UAB Rushing Attack

The UAB rushing attack is a proven commodity. UAB has accumulated 1,396 yards on 275 carries, is top 25 in rushing yards per game in the nation, and is second only to FAU in C-USA in that category. UAB runs the ball nearly league-best 46 times a game and passes it league worst 24 times a game.

Through 6 games, UAB has scored 3 rushing scores per game and averages over 5 yards per rush.

But how does a running team dominate in a league that passes to win (sit down FAU, it’s not about you right now)?

Two ways – well, three but one is inherent: It is college football, defense, and cleverness.

College football allows offenses to be a little more “fun” (thank goodness). Defense gives the offense more opportunities – and UAB’s defense is really good at doing just that. This post is about the rush offense, however, so we’ll just buck sweep the former two ways off the table and focus on cleverness.

UAB and Misdirection

In order to move the ball consistently on the ground, teams have to do more than just run up the gut. Correction: teams have to do more than just successfully run up the gut. UAB’s offense consists of running to set up the misdirection play. Many rush plays in a sequence come out of the same package, but can end up being a run, run option, or even some play action thrown in, for example. After the defense reads the same plays in sequence, they can sometimes become complacent or oversell the point of attack. UAB frequently uses different misdirection plays out of the same alignment to confuse and wear down defenses. It has been successful thus far.

This is where cleverness comes in to play. UAB puts its personnel in the best position to succeed, and tries to mask any deficiencies through its play calling. It can be as something as simple as repeatedly calling inside zone against Louisiana Tech or counter against Tulane because they couldn’t stop those plays. Additionally, Erdeley is a former wildcat QB from Middle Tennessee and fits well with UAB’s offense. Being 6’4” and 220lbs does not hurt either. Spencer “The Moose” Brown is UAB’s lead back, and checks in at 6’0″ 220lbs. Brown is a bruising running back that gains those necessary short yards.

As mentioned previously, UAB only attempts 24 passes per game. UAB’s quarterback AJ Erdeley is so heavily involved in the run game, however, that he has a backup QB to occasionally give him breaks. This smartly reduces the number of hits Erdeley takes, and the backup Tyler Johnston III is no slouch in the run game either.

Erdeley and Johnston III combine for 12 rushes a game. Spoiler alert, we’ll see how they contribute to UAB’s 46 rush attempts per game below.

This post will go through how UAB uses three different play types and variations within.

Let’s get to the GIFs already!

GIF Storm

Inside Zone

This is likely UAB’s go-to. UAB runs their base inside zone out of 12 personnel. The roles of TE and H-back can either be filled by the TE or fullback and are changed depending on the play called. We will see how sometimes the fullback lines up as an inline TE, and sometimes a TE is lined up as the H-back.

In the GIF below, Spencer Brown is opposite the fullback who cuts across the line to block any edge defender on the backside of the play to try and create a cutback lane. Here, Brown easily find space behind the center.

Inside Zone

From that base play, misdirection is needed to keep the defense blowing up the line of scrimmage on a predictable play. On this next play, we see a fake inside zone where the H-back reads the edge defender and kicks out to lead block for Erdely. What sells the handoff is the H-back faking the block to the C gap, and Erdely holding the handoff for as long as he can while the H-back makes his way to the edge.

Fake Inside Zone

In this final inside zone example, a TE is lined up as the H-back, and the fullback is lined up as the TE. UAB uses this play to either go to the H-back or the TE depending on Erdely’s keys. In this GIF, you’ll see the play action pull the defenders toward the line of scrimmage, and the threat of the receiving H-back pull the safety toward that sideline, allowing a free release for the TE into the endzone.

Play Action Pass


After UAB has been running the inside zone, what else is next? Throw a counter at them. UAB can run counter from the same formation we saw previously, and it is something we’ve seen North Texas do as well. The counter in this next GIF has Brown running to the H-back’s side, with the right tackle and guard pulling from the backside as the line crashes left. It’s another way to keep a defense off balance.


Next comes a counter out of a heavy set. It is typically a power formation. UAB runs counter out of this formation – instead of a power play up the middle – where the two H-backs in the backfield act as the pulling linemen. In fact, when they run the counter, UAB utilizes two linemen in the backfield. Typically, the running back follows these two guys. On this play, however, the misdirection comes in many forms: the personnel set (they use two TEs in the backfield instead of linemen), the counter play, and the play action on the counter.

