In the rubble that was the Rice trip to Birmingham, Miklo Smalls emerged as a bright spot. The Freshman from Plano East saw his most significant action and played his best game. Not just that, it was the best day a Rice quarterback's had all year. We decided we'd take a look at Small's afternoon to see the good and bad.
A few numbers before we get into the video, Smalls completed 14 of 22 passes for 227 yards with a touchdown and a pick. 227 yards are the most an Owl quarterback's thrown for this season. His 64% completion percentage is the best afternoon for a Rice quarterback as well. Smalls rushed for 99 yards on ten carries with a touchdown. Small's 326 yards of total offense is the high water mark for the Owls as well.
The Owls were blown right out of Birmingham by UAB. In the first half, Rice trailed 42-7 before losing to 49-14. The Blazers are well coached and ahead of schedule. Rice is 1-7 and limping home.
First, let's look at Smalls doing something he's comfortable doing, running the zone read.
The key to a successful zone read is a quarterback who trusts his eyes, establishes a strong mesh point, and makes a definitive read. This is a lead zone, where Rice brings the tight end or H-Back across the formation to lead beyond the read player, in this case, the defensive end. The end crashes on both of these plays, and Smalls makes the proper read and gets downhill quickly.
Underrated in Smalls running ability is his talent for physically finishing runs. He trucks a couple of safeties on these two jaunts.
Here's Smalls running out of the pocket against the Blazers.
This is cover two man and a blitz to boot. When teams blitz a quarterback, he has to make them pay. Elite quarterbacks see blitz schemes as opportunities. You can either bury them with a pass or burn them by breaking contain.
Using your legs is a great blitz beater for cover two-man. The safeties are dropping, and the corners aren't watching the backfield, they're watching their man responsibility. Here, an avenue opens, and Smalls takes advantage, showcasing his speed along the way. We mentioned Smalls' finishing runs earlier, on Saturday he played smart and got out of bounds when the opportunity presented itself. A Rice kid is playing smart, shocker.
Alright, let's look at Smalls throwing the ball.
Here's another example of beating a blitz, this time Smalls beats the rush through the air. The Blazers bring a blitz and play cover one-man on the backside. Cover one means the lone safety is sitting on an island, covering deep as the deepest. Smalls beats the blitz by throwing into the blitz. What we mean by that is Smalls throws in the direction of the blitzing rushers and into the space they vacate.
This throw is impressive because Smalls sees the opening before the receiver makes his break and throws his teammate open, or into green grass. We like Smalls pocket pressure, he climbs when he needs to, and sets his feet to help with accuracy. Smalls isn't afraid to use the middle of the field, an area UAB was ceding to the Owls. From Smalls' performance against Army to this game against UAB, he's apparently getting more comfortable, and you can see why Rice coaches are excited by his ability.
Now the bad news, we're fair and balanced here.
If you're throwing to the boundary, you can't be late. If you're late and you don't hit the mascot with the pass, chances are you're chasing a cornerback, and those guys tend to be fast. Smalls has issues turning the football over, his first quarter against Army proved disastrous thanks to turnovers. He should grow out of those problems with more snaps, but he's been a bit of a turnover machine.
The Owls run a combination route on a run/pass option play. Not sure what Smalls sees here, at the nine route is covered, the Blazers are running a zone look, and the corner is squatting to come down on the out route. We spoke earlier about the key to a zone read is a definitive read and the quarterback trusting his eyes. Not sure what Smalls' eyes are telling him but the execution is lacking. The corner jumps this route like it's a T-bone and he's off to the races.
Rice's 2017 season is a disaster; it'll probably cost David Bailiff his job. The Owls may have found something in Smalls, turning the keys to the offense over to him the rest of the way is a smart use of time.