X’s and O’s
LSU Passing Game Making Hay By Going Vertical
By Billy GomilaPosted Nov 21, 2012
As the Tiger passing game has blossomed in the past three weeks, we’ve see the coaching staff trust quarterback Zach Mettenberger to take more shots down the field and create some big plays. A lot of those plays have come on what’s known as the Vertical Concept, known in the most common parlance as “Four Verticals” or “Open Six.”
It’s a play most commonly associated with the “Air Raid” offense from coaches like Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen, but it’s really a simple play that is a part of almost every college or NFL team’s playbook. Its roots go back to the Brigham Young University offenses of Lavell Edwards that produced star quarterbacks like Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.
Simply put, Vertical takes the game back to the backyard and tells the wideouts, simply, to go deep and get open. The three or four receivers on the play all release down the field with a very specific spacing, and an option to drive a defensive secondary backwards, while the quarterback simply finds the open receiver and delivers. LSU has had success a number of times on different variants of the play in recent weeks, often to Kadron Boone, Travis Dickson, James Wright and even Spencer Ware, who chalked up a 20-yard touchdown against Mississippi State.
In this particular incarnation, LSU is lined up in the shotgun, with three wide receivers and a tight end. Dickson will be the player that really sets the table here, releasing from his position with the freedom to find whatever open space he can, based on how he is defended. If the linebackers don’t drop into coverage, he can break into a slant over the middle five yards deep. If they do drop, he’ll continue down the field with the freedom to adjust to the safety at about 12 to 14 yards and either continue deep, cut to a post-pattern or turn in for a crossing route.
It is simply his job to find the open space. The slot receiver, most likely Jarvis Landry, will take off down the field on what is called the “locked” seam route. He runs straight up the field, no adjustments, though his job is to get inside of the closest defender to him and be ready for a quick throw if the defense is bringing extra pressure. The two outside receivers will release vertically, with the option to cut their routes off towards the middle of the field or the sideline based on how their man is playing them. The running back will block to pick up any blitzing defenders and then release and cut out towards the wide side of the field, to serve as the “protection,” or check-down receiver.
For his part, the quarterback will take a three-step drop from the shotgun, and look to the deep safety on the defense first. His depth and position will give away the first open receiver. If he is over the locked seam, Mettenberger then turns his eyes to the outside receiver on that side, which should have one-on-one coverage. From there, he hitches up his feet and drifts his eyes from the left to the right, to either the seam-reading tight end or other outside receiver. If neither is open, he finds his running back.
While all of this sounds like a lot of adjustments, they’re fairly simple to understand with repetition and often as simple as reacting to zone or man-to-man coverage. “If the defense does X, the offense does Y,” so to speak. This is the kind of play that thrives on repetition in practice and in the voluntary summer workouts for quarterbacks and receivers, where they develop personal timing and trust, so that as a defense reacts, the offensive players all know where they’ll be and when to expect a throw. It’s also a play that can be easily adjusted in-game, based on how an opponent defends it. Routes can be cut shorter, and in some cases, a running back can replace a receiver on one of the vertical routes to create a mismatch. Vertical has been a crucial piece to LSU’s passing game renaissance in recent weeks, and has allowed this team to strike quickly in each of its past two wins.