Counter PA Pass

In that same heavy set, UAB runs a QB counter with Johnston III. Note the two linemen in the backfield with Brown and Johnston III. Those pulling H-backs create a seal, freeing Johnston III for a long gain on 4th and short.

QB Counter

Jet Sweep

Next, we’ll talk about the jet sweep. It’s a play around the edge that is technically a pass that behaves like a run. It takes a little longer to execute, which can sometimes lead to broken plays. We have seen North Texas use this play as well.

Jet Sweep

Against Tulane, UAB ran the sweep a couple of times before trying some misdirection. On the following play, they faked the jet sweep and ran a simple inside zone.

Fake Jet Sweep Inside Zone

After that, they faked the jet sweep and then ran a counter. The misdirection happened at the exchange, as the linemen pinned and pulled like a regular counter play.

Fake Sweep Counter

And finally, what really began this whole post: a fake jet sweep QB counter.

Fake Sweep QB Counter

Not only do the defenses have to react to the misdirection, but UAB blocks their plays well. Discipline and execution are additional factors of why UAB has been so efficient with their run game.

UAB has many other misdirection plays that I did not cover here. The strategy is to hammer the defense (successfully) out of their base plays, and then to introduce misdirection. Then finally, they introduce misdirection to their misdirection. There are cues here and there, but North Texas will have to remain disciplined against a team that likes to run, and can run well.



2017 Jeff Wilson Stat Watch

While we are officially on 1K watch for Jeff Wilson, he is on pace for about 1500. That would put him at about third in the NT single-season list. Actually he’s on pace for 1554, which would put him a yard ahead of Lance’s 2010 season.

Rushing Yards

  1. Jamario Thomas — 2004 — 1,801
  2. Patrick Cobbs — 2003 — 1,680
  3. Lance Dunbar — 2010 — 1,553
  4. Bernard Jackson — 1978 — 1,453
  5. Lance Dunbar — 2009 — 1,378
  6. Kevin Galbreath — 2002 — 1,298
  7. Patrick Cobbs — 2005 — 1,154
  8. Malcolm Jones — 1980 — 1,144
  9. Kevin Galbreath — 2001 — 1,119
  10. Lance Dunbar — 2011 — 1,115

Source: NT Record and Fact Book

For reference Lance’s best game was the 270-yard, 3 TD effort on 22 attempts against KSU in the finale (also had 3 catches, 35 yards and another score). His worst was 11 carry, 30 yard effort against FIU.

Jeff Wilson’s best game thus far is the 211 yard game last weekend and his worst was the SMU game in which he only managed 36 on 13 carries.

If the offense can keep the safeties honest, he should have enough running room to get lots of yardage. Southern Miss is stingy defensively and hasn’t allowed much rush yardage thus far. They rank fifth in the league in rush yards allowed per game (119.33) right above NT (124.55). The big 67-yard rush by ULM was by the QB on a keeper.

Kentucky was held to only 78 yards on 35 carries but they aren’t particularly good. They’ve only managed 3.85 YPC in four games including only 5.31 against FCS Eastern Kentucky. FCS Southern is a bad team and is injured. There won’t be acres of space to run in, but Jeff will have a tough time getting a lot of space. Historically NT is able to run vs USM (Wilson with 136 on 22 in ’15 and Ivery with 111 on 18 in ’16).

Here are the rest of the teams on the schedule and their conference rush rank and rush yards allowed per game.

Team Rank RYAPG
UTSA 1st 86
FAU 14th 259
ODU 10th -T 179.75
LATECH 12th 186
UTEP 13th 247.75
RICE 7th 135.5

UTSA has not played a good team. FAU played Navy. UTEP got lit up by Rice and Arizona for 3 bills each. Army allowed 250+ to Ohio St. and Tulane, an option team.

For some NT is probably the best rushing team they will have faced, and for others, the one of the more complete offensive teams.

Obviously the big question is if he can stay healthy. So far so good. (Cross your fingers)

Edit: Getting 1554 would put him third all time in NT history, just behind Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs and just ahead of Jamario Thomas.

