Friday, August 11, 2006

"First Play" Primer | by Michael

Right about now you'll start to see those "First Play from Scrimmage?" polls on football message boards. These products of late summer ennui pop up during the last two to three week of August with alarming reliability. Why? Because we football fans can't contain our preseason jitters and we're about to burst from excitement. Nine out of ten doctors would agree that it's often best to completely ignore these threads, or if one feels compelled to respond, to use sarcasm: quadruple reverses, flea flickers, halfback toss passes to wide open, downfield quarterbacks, fumblerooskis and the like.

Nevertheless, the first play from scrimmage often does have a magical aura about it, as all those jitters and anticipation get their release. Finally! Game on, baby.

A review of the first plays from the 2005 season:

Play-action pass intended, Quinn tucks and runs
The first play of '05 started on the left hash in what would appear to be a running formation. Jeff Samardzija, on the near sideline, is motioned toward the formation and runs toward the wide flat as Brady Quinn fakes the hand-off to Darius Walker. Quinn bootlegs toward the wide side, but instead of throwing it to Samardzija, he runs for about 7 yards. And the Wannstache rout is on.

Pass complete to Stovall over the middle
ND takes the opening kickoff out to the 25. First play is 5-wide, empty backfield, with Quinn going to the shotgun and Darius split way out left. Quinn quickly finds Maurice Stovall dragging in front of a Wolverine linebacker for an easy 6 yard gain.

Michigan State
Incomplete to Samardzija
After forcing a punt on MSU's first possession, ND breaks the huddle on the Irish 37 with three wide and Walker the lone setback. Play action pass, Quinn tries to find Samardzija down the left side but hits a Spartan defender in the back. It's an easy pick if the defender is looking for it.

Quinn to Fasano to Mazurkiewicz
Pass Right...what more really needs to be said?

Quick Pass to Stovall for a nice gain
Fasano begins this play by lining outside Samardzija on the wide side of the field, and he is motioned toward the line of scrimmage. By design, this movement almost seems like a magician's misdirection, as Quinn then throws a quick pass to Stovall on the boundary side. With the Purdue cornerback ten yards off the ball, Stovall easily turns upfield and picks up 18 yards.

Walker runs up the gut
Here Weis used the same personnel grouping as the week before, but this was a completely new formation that the Irish hadn't used in the first six games. Set up on the right hash, the Irish have twin receivers to the wide side of the field, and both Fasano and FB Asaph Schwapp are also shaded to that side. A simple rush by Walker behind lead blocker Schwapp and the left side of the OL gains about 6 yards.

Slant to Stovall complete
One tight end, four wide. Not only the first time that this personnel group was used all year, it was also utilized heavily throughout the rest of the game. Set up on the right hash, Quinn has three receivers (including Fasano) to his left and two to his right. Unlike the Michigan game, Quinn is under center and not in the shotgun. Here, Quinn finds Stovall on a quick slant for an 8 yard pick-up. Again, the BYU defensive back is about ten yards off the ball.

Screen pass to Thomas falls incomplete
For the second time, Notre Dame starts its possession backed up near its own goal line. The offense shows a new wrinkle: Travis Thomas and Walker line up in a split back set for the first time all year. The move probably caught the Vols' defense by surprise, although the screen pass to Thomas that follows a pump fake screen to Walker on the short side of the field goes incomplete.

Pass complete to the Shark
Two wide, two TEs. This was a very common formation for the Irish in 2005, and was also employed on the first play against Washington. Here, though, Quinn finds Samardzija on a play action pass for 11 yards.

Looks like a pass, tastes like a run
Although most teams didn't rely on creativity to defeat an awful Syracuse squad, this was only the second time (out of seven) that the Irish ran from this WR "bunch" formation all year. Given Weis's predilection toward play action passes, it's reasonable to believe that Syracuse probably expected pass here. The offense lines up on the left hash. Three receivers (including Fasano) bunch outside RT Mark Levoir. Fasano is motioned toward the middle of the line, and on the snap, Walker rushes for 4 yards up the middle.

Incomplete to Fasano
Again the Irish use a dependable 2-TE, 2-WR formation, although what made this unique is that Fasano lined up as a blocking TE and John Carlson lined up as the primary TE. This was the first time that the Irish switched them all year. Although the pass to Fasano is incomplete, it was soon forgotten because of Samardzija's 80-yard touchdown on the very next play. Weis switched Carlson and Fasano a few more times later in the game.

Ohio State
Long down the middle and...just barely incomplete
Two tight ends, two wide and Walker. Quinn play-actions, drops deep, and throws a fifty-yard bomb to Samardzija who had gotten behind the secondary. Shark lays out, has it in his fingertips for a half-second, but it skitters away as he tries to haul it in.

Overall, the Irish ran twice and threw the ball ten times on the first play from scrimmage in 2005. Five of those throws came off a play action fake. The two runs averaged 5.0 yards per play, and the ten passes (five completed) averaged 5.6 yards per pass attempt. One Quinn scramble garnered another seven yards. Not too shabby production on the first play of a game.