by Diante Lee
Surely, everyone can recall their formal introduction to 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
For the luckiest 50,000 of us, it was witnessed Mid-September in the sea of red that is Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. For most others, it happened at the local sports pub or on the worn out seat of the “King’s Chair” of the living room.
For me, it was a push notification during a long weekend workday at a call center. Some Louisville QB had put the finishing touches on a beat down of Florida State, ripping off a 47 yard run, going untouched for the first 43.
Lamar Jackson had arrived nationally.
His Heisman campaign had its ups (600 yards of total offense vs. Syracuse) and downs (finishing the season on a 3 game losing streak), leaving much up in the air concerning whether he was the most deserving candidate for the awards he won. The larger, more confused discussion has been about Jackson’s prospects as a professional Quarterback at the next level.
ESPN’s Anthony McFarland thinks Louisville is wasting his time.
it wont happen but if Louisville were really thinking about Lamar Jackson's future they would move him to wr,thats where he will play in NFL
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) June 20, 2017
Anonymous conference rivals told Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel that Jackson has “no shot” while being asked to compliment former Clemson Tiger Deshaun Watson.
NFL scouts are very cautiously optimistic about his arm, as told to SI’s Emily Kaplan.
Jackson typically falls behind USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Washington State’s Luke Falk – even though Jackson has objectively performed better against better competition over a representative sample size.
Even if we cut out the extreme takes, the general rumblings are that Jackson has yet to truly prove himself as a pure passer, that Jackson’s offense makes for a difficult evaluation, that he is more of a runner with an arm than a quarterback with gifted feet.
After an excellent performance against Purdue to suggest that Jackson is the best of the draft eligible QB’s, now is an ideal time to study the function of the Louisville offense and whether Jackson has been showing us the same traits all along.
What is Louisville’s offense?
Bobby Petrino runs the pistol, and will sometimes offset the running back to create a truer shotgun set, but the alignment does not much dictate the offense.
Louisville is diverse and unique in personnel usage. They may line up one rep in 13 Personnel, sub in 2 backs and play out of the Diamond formation, then bring a couple of TE’s back in and play out of empty.
The offense is pro style, and mirrors some of the spread elements Jim Harbaugh used to unleash the legs of Colin Kaepernick in the run game. Petrino wants to hit a defense with inside zone and stretch zone from as many formations and with as many “tags”, reads and adjustments as he can to set up the perimeter game for his QB.
In the pass game, you’ll see exactly how Petrino is readying Jackson for the next level.
Petrino rarely calls for “quick” game passing routes, in stark contrast to the “rhythm” offense we watched Clemson employ with Deshaun Watson last season.
Almost every progression Petrino calls sets out to isolate certain routes against certain coverages, and Louisville wants to hit big, down the field.
Varying “Switch” Concepts
Louisville uses this route combination to create 3 possible progressions for Jackson based on his understanding of the coverage:
Jackson’s ball placement was just off, but the function of the offense was successful. The defense was made to pattern match, but the vertical stems on the switch concepts keeps the DB stuck to the post.
They’ll run “switch” from a 2WR look as well when they’re confident the defense is showing man-to-man looks.
The payoff for attacking with “switch” is using “post-out” variations to vacate seam defenders and hit big over the top:
Louisville has some Run-and-Shoot “switch” verticals concepts in their bag as well, with a middle curl in case any underneath defenders blitz or vacates their zones.
And one of the unique aspects of Louisville, their ability to be truly multiple with TE’s factors into their pass game, and this “switch” verticals look into the boundary is difficult to guard after the play fake.
Money Plays in the Louisville Offense
It cannot be stressed enough that Bobby Petrino is willing to run just about anything from just about any personnel grouping. Personnel groupings are not indicators of run/pass tendencies, and that makes their play-action game deadly.
From 12 Personnel, they use a split-zone play fake to hold the defense still just long enough for the “Yankee” pass concept to get behind the defense.
Louisville will use that same split zone action up front to hit the middle crosser in their “flood” concepts.
Petrino will use his TE’s and RB’s in the offense’s “triangle” reads as well, like these “snag/spot” concepts:
The last piece of Louisville’s money plays is a variation of the “flood” concept I covered earlier. Just like any triangle read, it involves a clear out pattern and a check down, but the intermediate read is a curl/out option route built to isolate a TE against underneath defenders in space.
Jackson has tape attacking every level of this route combination, from underneath:
In the middle:
And over the top:
These progressions and reads are only some of the more commonly occurring calls within the offense. Petrino may mirror routes, he may call for inside-out or high-low reads, he may take a downfield shot, or a triangle read, or a shallow-to-deep cross progression.
This amount of versatility in an offense, and Jackson’s ability to process the multiple concepts from varying personnel goes a long way to show that the offense he is in prepares him mentally for the next step in his playing career.