Edit 2:

  1. Lance Dunbar — 2008-11 — 4,224
  2. Patrick Cobbs — 2001-05 — 4,050
  3. Jamario Thomas — 2004-07 — 3,496
  4. Ja’Quay Wilburn — 1997-2000 — 3,120
  5. Jeff Wilson — 2014-PRES — 2,507

If he were to get 2K exactly, Jeff would finish just behind the great Patrick Cobbs at 3,989. (Knocks on wood).

Football Football Recaps

MGN Film Room: Lamar

It is that time of week where we would discuss particularly interesting plays or formations from our guys. Much of the film shows NT did not really change much of their offense. A lot of it was simply good execution against an overmatched opponent. The highlight reel will suffice for our purposes.

We will not spend too much time and energy breaking this down but did you notice that Jeff’s first TD came on Power?

Here, let us refresh our memory of what Power / Counter is:

NT’s run game consisted of the staple Outside and Inside zones mixed with some Power and Counter to throw off Lamar, but honestly, nearly everything was successful without any constraints. Using Kelvin Smith et al as the “full back” in the heavier sets allows Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell to have some variety and a little protection from play-to-play. Defenses cannot glean the play call simply by looking at the personnel.

I write that while fully aware that this system is pretty clear about the intentions. Still, it helps to have a little doubt in the opposition’s mind.

Go read the HOD Run Game recap to get some idea of what why exactly you need to change up the run calls, run formations, and personnel. Army did a good job of blowing up plays they were ready for, and GH did a solid job of anticipating those reactions and adjusting with counters himself. Here, there was much more leading with a right cross and connecting than a full-on boxing match with adjustments.

For an example of the Kelvin Smith point, check out the 2:02 mark in the highlight video above. Smith motions from left to right, settling in behind the line in an H-back look before pulling back to the left again on a counter. NT had set this up earlier by doing running an outside zone to Smith’s side from the same look. This is exactly how you plan it. Harrell is thinking that the defense cannot stop the outside zone without cheating up or shooting the gaps, and so keeps them honest with a counter that kills it.

In this case it helps that Lamar had no penetration, was caught in bad run call, and the safety took a horrible angle after a late reaction. Also, Jeff Smith is too good in space.

In the TD play at the 2:35 mark, NT is in essentially the same look but hits Lamar over the top after getting the one-on-one look that a devastating run game creates.

I do not know of a better example of the mismatch in this game than Jeff Wilson’s 62-yarder. His cut back was the wrong read, as he had enough of a gap to his right, the original play direction. Instead he cut back into Mason Fine’s area and simply ran around the entire defense. Against SMU, Iowa, UAB and everyone else that is likely getting stopped for at best 3 yards.

Still it is hard to argue with results.

Football Football Recaps

HOD Recap: NT Run Game

NT likes the outside zone for a number of reasons, one of which is that they think they have the athletes to get to the edge and make things happen. In October this was definitely the case, this past Tuesday, it was solid-to-okay. NT had some quality runs but struggled in short yardage. If that sounds like a microcosm of the entire season, you are right.

Smartfootball has a good read on the particulars of the outsize zone, and one of its prophets Alex Gibbs. The nuts and bolts of the play are in that you get double-teams and create lanes for a back with vision to take advantage of. The blocking assignments are easy to teach, and so the bulk of practice can be spent putting it into practice. Jeff Wilson has the vision and the required speed and agility to make devastating cuts when he sees daylight.

Stunts, LB scrapes, and bringing a safety in the box are some things that can mess up the blocking on these, and this is countered by going with an inside zone or a play-action. When all the zones are being blown up, its good to have a counter or power (pull those lineman) to take advantage.

NT relies on the inside and outside zone for its run plays, which is pretty common for an Air Raid team.

Harrell debuted the pistol look we see here against Army in October. It allows a better angle for the outside zone run that Jeff Wilson used to devastating effect. Aldo wrote a little bit about it here.

A couple of things to look for in this play:

  1. Backside tackle (Jordan Murray #71) cutting the LB Aukerman (#21) to slow the pursuit.
  2. Because this is an outside run play, even blitzing DB is neutralized because of the distance. He has to run down the line to prevent the cutback.
  3. The line does a step-and-reach to get to the next man. Elex Woodworth (#77) gets to the second level after Trey Keenan (#59) turns his man and gets a seal.
  4. Cannon Maki (#44) looks for penetration, and fills the hole 1 and attempts to get to an Army linebacker.
  5. Jeff Wilson has about four yards before he is contacted.

