Though his Louisville Cardinals lost to a Clemson team trying to regain its mojo and make it back to the national title game, quarterback Lamar Jackson is still arguably the best player in college football.
He’s on the fast track to the Heisman and he’s one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason, Louisville (4-1, 2-1 ACC) is ranked No. 7 heading into this weekend’s contest against Duke.
Through five games this season, Jackson has thrown for 1,625 yards, 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He really makes his impact for the Cardinals on the ground, though. He’s rushed 92 times for 688 yards and 14 touchdowns. That includes a 146 yard four rushing touchdown performance against then No. 2 Florida State in a 63-20 win, and 162 yards and two rushing touchdowns against Clemson.
Jackson is extremely fast, smooth elusive and agile as a runner. He’s slippery and hard to tackle, but also has great vision and open field speed.
He can do a lot for Louisville when the play breaks down, and that makes him incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses. With that said, the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to scheme Jackson plays to run either, and why not? He’s been extremely effective.
The read-option has really taken over football in the past five-to-ten years or so, and a lot of that is due to what Chip Kelly was able to do at Oregon. With that said, it’s been a staple at the high school and mid-major level for years now, and that’s because it gives the offense an advantage.
The basic concept is that a read-option play focuses on one defender and reacts to what that defender does. In most cases, that defender is left unblocked, so then the quarterback can make a response to his reaction. It also allows the blocker who would be assigned to the “read defender” to move up field and block someone else. This is an advantage for the offense because it puts extra blockers at the point of attack.
Take a look at the YouTube clip cued up below for a great read-option look from Jackson and Louisville. It goes from about 19 seconds in the video to just under 1:40.
Louisville ran a read-option with Jackson and his running back. The player that Louisville was reading is the defensive end to the bottom of the screen. What Jackson was looking for was whether or not that end would dive inside to take away the dive play. If so, his instruction were to pull the ball and run off the edge. If the defensive end stayed in his outside responsibility lane, Jackson’s instructions then were to give the ball to the diving running back:
You’ll notice in the next frame that the tight end purposely didn’t block the defensive end, because he was the read-man in this play. Also notice that Jackson’s eyes went right to his read during the mesh. Below you’ll see the point where the read is supposed to be made. Jackson read the defensive end closing into he dive gap, thus he was given the “pull” read:
Jackson made the right choice to pull the ball, and because the tight end didn’t waste his energy or block on the read-man, he was able to set up a wall for the running back — he looked for any defenders coming inside to outside. Jackson’s wide receiver was also able to get a good stalk block out on the edge, which gave the Heisman candidate all the room and help he needed to get into the end zone:
Jackson got good blocks on the edge but also used his speed to navigate the running lane.
A lot of that touchdown had to do with the scheme Louisville drew up, and with a quarterback like Jackson it’s always smart to go with the read-option because 1) it makes a defense think and 2) it makes a defense commit and it takes away its ability to dictate to the offense.
Of course, without a quarterback who can make the proper reads, run the football and use his natural talent to take a good scheme and make it work for an offense, the effectiveness of the read-option wouldn’t even matter.
When you consider the quarterback in this instance was the Heisman front-runner, it made the play-call all the more effective.
Note: Photos are from screen grabs of the YouTube video from the ACC Digital Network. Markings on said screen grabs are my own.