Everyone saw the Block Six in the Florida State – Georgia Tech game, but the Seminoles would never have attempted the field goal if the Yellow Jackets hadn’t tied the game on the previous possession. On that possession it appeared Georgia Tech was finished when they were facing a 4th and 5, but they converted, extended the drive, and eventually won the game. Here’s how.
Let’s look at the formations first.
Georgia Tech is in an unconventional formation. The tackle on the left side of the play is an eligible receiver since he is the last man on the line of scrimmage. As we’ll see later, Florida State didn’t pick up on this. Conversely on the right side of the formation the tight end is not eligible because he is covered up by the receiver on the end of the line.
Florida State responds by playing man coverage and blitzing 6. The two receivers to the right side of the offensive formation are covered by the defenders across from them, man to man. The tight end, who is not eligible to receive a pass, is covered by the outside linebacker/nickel back. The safety has the running back, and the backside corner has the A back (or wingback) on that side.
To defend against the option the backside linebacker rushes around the center of the line to the play side of the formation. This is a technique to defend against the option because it will be nearly impossible for the quarterback to see this player coming. If Georgia Tech had run the option and the quarterback made all the proper reads, the ball carrier would still probably encounter this linebacker before making the necessary five yards to gain. Then we’d be explaining how brilliant this defensive call was.
Georgia Tech didn’t run the option. They ran a two receiver pass play, called the wheel. On the play the outside receiver runs a post pattern. By design the post pulls a defender away from the sideline and toward the middle of the field. Ideally, this is true whether the defense is in a zone or man to man. In a man to man coverage, like the one FSU ran, the outside defender is supposed to follow the post pattern toward the middle of the field. In a zone, the defender responsible for the outside zone is not supposed to follow the receiver but often does.
The inside receiver runs a wheel route. (The combination of these two routes is often called the wheel, too.) On the wheel route the receiver runs up the field and cuts toward the sideline. He then makes a second cut vertically down the field. In man to man coverage, it is difficult for the defender to stay with the receiver through multiple cuts. Against a zone, the double cut conceals the ultimate destination of the play, which can lull deeper defenders into following other routes rather than staying in their zone.
The play worked exactly as it was designed. The corner back covering the post pattern covered his man and ran toward the middle of the field. The safety covering the slot receiver had to respect the beginning of the wheel route. Since Tech only needed 5 yards for a first down the safety had to defend the first cut. When he did the receiver cut again, this time vertically. This second cut created the separation that allowed him to be so open. Without any over the top coverage help available the safety was beat. A good throw later Georgia Tech was in field goal range.
Florida State didn’t do much wrong here. This isn’t a case of pointing and laughing at a bad call. The defensive call was solid and appropriate for the situation. It was an aggressive call to not have any defenders in deep zones, but GT only needed five yards for a first down.
The technique played by the safety wasn’t bad at all. Obviously it could have been a bit better, but it would be very difficult to be in position to defend a 5 yard out route and the wheel route that was run. This play was successful because it was a great call at the right time and was well executed. Although the play probably would have worked against a zone as well, it is ideally suited for the man to man coverage it defeated.