This is essentially how they draw it up. It worked about as well as you could expect. Ideally you want to have Jeff Wilson one v one with a safety in space instead of running into a pile, but that is quibbling.

In this next play we have another outside zone from slightly different personnel and alignment. By trading the heavy look for a speedier one with a slot receiver, the LB (#21) is off the line a bit. Army shows pressure but they drop off a bit. Interestingly, NT’s backside constraint action was wide open2. Tyler Wilson turns for the WR screen, and Thad Thompson was headed to block the retreating CB. NT never went back to this, nor can I recall a significant number of these during the season.

Here is the same play but straight on. You should get a sense of what the idea is from this view. Wilson is running to a point, usually a yard outside the tackle, and making a cut when he sees daylight. Here, he saw it behind Sam Rice and Maki, while shaking off the crashing LB (#11).

  1. TJ Henson gets knocked on his ass by the LB who nearly makes the play, but he had a long way to go to get that block, so we should give him some credit for getting there.
  2. Jeff Wilson makes a great cut, breaks a tackle, and gets the first down.
  3. Sam Rice and Elex Woodworth make this play by getting great blocks.

This seems like a great play so why did we not run it every time? Well sometimes it failed.

A couple things from this play:

  1. Look at the LBs flow fast to set the edge.
  2. Aukerman (or someone who looks like him) blows this play up by shedding Maki’s block easily.

Derp. A false start by 95 killed this drive essentially.

Power Runs

Remember I said when the defense starts to jump the inside and outside zones it is good to go to power/counter? NT did that in the first half with some success.

In the second half NT tried a power and an outside zone from 21 personnel to little effect. Then they followed it up with so me play action from the second look above. Turner Smiley caught it for a first down.

There was another play from a two-back set that faked a WR flare/rocket and handed off to Wyche coming back with a power scheme up front. Army LB #11 shot the gap and ran down Wyche. Great play by him. This isn’t an Army blog so … no gif.

Army’s LB Andrew King (#11) was ridiculous blowing up plays. He diagnosed runs quickly and fired into gaps really blowing up the blocking schemes. In OT, he rushed up the middle on the final two (Mesh) plays, and essentially hurried Morris into bad passes. I digress because he played so damned well.

With Army cheating up, NT had better looks for play action passes. Look at this screen grab on a 2-yard power run. Look a those safeties cheating up.

(I realize this is not a run, but NT actually saw what Army was doing and reacted). The very next possession NT had a run look and grabbed this play-action play with it. Great play calling.

With the score at 31-21 in the third, NT faced 2nd and 2 after that play-action pass and followed it up with another outside zone run for a first down.

You’ll notice this is the same look from earlier, with less success and no backside screen action. See? I told you they never went to this again. Army was getting better at diagnosing these, and also cheating a bit with their line backers.

Staying with the same drive, following a Smiley short out and a Smiley Jet sweep3 NT faced third-and-one.

Oof. Close but no. Henson is pulling on the power play we saw earlier but misses his block in the hole. Jeff is hit before he can make a move and even then still manages to squirm out of it to get some forward progress. That is a tough block for Henson, as he has very little time to react to Army #30 filling the lane but … that is the difference between a first down and fourth. North Texas really has to improve here, as this is the weakest of weak spots.

Let’s try it again! North Texas lines up in their heavy look one more time and ran the outside zone. Army had eight in the box and NT had six on the line, Maki made seven, and the QB’s fake roll out accounting for the eighth man. Jeff Wilson’s “man” was the safety playing the deep third. On paper Jeff should have exploded through the hole and had the free safety at his mercy. What happened?

Well Army sealed the edge (Army #56) and pushed the play to Army #30. That “should” be Maki’s man but it was difficult for him to (1) see him coming and (2) make that block. The rules of zone blocking essentially say to block the man in front of you but if no one is there, help the man next to you 4. There is a guard-tackle double that creates the kind of push we want, and Maki is there to double at the point of the attack against anyone getting penetration. It looks like he saw Army LB #11 getting penetration (he was pretty great all game) and read that as his responsibility to create the seal.

