I feel like my life is a constant struggle not to make mistakes. I live in a perpetual state of regret and self-loathing. I'm always looking back on my life and analyzing where I went wrong and how I would fix things if I had another chance. This, I feel, is a striking resemblance to how it must feel to be Brandon Harris.
My regrets are mostly in the "I think that girl liked me but now it's too late because I can't read signals" realm while Harris is on the "I think that receiver is open but now it's too late because I can't read defenses" side of things. We both know we're doing things wrong and yet we both seemed destined to never change. 2016 is a big year for both of us. This year, I will finally get the courage to ask out that nice girl from accounting. I swear I'm going to do it. She's so pretty. And this year, Harris will finally get the courage to pull the trigger without hesitation on his three step drops. I swear he's going to do it. The receivers are so wide open.
The only way we can get better in 2016 is to look at who we were in 2015. Fortunately for Harris, all of his mistakes were caught on film. Brandon also has people supporting him whose job it is to help him get better. I don't have anyone to help me analyze my life events and I have suffered because of it. Maybe one day someone will write a blog post on how I should have reacted to certain social situations but until then all I can do is write a blog post on how Brandon Harris should have reacted to certain coverages, shifts and alignments.
We're going to take a look at some of the most common passing plays that Cam Cameron called for Harris this past season. One of my concerns in breaking down each concept is that I don't feel as though Harris made marked improvements throughout the season. That is definitely concerning although his overall improvement should come now, during the offseason.
The first concept we'll talk about is a quick game concept where Cameron has packaged Slant/Flat to the short side of the field and Double Slants to the wide side.
The idea behind pairing these two concepts in particular is that Slant/Flat is better against any single safety coverages and Double Slants is better against any two safety coverages. Teams have been pairing these two concepts together for a long time. What we get from putting them both in the same pass play is the ability for the QB to come up to the line of scrimmage and decide which concept he is going to look at based on the pre-snap coverage. This is a quick hitting play where the coach will generally instruct the QB to only read one defender. If said defender goes out, we throw in. If he stays in, we throw out. Slant/Shoot is a horizontal stretch on the flat defender while Double Slants is a horizontal stretch on the hook/curl defender. The more you practice, the better you become at reading the subtle movements of defenders that help you make quicker decisions.
In this clip, Harris reads the Slant/Flat combination, although I would have had him read the other side. He needs to make a decision right when he finishes his dropback and here he waits just a split second to the deliver the ball on the flat route to Jeter. This takes Jeter way too far outside and he doesn't have enough room to come upfield for a first down. If Harris throws it earlier, Jeter is easily turning the corner for a first down.
Against, Syracuse he takes a look at the Double Slants and, although he doesn't throw an accurate ball, he makes a good read. Now, we look at the next clip against a much better defense in Ole Miss. The Ole Miss defender has inside leverage on Dupre meaning Dupree really has to beat him clean to the inside, he doesn't and the defender reads the play and forces a turnover.
The clip above is very telling. This isn't the exact same concept, it's just a slant route to a single receiver. When the linebacker drops off underneath the slant that should be no worry to Harris as the receiver will be open in the next window. The defender never looks at Harris, instead he's matching the route before turning and looking. We need to be able to throw this ball right behind his head.
Next up is the way that LSU tries to hit big plays in the downfield passing game. Cam Cameron is a big fan of these two concepts: Y-Cross and the "NCAA" concept.
As you can see, both concepts involve a post route and another route that comes across the field underneath the post. The basic read for the QB on these plays is to read the safeties. If it's one safety and he stays deep enough to take away the post, then the QB will move his eyes down to the underneath route, whether it be the deep cross or square in. Post routes are a good route versus two safeties as the route can split between them but we can sometimes get a big play in behind a single safety (also known as a Post Safety for this reason) when that safety cheats up. LSU tries to get the safety to come up by running these concepts off play action and we've seen countless times Harris pull the trigger and showcase his big arm with post throws down the field.
Harris is starting his progression with his Iso'd receiver, Diarse (9), running a "Go" route. Against an off-corner and a deep half-field safety taking that route away, he then moves his eyes to his TE, Smith (89) running a deep in, which is paired with his RB, Williams (34), running an underneath out route to the flat. This concept puts the weak-side linebacker in a bind. Drop too deep and allow an easy completion to the RB (who then has to make his way for first down yardage) or stay shallow and allow a completion, over his head, to the TE. We can see, as the routes develop, the weak-side linebacker turn his head and identify the crossing TE. This should take Harris' eyes to the RB for an easy completion. Instead, Harris locks onto the TE and throws the ball. Luckily, that linebacker turns back to look at the QB after the ball is thrown and stops moving his feet for a split second. If not, he's coming underneath the ball and it's an easy interception. The ball whizzes right by his head and LSU picks up a first down. This should be an interception and it's not a good read.
