Inside the Playbook: OSU Follow Pivot Concept

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of Urban Meyer's passing attack is how simplified he makes it for his QBs. Meyer understands the capabilities of his players and the capabilities of the defenses he is facing, and because of that, he is able to limit the amount of decisions his players have to make to allow them to play fast and make the correct decisions repeatedly. In his mind, there is no reason to complicate what doesn't need to be complicated; and that not only makes perfect sense, it also shows a lot of restraint that many coaches don't have.

On this play, what we see is a very simple play for the offense to run, but also a play design that gives the defense a lot to think about. Simplifying the game for your team while complicating it for the opponent allows your team to execute at a higher level, and that's a constant theme throughout Meyer's playbook. Today we're going to look at how Meyer dials up what he calls a "Follow Pivot" as a further iteration of his mesh concept and what I term "drag and follow" (also known as drive and chase).

First, a H/T to Seth over at MGoBlog for putting much of the foundation on this post.

The Play

OSU Defense
I think it's important to understand what the defense is doing to really understand the idea behind the offensive play. So let's start there.

The red lines are where the player is essentially running. The yellow lines are where that defender is taking his eyes. The red text is his job on the play.

OSU is in their standard Cover 4 here. The CB to the top of the screen (field) is in MEG on #1 (outer most WR to that side), meaning he's playing the WR in man coverage everywhere that WR goes. The CB to the bottom of the screen (boundary) is playing MOD, meaning he only plays man coverage if #1 works vertical. As soon as #1 goes inside, he gains depth and helps outside of #2. By the time the play developes, he's essentially in man coverage on the WR that runs the post (the one to the boundary).

The primary issue on this play for OSU's defense is their OLBs, particularly the one to the boundary (bottom of the screen). His eyes are locked on #2 as he tries to reroute him going down the seam. That's correct if both receivers on that side are going vertical, but he has to get off that receiver quicker and latch onto the #1 (outer most WR) working inside. The preferred thing for him to do would be to see #1 working inside and "wall" him off, essentially not allowing him into the middle of the field. The OLB to the field won't do this because the CB to his side is in man, so he needs to work quicker to the flat.

Follow Pivot

The play that OSU is running here is called "Follow Pivot" (essentially a dig-snag combo which you see to the field side). The play itself is a further iteration to "drag and follow" (also known as "Drive and Chase") and the mesh concept (more about this later). I wrote about Northwestern running this against Michigan and Michigan's counter to it a while back here. Interestingly, Michigan was also playing Cover 4 that game.

This is a play, like essentially all Meyer plays, that is intended to beat any coverage. The reads are limited; this is not a triangle read as most West Coast Offenses would call for. Essentially all of Meyer's plays have a single movement key and then a 2 to 3 person progression. This play is no different.

The QB here is reading boundary to field: pivot-follow-pivot (snag-dig-snag). These are all underneath routes. The movement key is the OLB I noted earlier (the one boxed in the play diagram). The post to the boundary is window dressing (or launch it if nothing is open; basically, it spaces the field and holds the safeties deep). The release from the RB is a late dump off if needed. The snag routes sell the drag and works back to the flat vs man coverage; Against zone they settle at about 5 yards.


Z12 yard follow route (dig). Lose two on the stem.
XPivot route at 5 yards. Sell drag, then come out flat. If hot cut pivot route to 2-3 yards and make it fast. Settle vs zone.
YBig Post (Skinny Post). Vs no deep, 5 step post (quick post)
HPivot route at 5 yards. Sell drag, then come out flat. If hot cut pivot route to 2-3 yards and make it fast. Settle vs zone.
RIdentify pass rush. Protect if unblocked left. Release to far flat.
HOTPivot away from protection or 5 step post depending on coverage strength
Movement KeyWeak side curl/hook defender.
ProgressionWeak Pivot to Follow route to pivot route

This works vs man because 1) There is a natural rubs due to OSU's inverted formation (inside WRs up) and running what looks like an Unders concept underneath them; 2) all 3 receivers essentially sell different routes (the pivot sells drag before working back to the flat; the dig sells a skinny post or corner route before working across the field horizontally). It works vs zone because all routes can naturally settle in the voids and overload underneath coverage.

First, let me start with the inverted formation. I've talked previously about my love for tight and bunch formations. While inverting the formation limits some of the bubble screen threat, in my opinion, it opens up the quick passing game much more for your QB. This is because the outside receivers have the advantage of a natural run on any inward breaking route. The inside receivers, typically matched up against LBs and Safeties, have the advantage of working deep or intermediate routes and being able to get open against them. These inward breaking routes are shorter throws for the QB, and the run forces the defense to show their hand in coverage, allowing for the QB to make quick, simple reads of his "movement key". At the same time, you can still run your full suite of plays through this formation, you just have the added advantage for inward breaking routes (the disadvantages, as noted, are clearing out the flat for outward breaking routes, and to a degree run blocking as the slots no longer have as advantageous of an angle into their blocks).

Now about point 2.

Selling the Mesh Concept
I've written a whole piece about the variety of mesh concepts, including what I've called "mesh-out" previously. Here's a look at a standard unders concept. Notice it includes a corner route to allow for the sideline high-low, a post route to hold the safeties deep, and a swing route from the RB in an attempt to clear out the underneath coverage a bit more for the mesh receivers.

Let's alter it a bit to match closer with the play above.

Compared to the follow pivot play that was run

And that's what complicates things for the defense while keeping it relatively simple for the offense.