After Tyrrell Pigrome went down in Week 1 against Texas, Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell hinted told reporters that his “Presidential Backfield,” made up of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison were prepared to at least command the line of scrimmage in an emergency.
But even before Kasim Hill left Maryland’s game against UCF on Saturday with what was later determined to be a torn ACL, the Terps broke out their own version of the Wildcat formation, with Johnson taking the snap and Harrison to his left.
“We did not want to run Kasim a whole bunch and make him an effective runner because we didn’t want to risk getting him hurt,” Bell told reporters Wednesday. “You saw what kind of good that did for us. But [we were] just trying to take hits off the quarterback more than anything else.”
It didn’t work. Maryland lost a yard on third-and-2 and didn’t return to the offensive set for the rest of the game.
Here’s what happened:
Personnel: 21 (Two running backs, one tight end)
Play: 26 Counter
Personnel: 3-3-5 Nickel
The offense actually does most of what it’s supposed to do here. Sean Christie, the pulling left guard, doesn’t pancake his man, but he gets enough to create a crease for Johnson. Harrison, the lead blocker, seals his man to the outside. That’s typically all Johnson needs for a positive gain, but UCF had a great defense called for this situation.
The Knights have a run blitz dialed up here, which makes sense on third-and-2—especially with two running backs and no quarterbacks in the backfield.
“[We] didn’t handle the twist or the loop,” Bell said. “[The] back blocked real well, kind of fell off, picked off a guy, and we ended up not getting it.”
UCF’s defensive twist is actually called for the wrong side of the field here, but the Knights were able to overcome it thanks to a great individual effort and a couple missed blocks. Defensive lineman Tony Guerad (No. 93) is the point man on UCF’s twist—you can see Trysten Hill (No. 9) run the loop to the defensive right, away from the play. Titus Davis (No. 10) and Jamiyus Pittman (No. 5) do an excellent job collapsing the middle, forcing Johnson to the outside, and shortening the distance Guerad has to cover to meet him in the hole.
Middle linebacker Pat Jasinski (No. 56) is the final piece to this defensive puzzle. With a run blitz called, he meets Harrison in the backfield and brings the second level to him before Harrison can get there himself. The best Johnson can hope for at this point is to meet one of the two defensive backs in his sight at the line to gain and fall forward for the first down.
While all that was happening, Guerad fought off his initial blocker, Brendan Moore, and slipped by Terrance Davis, who got pushed past Guerad’s inside shoulder. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or at least the one that got Johnson tackled for a loss.
Going forward, this version of the Wildcat may be something we see more often, especially with Maryland down to its third quarterback in four games.
“It is something that we might implement,” Harrison said Tuesday. “I’m not sure what the game plan is yet, but it is something that Coach Bell might put into the game plan for this week. I have no problem with it.”
If the Terps do bring out this set against Minnesota, they’d better hope to catch the Golden Gophers in a different defensive fit than the one UCF was running.