A couple of quick thoughts on D.J. Gillins’ start against Florida International on Saturday night. We won’t belabor many points, but we wanted to point out some good, some bad, and some ugly. Let’s start with the objective data. Gillins hit on 17 of 31 for 107 yards. That’s 3.5 yards per attempt, 6.3 yards per completion. He didn’t throw a touchdown, he did, however, throw four picks.
Let’s look at a simple concept against a single high safety and two very different outcomes.
If you’ve played Madden, you’re familiar with four verticals. It’s deadly on the PS4. It’s also pretty good in real life. Here’s UTSA’s running the concept in the first quarter against a single high safety. FIU gave UTSA a lot of single high safety. The single high safety “closes” the middle of the field whereas a two-deep safety look “opens” the middle of the field. In a closed field scenario, an offense either tries to make the safety cover as much of the width of the field as possible or goes underneath the single high defender.
UTSA comes out in 20 personnel, lining Tykee Ogle-Kellogg at the tight end with a larger split. We love that wrinkle, make a linebacker or a safety try to cover him. The Roadrunners send Ogle-Kellogg straight up the hash, send the back out to his side, the boundary side, and up the numbers, On the twins side, or field side, they send both receivers on seam or nines.
Watch Gillins’ eyes here; he’s going to look to the boundary seem and Ogle-Kellogg to “move” the single safety a few steps towards Ogle-Kellogg. He then comes back to Marquez McNair running free and easy into green space for a big gain on UTSA’s best drive of the game.
Fast forward to the third quarter, and the same setup - single high safety, 20 personnel, four verticals - but a very different outcome.
This time Gillins doesn’t move the safety and instead looks longingly at Ogle-Kellogg. Gillins’ throw is late, and FIU’s 6-4 safety takes roughly three strides to pick the ball off. By the way, holy shit, Butch Davis has put together some athletes at FIU. Butch is one of the best talent evaluators in the last 25 years of college football.
Back to UTSA, if you want to add regret to your life, take a gander at how open the back is outside the numbers or the other back sitting underneath the zone or the receiver on the field side hash. This is why we drink.
How about a little ugly.
In 2016 I marveled at the technical proficiency of the UTSA offensive line. The Roadrunners were big, physical, athletic, and technically sound. Their pass sets were practically in concert. They had knee benders, strong backs; they punched, I was in love.
This year the pendulum swung back.
Here’s a terrible sequence on a twist game.
Let’s talk twist and more globally technique. A pass set, knees bent, back erect, head up, hands and chest level, elbows tucked is the answer to balance issues. It’s also the measure of an efficient, capable lineman. Waist benders don’t survive against sound defensive linemen. If you bend at the waist, your head is coming down next, you get all lungy, and you are toast. Start yelling look out or contact your quarterback’s next of kin and tell them their love one is laying in tatters because you aren’t athletic/strong/disciplined enough to hold a pass set.
On a twist, the best way to deal with tricky defensive linemen who don’t want to play head up is to “exchange” the twist. By exchange I mean get hands on the linemen, carry him to your buddy next to you, let him get hands on, and then, with your head up, locate the next guy coming around. The ideal is four hands on the twister, keeps your pads parallel to the line, and find the next guy. Active hands and keeping space are important. A good set is always imperative.
Here the right side of the UTSA offensive line acts like it’s never seen a twist or worked into a decent set. The twister dictates space, gets into the guard's chest and whips him. No punch, no extension, you may as well pass pro with your arms tied behind your back.
On the other side, the linebacker runs across the formation and through the “B” gap untouched, crossing the face of two linemen and into the lap of D.J. Gillins.
You can’t put this loss on Gillins, but I will hazard this prediction, UTSA won’t get better until they get better up front. Even then they’ve got to continue to do the little things, like looking off a safety or throwing on time.
When a team isn’t successful, they can often get caught waiting for the next bad thing to happen. At a point, it’s tough to play disciplined football. UTSA is in a funk, but we’ll learn a lot about this team in the next two games by how they compete and whether they do the little things.