Snapshots: Austin Peay Counter Option vs. Central Arkansas

Snapshots: Austin Peay Counter Option vs. Central Arkansas

August 30, 2020
Austin Peay running back C.J. Evans (image via Flipboard)

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Okay, without Michigan football this fall, I thought I would take some time to break down a fun play from the Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas NCAA opener. The game took place on Saturday night with Central Arkansas pulling out a 24-17 victory after a rocky start.

Hit the jump for more.

We didn’t have to wait long for an interesting big play, either. After Central Arkansas’ opening kickoff went for a touchback, Austin Peay started off on its own 25-yard line. It’s 1st-and-10.

Austin Peay, missing an all-conference wide receiver, starts off in a double slot pistol look. I’m not familiar enough to know if they are known for running this or if this is a total offensive change-up for them, but I do like double slot pistol for various reasons, including opening up plays like this one.

Figure 1

Central Arkansas (in the white) has a 4-2 core, meaning there are four linemen (one as a stand-up end) and two inside linebackers. The SAM linebacker is aligned to the wide side of the field, and there are two safeties. The play call ends up being a great one, because it’s somewhat impossible to defend. With no overhang defender to the bottom of the screen, the boundary safety has to come down and make the play in space.

Figure 2

You can see in Figure 2 that the deep back is taking a counter step to the right, but more importantly, the left guard is pulling to the right to essentially sell power or one-back power. This is called an “influence block.” The guard basically has nothing to do except trick a defender or two into going with him, which will allow other blockers to get angles and the ball carrier to out-leverage him to the sideline.

Figure 3

The left tackle initially blocked the stand-up DE to the bottom of the screen but is now climbing to the second level. The WILL linebacker, who was on the bottom-most hash in Figure 2, is now a couple yards out of position, having been influenced by the pulling guard. Due to that influence, the LT (on the 26.5-yard line) has a good angle to hem in the WILL (on the 28-yard line). Meanwhile, the quarterback is reading the vacated stand-up DE while both slots have had time to become lead blockers due to the counter action. (The left slot is on the 25-yard line at the bottom of the screen, and the right slot is on the 22-yard line right in front of the QB.)

Figure 4

The quarterback attacked the stand-up DE before pitching to the pistol back. This is a “speed in space” play even though we don’t always think of a pistol back-type player being a dynamic athlete. They’re trying to get him on the edge on a toss type of play. You can also see that the LT has fitted up nicely on the WILL and just walls him off completely. Meanwhile, the boundary safety is being blocked by the near slot and the far slot is on the 25-yard line still looking for someone to hit.

Figure 5

Austin Peay running back C.J. Evans has the ball at the 29-yard line, and the far slot has finally found someone to hit: the backside safety, who has run across the field to try to cut off Evans.

Figure 6

In Figure 6, you can see that Evans has outraced everyone down the sideline, except for the backside corner. The backside corner has taken an angle to cut off Evans, but it’s actually probably a little too sharp of an angle. That lets Evans know that he can’t hope to beat the angle with pure speed, so he cuts back across the field . . .

Figure 7

Now Evans is racing back across the field (19-yard line), and the backside corner (11-yard line) still has a chance to cut him off. Evans might be able to leg it out to the pylon dead ahead, but instead he makes a beautiful cut to finish off the 75-yard touchdown.

Figure 8

That’s Evans planting his foot and getting vertical, while the backside corner is rewarded for his hustle by falling on his ass.

Touchdown, Austin Peay. 7-0 after just one play from scrimmage.

Here’s a diagram of the play:

Here’s the play in full:

Figure 9

Central Arkansas started to do some different things on defense once they recognized what Austin Peay was doing. They switched to more of a 3-4 look, which gave them a more balanced defense, and they started playing their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage since they realized Austin Peay couldn’t really threaten them down the field.

Personally, I’m not a fan of how Austin Peay was playing its slots 3 yards off the line of scrimmage in the backfield. They’re so deep that they don’t really present deep threats to Central Arkansas’ safeties. Like I said above, I like double slot, but those slots can’t just be reverse/counter threats. In my opinion, they need to be closer to the line of scrimmage to present a vertical threat, and you can still do some of that misdirection in the run game.

If you want to see more content like this, let me know in the comments.


  1. Comments: 1357
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Aug 30, 2020 at 5:00 PM

    Good stuff.

  2. Comments: 359
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Aug 30, 2020 at 6:55 PM

    I enjoyed the breakdown of the play. Biting on the counter and pulling guard on the first play to the tune of a touchdown! I can see Central’s coaches saying “Well, we got that out of the way!”

  3. Comments: 27
    Joined: 9/25/2019
    Aug 31, 2020 at 10:26 AM

    Very nicely done. The play was pretty good too!

  4. Comments: 22
    Joined: 8/20/2015
    Aug 31, 2020 at 10:28 AM

    Great job! Breaking down plays is one of my favorite parts of watching and better understand football. Thanks for doing this. If you are taking votes, then YES please, continue this for the season.

    I love the use of the influence block here from the guard. I have to admit I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to running power and the use of extra blockers to manipulate a defense, but when blended correctly, incorporating power concepts with speed in space is so fun to watch.

    Thanks again.

  5. Comments: 118
    Joined: 10/22/2015
    Aug 31, 2020 at 10:43 AM

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this stuff! Helps me to understand the game so much better. Read and watched this 3x already. Thanks!

  6. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Aug 31, 2020 at 11:45 AM

    Excellent post. I really like how you mixed in the negative at the end because a lot of Xs and Os breakdowns like this will kind of ignore the “why not just run this every time” angle.

    If Michigan were to run a play like this, which players would be the best fit in the slot? Obviously you need to be able to block but like you said also present some vertical threat. I wonder if Chris Evans or Erick All would work well or maybe you just can find you a WR who is a willing and able blocker but also has speed – like Bell or Schonle.

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