Film Room: UTEP's Use of Tight Ends vs UTSA

UTEP fought through five overtimes to beat UTSA and get their second win of 2016. Ryan Metz played a huge role in the Miner win by distributing the ball to a number of different targets, including a couple of tight ends. 

The Roundup has been very up front about our love of the tight end, that magical swiss army knife, unicorn who is literally the duct tape of an offense. So many uses, you can't count 'em. UTEP still uses the tight end in their system. Tight ends cause matchup problems all over the field. Their size makes it difficult for the increasingly smaller nickels and safeties to cover and their athleticism is a challenge for linebackers. 

So here's UTEP on Saturday night, using their tight ends on third down to make UTSA's linebackers cover, something that most collegiate linebackers struggle with. With the added threat of Aaron Jones out of the backfield, the Roadrunner linebackers were committed to trying to stop the run.

Good offensive playcalling is about taking a defensive player or unit out of his/its comfort zone and creating favorable matchups that your player can win. We aren't huge fans of Brent Pease, and he had his issues Saturday, but he also made some very good 3rd down calls to keep UTSA off balance. 

Let's start here: Third and eight, first quarter, UTEP is down by 14 and has yet to pick up a first down. The Miners split out tight end Kent Taylor, the Florida/Kansas transfer. At 6'6 240 he's a poster child for matchup issues. This is a simple concept, Taylor's just running a crossing route. UTSA is running a single high safety, cover 3 zone. The Roadrunners' two inside linebackers have hook zone or middle of the field responsibility. Here's the play. 

On the snap, the boundary inside linebacker reads into the line and gets caught in no man's land. An ideal zone will seeks to eliminate green grass, however once the linebacker gets caught in between, he opens up a nice piece of green grass for Taylor to exploit. It's an easy thrown and now UTSA has a 6'6 240 pound battery ram running lose in the secondary. 

Later, in the third quarter, UTSA is again up by 2 scores. This is a key series, to this point UTSA has scored on four of five offensive series and after scoring to go up by 14, the Miners are pinned back at the four yard line on the kickoff. This is "step on the throat" time. UTEP runs twice and is in a third and two. UTSA puts eight in the box and a man coverage look. The field corner is giving a man key, as is the corner on the motion across the formation. On the snap, everyone pairs off, UTSA brings a blitz from the weak side. It's actually pretty effective as Aaron Jones is forced to take on two defenders. 

UTEP tight end Hayden Plinke runs what we called a hot route, I'm sure that's not what it's called here, maybe a go, but it's simple. Now here again, the goal is to make defenders play outside of the comfort zone. UTEP does this by isolating a tight end on a linebacker. In this instant, the linebacker gets caught with his eyes in the backfield, again there's a significant run threat from Aaron Jones. Plinke only needs a moment of  lost of eye discipline and he's gone. A simple throw is made a bit harder due to pressure in the face of Metz, but he puts the ball where he needs to and Plinke is gone. 

That play flipped the field and all the sudden a comfortable 14 point lead was down to 7. UTSA lost its chance to step on the Miners' throat. 

Last one, late in the fourth, UTEP is tied at 28 and driving for what could be the win. Here again, third and six, near midfield and UTEP turns to Plinke for another conversion. UTSA dials up a zone blitz here, dropping the two defensive ends and filling with its two inside linebackers. 

Metz and Plinke do their jobs very well. Let's start with Plinke, on the snap he appears to stay in on pass protection, dropping back a few yards before free releasing into the hook zone. No one is there. UTSA safety moves down to eliminate green space but he doesn't come down far enough to effect the throw. Notice how Metz moves his eyes to move the coverage; he's looking at the boundary side before coming back to Plinke who's wide open. Here again it's a matchup issue: UTEP's 6'4 265 pound tight end is loose with a head of steam in the secondary, the safety makes a brave play but he's blown up and Plinke uses him as a spring board on his way to get four more yards and a first down. It's a great scheme run against perhaps the single best defensive call UTEP could have hoped for. 

The Roundup is interested to see what Ryan Metz does as a full time start for the Miners, maybe he can save their season. UTEP has a run of winnable game coming up as they've already run into Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss. Perhaps this could be the start of something. Metz has a couple of tight ends who will need to be accounted for in the pass game. 

Posted on October 25, 2016 and filed under Southwest Round-Up.