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Inside the Clemson Offense: Quick Passing I

In the last post, I said we'd lay out the quick passing game to show how simple it can be made. The quick game simply means that you want to get rid of the ball immediately after the snap. This could be because he reads blitz and audibles, or a called quick play from the sideline. Either way, the goal of the play is just to move the chains forward a small amount and hopefully catch them in bad coverage. From under center, the quick game would be a drop of no more than 3 steps. From the gun, there need not be a step backwards every time.

In addition to the read the QB makes of the front alignment to count the numbers in the box or find the strength on every play, he makes reads of the deep coverage and the underneath leverage. In the quick game, he does not have to read the deep coverage, and really needs to read only a few players on the defense to decide where the ball needs to go.

Judging by the comments to our strategy posts, I don't know whether folks truly "get" the concept of leverage. Everything in the alignment of the players on defense is based on getting the right leverage on the offense. When a defender aligns to the inside, he's giving the offensive player outside releases and is supposed to stop the offensive player from going inside at all costs. The offense can use that against them, and here you'll see it.

Versus a 2x2 spread formation, the defense will have to make a choice on the slot WRs. Either they'll bring a safety down, walk a LB out (usually WILL), or move to a Nickel/Dime package and have another CB in to cover the slots. In this quick pass, the QB will be looking to get rid of the ball to the slot WRs, since its most likely they'll have a weaker man/man defender assigned to them, and the ball can get to them faster than to an outside WR.

In the play below, we've diagrammed All-hitch. The QB reads the defender leverage on the slots. Whichever one is aligned further inside will be the pre-snap decision on who gets the ball. He'll be looking at him immediately when the snap happens. Thats his only read here, and he does not read the outside WR leverage. If the defender on the #2 receiver (count from the outside-in) drops back in coverage or gets width immediately, then #2 gets the ball. If he jumps on the #2 immediately, then the QB looks at the outside WR.


A 2x2 spread set with All-Hitch as the call. The QB reads the defenders on the #2 receiver on each side, the 3-back and the 5-back in our offense here. As you can see, the Nickel has good inside leverage on the 5, but WILL is playing far inside, so the presnap choice is to throw to the 3-back.

An All-Slant, double-out, or double-in play works exactly the same. So thats 4 plays with the only real difference being the route change.


Now to add a bit of complexity, we'll use a double move route. The Hitch-N-Go and the Slant-N-Go (Sluggo) combine a vertical route with the basic hitch or slant. The WR will be designated as "tagged" if he runs the altered route. The tag could come as a QB signal to him, or as a called play. Both Chad Morris and Gus Malzahn like adding the Go-tag to their plays. Its more frequently the outside WR who gets this tag.

As the WR starts off, he runs his hitch (or slant) as the playcall states. When he makes his cut at the top of the hitch route, he looks back to the QB and raises his hands as if the ball is coming. This is meant to bring the defender close, you have to "sell" the hitch and then Go, not just cut inside and Go. Still, he wants to avoid contact with a defender, so he has the freedom (after he sells the hitch) to take a slide step sideways or spin to get upfield untouched. This is one area you should look at to determine how well coached the WRs are.



All-Slants with a Sluggo tag on the outside WRs.

The QB makes the same read as above on the leverage of #2, even though the play is designed to hit #1 on the outside. Here he will pump fake to the #2 he picked (#3 still), and then immediately plant his feet and hit #1 on the hitch-N-Go. He should NEVER take a 3-step drop unless he has to avoid a rush. A sluggo tag works exactly the same.


The hitch route with a corner tag on the #2 receiver, called the Smash, is when the inside WR runs a Corner route (7 yards up and cut at 45 degrees to the corner) and the outside WR runs a hitch. Its meant to defeat Cover 2 defense but can post big problems for Man defense as well. Its not run against C3 because there would be a deep safety/CB at the end of the corner route sitting on it, but coupled with a seam divide it can be used there as well.


Double Smash play from Regular formation. The read of the safeties says Cover 2. The QB then reads the CB on the #1 WR (9 and 2-back). The CB on 9 is playing Press, and 3 has leverage on the WLB for a free release outside.

The read for the QB on the Smash is different than before. He must first diagnose the type of coverage by reading the safety. If its Cover 2 zone, he reads the defender on #1.  If one CB is playing further back, he will look for the outside WR with the defender playing the closest. After the snap, if the CB sits on the hitch, the QB hits the Corner route. If the CB backpedals, he throws the hitch route. If the coverage is M2M, he throws to the Corner route.

A tag change can be made to the play if the defense sets up in Cover 0 or 2 because of your formation or a blitz read. When theres no deep safety in the middle, you want to hit the middle of the field. We can keep the Smash on one side, but on the other we tag the #2 in a Post route. That WR sells a Go route to get separation, and then cuts 45 degrees inside.

As before, the QB reads the leverage on the tagged WR versus M2M. He wants to make that defender wrong. If they arent playing him tight, he'll be looking here when he gets the snap. Versus a zone team, the QB reads the safety to the side of the tagged WR. If the safety drops back (respecting the Post route, as he's supposed to), you throw the hitch.


The SS decides to get depth to protect against the Post route, so the QB has a choice of the hitch to the 2-back, or playing the Smash combo on the other side.

We'll cover some different route combos (patterns) in the next post, but hopefully you now see where the phrase "One read offense" comes from, and how simple the plays can really be for the offense to learn.