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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And finally, what really began this whole post: a fake jet 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.