Welcome to Tua Tagavailoa’s Leftorium at the Tuscaloosa Mall. We’ve got all the left-breaking routes you could ever want! Hitches, corners, and shallow crosses, for starters. We’ve got something for everyone! It’s a one-stop shop for all your left-handed QB needs.
Where Ned Flanders’ Leftorium, a store built exclusively for left-handed customers, failed in large part because of Homer Simpson’s selfishness, Tua’s left-handed odyssey has meandered its way to the peak of college football stardom. The Tide are No. 1 in Passing S&P+, and Tagovailoa’s offense has made them look even less beatable.
(Just in case you wanted to watch the end of that episode.)
Tua has changed what offense looks like in Tuscaloosa.
The team that produced two Heisman running backs, Trent Richardson, and a bunch of other ground-game stars in the last decade is throwing the football more than ever. The Tide’s standard-down run rate is in the bottom third of FBS programs.
You’d think that their passing attack would be complicated and intricate, but they essentially run the same play over and over. They pair a smash concept to the left of Tua and shallow/dig concept to the right of him. This means that Tua, a lefty, will look to his strong side as he reads coverage as often as possible.
Often it will look like this in the playbook ...
... and like this on the field:
This lefty-centric concept comes up everywhere.
The routes may change. The Tide will switch which type of smash concept they’ll run. They’ll switch who runs the dig route over the middle and who runs the shallow route.
But the philosophy remains the same all the way through: Tua will look left to his dominant side at the smash concept and then move his eyes back right to the other routes coming across the field from right to left. Here’s one example:
And another, from a tighter formation:
Putting everything to Tua’s left helps him from a mechanical standpoint.
When Tua starts his drop back, he will push off his right foot to swing his hips open and turn his shoulders square to the left sideline. Naturally, he will want to look left. Putting his first reads to the left puts less strain on his neck and gives him a full vision cone to that side.
Drew Brees, a righty, will change his footwork when he needs to look left first. You can see in the clip below how he keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage longer when he’s looking left first:
When he looks to his strong side first, he can open to his right immediately.
Alabama wants to keep Tua’s drop back and footwork consistent, so the Tide don’t ask him to have multiple types of drop backs like Brees has. It means they have to keep their pass concepts consistent and mind which side of the field they put them on.
A smash concept is a high/low read on a cornerback, with one receiver running a hitch route and another running a corner route toward the sideline. The most classic of all smashes is what Nick Saban calls “china”. This hitch route with a corner is one of the first route concepts coaches we teach young quarterbacks.
If the cornerback stays low and is attached to the hitch route, the corner route should be open behind him. If he plays high, the hitch route should be open — particularly against soft or zone coverage.
I call these types of concepts “key reads,” with the QB reading one key defender. In this case, it’s the cornerback, and he throws based on the CB’s reactions to the route concept. If the defense does what you think it will, there’s usually no problem with key reads. Someone will be open.
On paper, what Bama has Tua do is fairly simple. On the field, it’s harder.
Here’s No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold misreading this concept a bunch of times:
Darnold actually just can't read a smash concept. The Giants are going to pick a dude who consistently makes bad reads on various smash concepts, one of the "easier" reads. The cornerback stays very low here, opening up the corner route for a first down. pic.twitter.com/pQaOKJsBuB— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) January 26, 2018
Last thing on Darnold is another another misread on smash:— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) January 27, 2018
-Cornerback is low and in press vs receiver
-Slot has a free release to the corner route vs an off defender
-Cornerback stays low, throw corner route
It was a recurring problem for Darnold at USC. Tua does not make those mistakes. He can throw smash in his sleep.
Alabama, however, is not looking to throw 6-yard hitch routes. The Tide want big plays, and they want them now.
What Alabama has really created is a full-field read for Tua to move his eyes across the field and find other deep receivers.
These are “progression reads” that don’t zero in on just one defender. The quarterback is cycling through his available options based on when the routes will break open.
Here’s an example of what a play could look like for Bama, with routes moving to the QB’s left:
Tua will drop back and take a big crossover step, eyeing the cornerback to the left, who is covering the smash. Depending on how deep the receiver running the corner route (1A on the diagram) is, he might either finish his drop and throw to the flat (1B) or take a “hitch step,” like a pivot, and throw the corner.
If he doesn’t like what he sees to that side, he’ll take a hitch step again. This time, he’ll move his eyes and feet to the middle of the field to try to hit the intermediate route (3). If that route is covered, he will move his eyes and feet again for the shallow route (4).
How that looks on the field:
I can’t even pull that off playing touch football.
The Tide are able to hit huge plays in the passing game by tying their deeper-developing routes into the same concept
Teams might want to take away the corner route by keeping the cornerback high. In response, the Tide might keep that slot player in the seam for a nice completion. If an inside DB thinks that receiver’s running a hitch or flat route, all the better:
When the safeties start cheating toward the dig route, which starts from the slot to Tua’s right here, the backside post is already behind their heads:
Here’s the same deal:
Alabama is annihilating teams with one passing concept, which, like Flanders’ store in that Simpsons episode, is built for the left-hander.
Teams know it’s coming and still can’t stop it. Tua is that good.