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Canadian Offense: Pitt’s Jet Sweep Series

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Our look into Matt Canada’s offensive MO goes wide.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As much as football has always been characterized as a game of violence — and it is, make no mistake — its appeal for me has always been more in the strategic elements of the game. Each team has 11 players on the field, and the essence of everything coaches do in game-planning is trying to make those numbers work in their favor one way or another. Get more of your guys to the ball than the other team and advance it in your direction.

That’s the heart of every major innovation this side of the forward pass. Pulling guards, counter-action, even the option. “Playing assignment football” as a way of planning to stop a play should draw way more eye-rolls than it does, because if the offense knows what it’s doing, it’s just going to use those assignments against the defense. I.E., even if the defense does exactly what it’s supposed to do, the offense still wins.

That’s why option and triple-option offenses work after all this time, and why Gus Malzahn can be successful with the Wing-T, albeit slightly altered. And some of those principles are at the heart of what’s made Matt Canada a successful offensive coordinator, particularly in how he’s implemented the jet sweep into a significant series of his offense.

Obviously, we have some familiarity with the concept here at LSU, as the Tigers have used it in a portion of the offense since 2014. But nowhere near to the commitment of Canada – his Pitt offense last year used the jet motion out of every set and personnel group, to the tune of 103 rushing attempts for non-running backs or quarterbacks, most noticeably 60 carries for 631 yards for slot receiver Quadree Henderson.

Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the play, and lamented how limited its use has been for LSU. For one, it’s a quick-hitting misdirection play that can get some speed on the edge. Reverses and other types of end-arounds for receivers can sometimes take too long to develop and rely too much on defensive mistakes. Pitt’s most frequent sweep variety, coupled with an inside zone run, generally relies on an unblocked edge player on the back-side (typical for directional zone blocking), and incorporates the play-side tight ends by having them arc block in the direction of the sweep, to provide a convoy for the receiver.

Coach B Dud’s blog has a fantastic breakdown here, including this diagram:

Pitt’s Inside Zone/Jet Sweep

The diagram also shows the biggest benefit this play provides, in that it essentially cuts the defense in half to provide the numbers advantage previously discussed. The blocking of the play, at minimum, creates a five-on-five matchup for the offensive line and the defensive front seven on the handoff, and two-on-two on the sweep side. And that’s before any other defenders are influenced by the motion, as detailed by this Inside the Pylon post, and the following video.

The Tigers used this same tactic on Derrius Guice’s 70-yard touchdown in the Citrus Bowl, coupling jet motion to D.J. Chark with a power blocking scheme and a pulling guard as a lead for the back.

Chark’s speed is a natural fit for the jet motion, and LSU used a similar jet/zone combo on this 19-yard touchdown versus Southern Miss, only out of a two-back set with fullback J.D. Moore and tight end Colin Jeter carrying out the sweep block.

I’ve always been a big fan of this reverse-pitch play that LSU ran against Auburn in 2015, with the jet motion following the zone blocking, while the running back had the sweepers out on the edge.

Now where Canada takes the play into different directions are by his use of different shifts and motions, including some unbalanced sets with the tackles shifted over to the strength of the formation:

The motion, and how the defense reacts to it, gives the quarterback some pre-snap read flexibility in deciding which way to hand the ball off, essentially making this into a run-run option, so to speak.

Canada will also mix up the motion of the sweep player, having him motion, set, and then come back across the formation another way.

Each motion variety tied back to the inside handoff.

Canada really committed to the sweep as a significant portion of the Panther offense, running it out of multiple sets.

Including heavier packages with H-backs taking the sweep.

And other speedy players like star corner Jordan Whitehead.

That commitment also expanded into a number of constraints to the jet motion, such as this H-Counter, and reverses.

The H-motion can also provide a useful look for non-sweep action plays like the split-zone. And of course, there are a variety of play-action passes off of the look. I particularly like these, because the sweep player gets a free speed release, making him difficult to cover. Defenses occasionally forget about him as well, once they see he doesn’t have the ball.

(all gifs courtesy of Coach Alex Kirby’s twitter)

Pitt also ran a few gadgets off of the action in the Pinstripe Bowl versus Northwestern, like this designed pass for offensive tackle and Piesman Winner Brian O’Neill.

And a flea-flicker.

In the process of discussing Canada, and then watching him get hired, there’s been a lot of discussion of style with the standard clichés like “spread” and “pro-style” and “power-spread” and all these buzzwords that fans hear on ESPN and think give them what they want in an offense. But that’s not what I see from Canada.

What I see is an offense that focuses on a core group of plays and builds off of them with different twists and constraints – the structure of any successful offense, whether it’s an Air Raid passing team or a triple-option running team. It all starts with something simple, and once your players have mastered that, adding to the foundation is easy. That’s what this jet sweep series represents: a commitment to an idea and its execution, and then building off that in all the ways that we’ve illustrated.

LSU has used the jet sweep before, and it seems pretty likely they will again with Canada in 2017. But what’s important here isn’t the play itself, but the foundation that it represents, and that’s what LSU needs Canada to provide.