Kudos to the players for getting the job done but none of this happens without Dana and his offensive staff. Holgorsen has tweaked a few things in the offensive approach and his players are responding The coach’s job is to put their players in the best position to succeed, and this staff has been doing a great job of that.