Harris will read the isolated receiver, Diarse again, running a post route and then move his eyes to the deep crossing pattern from his slot receiver, Dupree. Mississippi State is in a Cover1 defense and the play-action is supposed to, first, get the safety to bite up so Harris can throw the post over his head and if not, get the linebackers to step up so he can throw the crossing pattern over their heads. The safety is deep enough to take away the post route (as all good middle-of-the-field safeties should) so Harris must, immediately, come down to his second progression, the crossing route. Harris gets to the end of his drop and waits way too long to make a decision. By the time he throws, the safety has already identified the crossing route and is coming down on it. This wasn't that bad read of a read but the time was so off that this easily could have been back to back plays with an interception.
Here's a good example of Harris making the right read. With defenses staring into the backfield, we can see the safety stay flat footed as the post route runs behind his head because of the play action. Harris just needs to be a little more accurate.
This is another timing error. When Harris gets to the top of his dropback, the safety who is playing the post route turns his body and runs with the post. This should automatically move him to the deep in route. Unfortunately, he waits too long and gets Jeter killed.
One of LSU's favorite red zone plays is a concept that I call Flex. It's a combination of Slant/Shoot and Double Slants forming Slant/Slant/Flat.
The job of the quarterback is to first read the defender who is lined up over the player running the flat route. If he runs with that receiver, throw the inside slant to where he vacated. If he stays, read the next outside player. This creates a high/low read on that defender. If he jumps the flat, throw over his head. If he stays home, throw the outside slant.
When the inside defender runs to the flats with the TE, Harris knows he has one of the slants. There is going to be a safety in the middle of the field taking away the inside slant so he smartly throws to the outside one albeit 10 feet over his head. That is six points off the board.
Here is the same thing happening later in the year against Ole Miss.
One of my favorite plays in the world is another LSU staple: 4-Verts. Four vertical routes and an underneath check down route.
One of the most used plays in all of football, 4-Verts stretches the deep secondary players horizontally. The idea is for the four vertical runners to space themselves properly down the field. If you have two receivers to each side of the formation, you end up with four straight vertical lines: two seams and 2 fade routes. In a trips set, you end up with the inside most trips receiver running what I call a "ladder seam" route where he is trying to get to his landmark on the opposite side of the field. 4-Verts is the cover-3 killer. If you send four deep guys against three deep defenders, the offense will have an advantage. The read for the QB is first to read the middle safety. If the safety shifts strong then he throws the weak-side seam. If he shifts weak, throw the strong side seam. If the QB doesn't like the seams he then looks to one of his fade routes to see if his man has beaten his cornerback. If he still doesn't want to throw, he comes down to his fifth eligible receiver, usually running an underneath option route. Against two safeties, usually one of the seam routes is taught to convert his route to a route that attacks the void in the middle of the field.
Both teams are in Cover-1, which is a good way of stopping this pass concept. All four vertical receivers are covered man to man and its turns out to be pretty good coverage. Harris' initial read is to try to get the ball to one of his inside receivers running seam routes. He'll try to throw the ball to the opposite side of the single high safety. In man coverage, there is not a lot of room to throw to the seam routes, with them being plastered by their man coverer and the safety lurking over top. It's a good play by Harris to not force the ball in there. Next, he'll move his eyes to the fade route on the weak side of the field. It's easier to work the weakside fade route, rather than the strong side fade route just because it's a shorter throw. This is where young QBs get in trouble. In high school, you could often just throw the ball up in a one-on-one situation with your best receiver against an uncoordinated 16-year-old and make plays. This is the SEC. This corner is in very good position but Harris still decides to chuck it up. I think we can understand that Harris is not at the level, yet, to be comfortable throwing back shoulder fades ala Aaron Rodgers and that's fine, but in this situation, he needs to come off that receiver and find his check-down. Fournette comes through the line of scrimmage and is about to make a move to the near side of the screen in so much space. Harris has a lot of time in the pocket to get to his third read and he doesn't.
This clip is all about timing. Harris makes the right decision to throw to Dupre, but the ball has to be gone as he is about to cross behind the defender, not after he has already beaten him.
The safety overplays to the right of the screen and Harris still tries to force the ball into that very tight window. Move the safety with your eyes and then throw the other way.
Another red zone classic is the single receiver fade route that every team runs. LSU has two elite receivers in Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural who they try to get matched up with single coverage to throw back pylon fade throws. Generally, the way you read the fade route as a QB is if the receiver can get behind the defensive back, you throw to the back pylon. If not, you throw the ball to the wide outs back shoulder. Harris doesn't have the accuracy or timing to throw back shoulder fades so we're left with him throwing it to the back corner of the endzone where either his guy catches it or it falls incomplete. With that being said, LSU would like to throw the fade route vs. a press corner because our receiver can come off the line, make a move and get behind the defensive player which will allow Harris to pop the ball up to the back corner. Unfortunately, Harris routinely tried to throw back pylon fades against corners playing off even though there were better options pre snap.
When he had press corners, he threw some really nice touchdowns on this route throughout the whole season.
These are some of the places where Harris needs to get better at in 2016. I definitely cherry-picked some of the clips to show specific things and he did make some nice throws over the season but these things need to be ironed out this off season or we're in for another season of regrets.