Instead of Jeff Wilson running free in the secondary, he was stopped before he really started. Football is a funny game, and these little battles are what get people to fall in love with the strategy. That block likely was the difference between a big TD run and a 4th down stop. Huge.

Later and OT

Okay so NT turned it over on 4th down then forced Army to do the same. NT got the ball back and Jordan Murray committed a false start. Then we had this beauty of a run.

Jordan Murray cannot quite step out and reach his block so he seals him and this play is largely made because of Wilson’s vision and ability. If you are counting at home, NT ran this version of the outside zone play about a handful of times from doubles (2×2) and trips (3×1). The first was the TD.

Final Run

The final run of the game was on a play that got lots of yards the first time it was run. It is difficult to blame the play calling because Harrell did a good job mixing up passes, runs, and looks. Army’s LB corps are really good and blew these up themselves. On this play King (#11) sheds Sam Rice’s block, and forces Wilson to adjust his angle. Army #38 runs around Sam Rice at the second level and blows up Wilson in the backfield.

The Black Knights had a man running at Morris in case he kept the ball to run or throw.


Jeff Wilson had an outside zone/sweep to the edge on the final drive that was called back because of an iffy call on Thompson. It was from trips left (a formation called Late in Leach terminology).

It was very similar to this run from early in the game and the one we mentioned above.

The difference being that in the second quarter Army was playing the run (especially on first down) more than they were on this second down play in prevent defense.

So there you have it. The NT run game really has potential. The same problems that plagued the pass game at times — penalties, missed assignments, getting beat one-on-one — affected the run game. In short yardage there really is no other way to scheme it better. The line just has to be able to win the individual battles across the board.

Next season those short yard runs will be something we all look at closely. They are an essential part of the offense, even if it is an Air Raid. All of these runs do not exist alone, but a part of the game plan and function good or bad depending on what the pass game is doing. The reverse is also true.

This offense is right on the precipice of being good. Cleaning up the mental5 mistakes that put the offense behind the chains, or bring back runs is the first step. The next is Littrell and staff improving the offensive line to the point where the pass protection is consistent and the short-yardage run game is more reliable. They really have to be able to get two yards.

  1. You stop that giggling right now, young man. 
  2. Marketing alert. 
  3. These sweeps have been rarely successful and so are pretty uninteresting. 
  4. They are a little more complicated than that but this is not a coaching clinic. 
  5. Mental mistakes can come from physical problems. In basketball guys hold when they are out of position and sometimes they are out of position because they are not fast enough. You get my meaning. 

Offensive Discussion, Ahead of UTSA Game

Our offense still is not very good. Let’s not get anything confused, here. There has been improvement. The QB play has been markedly better, statistically speaking. The run game is still the yard-winner, but isn’t explosive enough to win games alone. That is to say, we can’t hand it off three straight times and expect great things.

Jeffery Wilson is clearly our best offensive player right now. He’s getting about 6.4 yards per carry and had 8.1 against Marshall, who is fairly stout against the run. As the game notes tell you, his 6.4 is the most since Lance Dunbar’s 6.9. That makes sense considering he has 4 of the top 11 longest rushes on the team.

Like Lance, he is not getting the ball enough. The last two games have seen UNT put up greater than 200 yards rushing, and they came on the backs of Smith and Wilson, but in both they were playing catch up and a good number of yards came late. Still, this team can run the ball if Canales will let it. I complained about the iffy playcalling against Marshall that killed drives or failed to adapt to Marshall’s defense, already so I’ll point out some good things in a second. Right now, Wilson is only getting aroudn 15 carries a game and that shoudl be at least 20. At least.

Wilson and every runner we have has been able to get yards from a variety of formations and runs. We have gotten yards on inside and outside zones, sweeps, counters and power. It’s been really nice to see. We’ve long known that this roster is chock full of quality backs. Really the only complaint is that Senior Antoinne Jimmerson and Sophomore Wily Ivery have been relatively prone to fumble. Wilson hasn’t.


Here’s Wilson in the first half on a counter trey. Note that speed.

Here he is again on another in the second half. The linebacker nearly blew it up but Wilson made up for timing mishap with the explosive speed he has.

