Today, we look at two plays from the Ole Miss – Alabama game on Saturday night. Both plays showcase Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze’s offense, his innovation and understanding of the game. He must be a nightmare to coach against.
The first play is a 4th and goal play from the second quarter. The game was tied 3-3, and Ole Miss was going to go for fourth down with about 7:30 left in the second quarter. It was a risky call, especially on the road, but Coach Freeze must have felt better as soon as the teams lined up. Here was how the teams aligned.
Ole Miss comes out in a formation with a pair of wing backs on the right side. Though they are in the backfield, the effect is to show an unbalanced line: there are four blockers on the line of scrimmage to the right of the ball and three to the left.
Alabama cannot afford to allow the ball to be run between the tackles on a 4th and one play, so they have their lineman squeezed in tight. This creates a numbers advantage for the Rebels on the outside right.
With the numerical advantage, it is easy to see where Freeze wants to attack. Alabama didn’t adjust to the ‘unbalanced’ formation. Had they recognized the issue, the adjustment would have been to slide the defensive line toward the imbalance. They didn’t, and here was the result.
In the fourth quarter, Alabama had pulled within 7 points of Mississippi and seemed to be in the midst of a comeback. Facing second and one, Ole Miss called a POP play, reminiscent of the 2013 Iron Bowl.
A POP, or Play Option Pass, is a variation on the read option. On the play, the quarterback and running back run the read option, like most of the country does. If the quarterback keeps the ball the then stays behind the line of scrimmage and attacks the corner. If the cornerback comes up to tackle him, he throws the ball. If the corner back remains in coverage, he throws it over his head.
Two defenders do not have to be blocked because they are being optioned. First the defensive end isn’t blocked and he is the key to whether the ball will be handed to the running back going left or kept with the quarterback.
On this play it may have been called for quarterback Chad Kelly to keep the ball because the defensive end did not crash hard after the running back. After keeping the ball, Kelly glances at the safety to make sure he is not sitting back. If the safety was still deep, the second part of the option would be off. On this play the safety was coming up.
Kelly, being careful not to cross the line of scrimmage, then focused his attention on the corner. He ran directly at him to force the corner to make a decision. When the corner came forward to defend the run and prevent a first down, the ball gently sailed over his head.
It was a beautiful play to watch unfold and is a nightmare for defensive coordinators. When it works well, like here, it usually goes for a touchdown. Expect to see this play being incorporated into more offenses that run a read option, which is most everyone.
Here are the full highlights from the game, with both plays included: