If you missed the Florida-Tennessee game on Saturday, go back and watch it; it will be worth your time. If you’ve seen it, or if you’ve seen the highlights, you no doubt remember Florida’s 4th down touchdown with time running out in the 4th quarter. It was the key play of the game. Here it is to refresh your memory.
Tennessee was leading 27-20. Florida had the ball on their own 37 yard line facing 4th and 14. The Gators had to convert the 4th down to stay in the game. Anything other than a first down or a touchdown would end the game.
Florida split three receivers to the wide side of the field and one to the boundary. They kept one running back in to block to make sure the quarterback had enough time to throw the ball.
Tennessee was in a nickel defense, meaning they had five defensive backs on the field.
Tennessee was in a kind of prevent defense. A prevent defense is one designed to take away the deep part of the field by making that area the primary coverage area. More specifically, Tennessee was in Cover 4 or quarters coverage. Quarters means four defensive backs divide the deepest part of the field into four zones, each taking a quarter of the field.
One Tennessee linebacker was going to cover the running back man-to-man if he left the backfield (he didn’t). There were two other Tennessee defenders who had underneath zones. Underneath in this case meaning not as deep as the quarters defenders.
On the boundary side of the field, the one receiver ran a fade, but it was a decoy route. The important part of the pattern was on the wide side. Of the three receivers, the furthest inside and the furthest outside ran the same route. Both of them ran digs, where they ran down the field until they got to the first down marker and turned 90 degrees in. The middle receiver ran a flag route. He ran down the field until the first down marker and then broke 45 degrees to the outside, toward the sideline.
When the middle receiver broke to the sideline for his flag route, the corner back with the outside quarter zone ran deeper to cover him. This was correct. The safety with the inside quarter zone also ran with the receiver. This was incorrect. When the safety chased the flag route, for only a second, he left his zone and left an open area on the field.
The design of the play was to cross up the deep defenders. To confuse them and to get them to move out of their zones, the receivers ran patterns that moved from one zone to another. All three receivers on the right side of the formation start off in one zone and move to another. Two of the receivers cross, adding another dimension and another opportunity for mistakes by the defense.
Ultimately a momentary mistake from one defender, the play side safety, created a big enough window for the throw to come in, and some bad tackling led to the touchdown. It was a well designed and executed play which took advantage of a brief mistake.