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Spread-iso ball is thriving in Houston

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The Cougars are running Kendall Briles “veer and shoot” offense at a high level and illustrating the future of spread football down in Houston.

Tulsa v Houston Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

We may be witnessing the twilight of the original spread-iso guru, Bill Snyder of Kansas State. The Wildcats will be playing to avoid a fourth loss and a near certain elimination from bowl eligibility against Baylor this weekend. Against the Texas Longhorns last weekend they tried to start brilliant running QB Alex Delton and execute their standard wizardry:

It’s a 4x1 unbalanced set with a bubble screen to hold defenders wide while they run iso with a tackle lead behind star right tackle Dalton Risner. This is the sort of scheme that has propelled the best Kansas State teams but they couldn’t secure the point of attack even with all of the mathematical advantages secured by the scheme.

Things hit a particular low when Delton was sacked trying to throw a bubble screen attached to a QB power run:

The Wildcats would later make a run at it by inserting a passing QB (Skylar Thompson) and executing some spread-iso passing concepts. The big issue in K-State has been the lack of ancillary blockers at TE or FB to allow their preferred blocking schemes to win the point of attack.

Meanwhile, spread-iso tactics are thriving elsewhere around the country in more advanced forms. Particularly in Houston right now, where they are embracing the philosophy as a way to light up the scoreboard rather than a means to ball control.

The iso run game

I’ve written a few times now on the emergence of iso run schemes amongst spread teams. Kendall Briles was calling offenses at Baylor for years that made that a major component to their run game, particularly running it to the big right side of their 2015 OL with All-American LT Spencer Drango pulling over to lead the way.

Houston includes a lot more RPOs into their attack then Snyder has ever felt comfortable using at K-State and that allows them to run the dart “iso” play from four receiver spread sets because they can use pass options to hold defenders wide rather than needing a burly TE to block them.

On either of these examples:

You can see Tulsa defenders closing late on the runs after being held in place by the threat of the screen to the boundary or the glance route to the field. Up front it becomes a contest of five on five, if a DL or LB doesn’t beat a block then there’s no one to tackle the RB until a defender initially dropping over the pass options arrives.

They’ll run it with a TE on the field as well, serving as the insert block up front off the double team, you can see it in affect here with QB D’Eriq King seeing the more aggressive run defense and instead option for a fade pass option:

Barely incomplete this time, but they’ll take that shot regularly and it puts a lot of stress on defenses over the course of a game. It’s a tough mix when a team will throw run schemes at you with a lead insert at the point of attack but then a vertical pass option to hold a safety.

Iso routes

One of the big questions for Houston this season was how well D’Eriq King would adjust to this style of offense. Technically the “veer and shoot” passing game is very simple conceptually for the QB, the spacing and the RPO tactics make it fairly straightforward where the ball should go. However, you have to be able to set your feet quickly after putting the ball in the RB’s gut on the mesh and then deliver a good ball to the numbers or down the field which isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

King boosted the Cougar offense down the stretch of 2017 by breathing life into their QB run RPOs where he was either throwing a quick screen or hitch or running the ball himself. To go from that to throwing the ball down the field or handing off could be tricky, but he’s handled it very well.

Things are generally made easier though by Houston’s use of play-action to give King deep drops to work from:

They’re overloading the strong side here with two vertical routes, so when the strong safety carries the slot to the middle safety that leaves the boundary outside receiver alone in the end zone. King’s ability to see these and hit them down the field after moving around in the pocket is similar to another highly athletic QB that Briles has coached in the past.

They’ve also brought back the power play-action play that RG3 used to torture the Big 12 with back in 2011:

On this play and so many of their other passing concepts, the ball is basically always going to one receiver, the slot in this instance. The field slot is pretty much open for a TD and King never even looks at him, he’s punishing the underneath defenders for getting sucked in by the play-action and pulling guard all the way.

When you spread receivers extra wide and make defenses worry about the run and coverage at the same time, it becomes pretty simple to just pick a matchup and throw the receiver open in this offense because the defense can’t get help there.

Single-wing football

The Cougars have an extra gear they’ve barely used yet, the D’Eriq King running ability that they relied on in 2017. Although he’s already rushed for 224 yards and seven touchdowns, King has only reached double-digit carries in two games this season. One was an 11-47 day with one TD against Texas Tech while the other was a 10-117 performance with two TDs against Tulsa.

Much of that damage came on this play:

This is QB stretch, which was a common weapon for Houston when Tom Herman was the head coach and Greg Ward, Jr was the trigger-man. It became a famous play for how effectively Michigan used it with Denard Robinson under Rich Rodriguez. As the Cougars unveil more QB run game for King in conference play they’ll have a chance to win the conference again like they did with Ward back in 2015.

The idea is much the same as on their iso RPO plays or route running, the Cougars generally know before the snap which of their skill athletes is going to be getting the ball in space and then it’s just a matter of executing it.

As spread iso-ball dies in Manhattan, Kansas the next iterations of it is thriving in Houston.