Week one of the college football season gave us one of the better out of conference match ups right out the bat. Last year's interception leader vs what turned out to be one of the best WR duos in CFB and two quarterbacks that will be highly scrutinized for the upcoming draft. For our notes today, we are going to break down the first touchdown. Check out our video and join us after the jump for a breakdown one of the biggest plays of the game.
When former Tennessee WR Da'Rick Rodgers was expelled from the program, most thought that lost of talent combined with Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray coming back from injury would mean the offense would not be ready to fly out the gates. As I'm sure you're aware if you're reading this, that notion was put to rest as new WR Cordarrelle Patterson had a coming out party in the first half. Were looking at his first TD, a 41 yard catch against NC State DB (and top 2013 talent) David Amerson. Here is the pre-snap look -
Patterson (84) lines up outside Hunter (11) at the top of the formation. Amerson (1) is across from Patterson already most of the way into his position in the Wolfpack's Cover 3 defense. Patterson and Hunter's initial orientation and route combination is important because it will force the match-up that leads to the touchdown.
The principle of the Cover 3 zone that NC State falls into after the snap is three DBs create a canopy over the back end with each DB covering a third of the field. In college, that generally means one defender in between the hash marks and two covering the ground outside either side of the hash marks. Amerson lines up in his third of the field with both Patterson and Hunter lining up in front of him. Because of the WRs formation and Amerson's coverage responsibility, Amerson has to account for both receivers as they run down field. Both WR run 5 yards and then break, Hunter breaking into a post and Patterson appearing to start an out route:
(Patterson breaks toward the sideline, Hunter across the hash marks. Amerson plays deep with his hips facing Hunter because he believes he's running the only deep route and the shallow defender will take the out route)
Once the receivers make their initial breaks, Amerson (whose responsibility is playing the deepest pass) sees Patterson moving to the sideline and Hunter moving deep, turns his hips and his attention toward Hunter and his deep route. However, now that Amerson's attention is on Hunter, he puts himself out of position to defend what first looked like an out, but has turned into and out-and-up route. Both defenders bite on a pump fake. Now, even though Amerson is in position to make a play on Hunter, he has to turn his attention back to Patterson, whose route now runs through Amerson's zone. With Hunter keeping the center field defender in the middle of the field and Patterson now running down the sideline to the endzone, Tennessee has created a man match up out of a zone call.
By the time the cameraman catches up to them, Patterson has passed Amerson who has had to adjust not only down field but back from the hash mark to the sideline. Note how close Amerson is to the hash mark when the WRs make their break and how far he is from the hash marks when the camera pans with the throw and we get our first look at the two running down field:
(The orange spot is Patterson and the red spot is Amerson. I promise)
With Patterson's foot speed, positioning, and the ball in the air, all that's left is to make the catch.
Patterson was playing in his first game at the D-1 level, but he looked like the most talented athlete on the field. After two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C, Patterson earned praise as the #1 JUCO recruit in the country. He's listed at 6'3" 205 and while he has no timed speed, he did average 41.9 yards per kick return at Hutchinson C.C. which is impressive (and shows explosive speed) at any level. Patterson also consistently catches the ball with his hands away from his body.
While this doesn't make Amerson look like a top prospect, this should be taken in a "bad day at the office" context and also show why he may make a bigger impact at safety instead of cornerback. Amerson (listed 6'3" 194) is caught slow stepping in the first game of the season against an unknown opponent. That's a preparation/mental breakdown, not necessarily a talent issue.
The talent issue is the deep speed. When the play starts, Amerson is seven yards off the LOS, back pedals five more yards before turning his hips to the middle of the field. He doesn't turn his hips fast enough and doesn't have the makeup speed to get from the hash mark to the sideline to recover. He also doesn't gain any ground on Patterson, in fact, it looks more like Patterson is gaining space until he makes the catch. That means trouble for cornerbacks in the NFL.
This isn't as big an issue if Amerson is playing safety. For one, he would play with his eyes on the QB at all times which is an important part of his game. Combine that with him starting the play 10-15 yards off the LOS, able to watch the play develop would put him in a position to use his ball skills in coverage (averaging 1 INT per game since Tennessee, 15 on his career) and come down and play in the run game. It is against NC State's defensive scheme, but using Amerson's size to push WRs in man might be something he does well, but his lack of recovery speed makes that a dangerous play should he miss on the jam. Would still be interesting to see him do it.
This big touchdown pass sparked the Tennessee offense and allowed Vols fans to breath a huge sigh of relief. It also helped us scout some possible high round draft picks. Both players make more plays throughout the game which you can watch here or watch it and our other 2012 videos at our YouTube Channel.