Here is another sweep — Buck Sweep, it looks like, with some different action for the backside tackle. It may just be a sweep.

You can go back to the Southern Miss and WKU games and see similar postive runs on these. Willy Ivery’s longest runs have come on some of the above action. I want to say that the Counter Trey runs were new for Marshall, but I can’t be sure.

Against Southern Miss Canales called an inside zone but that may have been because of how USM aligns against that really wide 2×2 set. USM’s David Duggan runs a version of 4-2-5, which is similar to what we’ll see against UTSA. Marshall runs a base 4-3 Under so this maybe why we saw so much Counter. In any case, we saw the similar Buck Sweep a few times against the Golden Eagles and I expect to see more of that against UTSA on Saturday.

More Stuff

Remember that swing / flare pass to the flat? It had to be something the staff saw on film on the way Marshall reacts to motion out of the backfield. No linebacker moved with the tailback and he had 20 yards until the safety. Easy yards. There was a similar situation later that only got about 7 yards but added a facemark penalty to the total.

Swing Pass
Swing Pass to Wilson vs Marshall

This is stuff I don’t really like — I’d rather QBs rushed outside where they can go out of bounds. With Wilson threatening the edge so often, a QB dive into the line does the job of keeping the defense off balance.

Inverted Veer against Marshall
Inverted Veer against Marshall

I didn’t see much counter against USM’s 4-2-5, but that might the sourcing I had. That doesn’t mean we won’t pull lineman against UTSA’s 4-2-5. Also, we might see more inside zone even from the doubles formation that we ran the Counter stuff from above.

Wilson sweep vs USM
Wilson sweep vs USM

This final one is to illustrate the point I made on the podcast about how anyone on the roster can run this thing. Willy Ivery was just as explosive here 1 as Wilson was above.

Sweep against USM
Sweep against USM

  1. Against backups. Sure. I’ll give you that. 

Ball State Preview – 9.14.13

Let’s talk about Ball State. Sure, they are 2-0, have a pretty high number of passing yards, and are favored (by 3.5) at our house, but I still don’t believe the hype. Whooping up on Illinois State and Army don’t impress me much /Shania Twain voice.

Army had a terrible defense last year and that has continued into this year. Illinois State is FCS which, first week FCS v FBS results be damned, is still a weaker division. Ball State’s first two games were the equivalent of North Texas taking on Idaho two weeks in a row.

In McCarney’s era, NT has played much better at Apogee than away, going 8-4 and scoring about 3 points more per game than away. We are coming off a very close loss to the MAC’s projected champion at their house. In that one we were just one drive away from stealing it after we shot ourselves in the foot by gifting two TDs in the first half.

Forgive me if I’m not quaking in my green boots over here, guys.

The real story will be on offense, where we will see which Derek will show up. The one from the Idaho game and the second half of the Ohio game? Or the Derek from the first half of last game? The good news is that he isn’t vacillating wildly between great and terrible anymore. He showed some crispness in the second half comeback. I believe in Derek Thompson.

That doesn’t mean I am not intrigued by The Freshman Sensation, Dajon Williams. I’m betting he’ll get a series or two now that the Mean Green are back at home. I’m looking forward to seeing some of what has Danny Mac so excited about him.

That said, how do we win this game? Well, the offensive line will create bigger holes for Brandin Byrd, Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram. They have had little daylight, contributing to the paltry 3.5 ypc. The bigger concern is the poor Success Rate. We stand at 41% according to the FO guys. That means we only successful at getting the necessary yardage on first down (50% of necessary yardage), second down (70% of the necessary yardage) and of course on thirds and fourths (100%) at a rate of 41%. If you have watched the games you’ve no-doubt noticed the second and third and longs we’ve faced, especially against Ohio. The 3rd down conversion rate last game was 28% (4 of 14).

I don’t care much which way we get the necessary yardage, but it seems Danny Mac wants to get it via the run game. Thus far it has had the effect of suffocating our offense. This has to get more successful or we need to vary the approach to getting first down yardage.

With the passing yards per play at 9+, it seems pretty obvious that there are opportunities available for the Derek and Company. Let that thing fly, ya’ll. For more on that reasoning read this excellent smartfootball post.. The run game will improve when we get the defense to respect the pass. We all know this and the message boards are saying the same thing.

Additional Reading