Snapshots: Dylan McCaffrey vs. Middle Tennessee

Snapshots: Dylan McCaffrey vs. Middle Tennessee

April 28, 2020
Dylan McCaffrey (image via MGoBlue)

Naturally, with the departure of a starting quarterback, people start to argue about who will take over the role. The battle for starting QB in 2020 appears to be down to Dylan McCaffrey vs. Joe Milton. We’ve only had limited exposure to both, but I thought I would take some time to examine what we’ve seen from them. I’ll start off with how McCaffrey performed against Middle Tennessee in the 2019 season opener.

There are links to any clips that are not embedded. Thanks to @DGDestroys on Twitter for the video cutup on YouTube!

I awarded grades on the following simple scale:

  • +1: Good play that not everyone can make
  • 0: Average play that an average player can make
  • -1: Poor play

PLAY 1 (LINK): I hated this play from the minute I saw it. Michigan lines up McCaffrey out wide, puts him in motion (which brings attention to the fact that the backup QB is in the game!), does a crappy play fake, and then throws the ball to McCaffrey on an inside screen. I don’t like inside screens, anyway, but this was a poor play design. On top of that, redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield – who played well during the year but struggled in his first start – pass sets to nobody, so it screws up the timing of an already bad play.
McCaffrey grade: N/A

Hit the jump for more.

PLAY 2 (LINK): By motioning the tight end, Michigan creates an inside zone run play where the QB is reading the D-gap run fitter. Unfortunately for MTSU, there’s no D-gap run fitter. This is an obvious keep and a good read for McCaffrey, who gains 8 yards and a first down.
McCaffrey grade: +1

PLAY 3 (LINK): Michigan runs a four verts play. It appears that McCaffrey is looking to hit #8 Ronnie Bell on an outside vertical to the right. Good pocket awareness lets him escape the rush by dipping his shoulder and stepping up in the pocket. Instead, he hitches an extra time, which allows Jalen Mayfield’s edge rusher to get an angle and grab at McCaffrey’s feet. Again, Mayfield struggled since this was early in his career, but the sack on this play is more on Mayfield than McCaffrey.
McCaffrey grade: 0

PLAY 4 (LINK): McCaffrey does a nice job of getting depth and putting himself in a position to make a nice throw on a corner route rolling to his left. His receiver wins the route, and McCaffrey puts it where only his guy can catch it. I still think this is an overthrow even if Tarik Black doesn’t get interfered with, though.
McCaffrey grade: 0

PLAY 5 (LINK): McCaffrey keeps on a zone read play and follows Nick Eubanks’ lead block into the end zone. This is a good read and shows good speed, even if a slower player could still have taken it across the goal line.
McCaffrey grade: +1

PLAY 6: Based on the offensive line, this is an inside zone play. My guess is that McCaffrey communicated to his backs that he was checking to a quick throw, because the backs pass block while the line is run blocking. Ronnie Bell runs an inside slant route and is open, but McCaffrey double-clutches, which allows the leaping linebacker an extra half-second to get his hands up and bat the ball. Luckily for Michigan, Bell redirected and caught it for a gain, but this could have easily been a pick, an incompletion, or even a pick-six.

PLAY 7 (LINK): McCaffrey runs speed option to the left with tailback/fullback Ben VanSumeren as the pitch man. He makes a good read and pitch, and really, you want the ball being pitched on speed option. Unfortunately, as we often see with McCaffrey, he takes a hit while doing so. Ideally, you want him pitching the ball while stepping laterally away from the defender (“follow the pitch”) to minimize the blow. It’s not a huge hit, but it’s still a solid blow.
McCaffrey grade: 0

PLAY 8 (LINK): On a shallow crosser by tight end Nick Eubanks, McCaffrey appears to be reading the space over X receiver Tarik Black, who’s aligned tight to the formation. When the corner bails, McCaffrey hits Eubanks running to open grass. I would be interested to see the endzone view and whether Ronnie Bell was open on his skinny post, but based on McCaffrey’s eyes, the play seems designed to go to Black or Eubanks. McCaffrey has time and throws a nice, catchable ball for an adequate gain.

PLAY 9: McCaffrey appears to be trying to hit the switch verticals to the bottom of the screen. With Ronnie Bell going in orbit motion, that’s the checkdown. McCaffrey doesn’t like what he sees on the vert switch, but he never looks at another receiver, including the outlet to Bell, which is wide open. Instead, he tucks the ball and runs for a gain of 3.
McCaffrey grade: -1

PLAY 10: Michigan is in a trey (TE + 2 receivers) formation to the bottom of the screen. McCaffrey’s running an RPO and pulls the ball to throw to the #2 receiver, Ronnie Bell. Unfortunately, his mechanics are a bit off, and he leaves the ball high rather than keeping the slant throw low, which is where it needs to be. If you leave slants high and/or behind, they can turn into tipped balls and interceptions.
McCaffrey grade: -1

PLAY 11 (LINK): It looks like Michigan is expecting a field blitz here, so they call speed option again, this time to the right. Instead of blitzing, the outside linebacker hedges, so McCaffrey keeps the ball and runs up inside rather than pitching. It’s the right read and a decent gain.
McCaffrey grade: +1

PLAY 12 (LINK): This is a play that Michigan uses different variations of, but it’s a zone read with the option to throw to the single receiver. McCaffrey’s job is to keep the ball, sell the run, and then throw to the receiver (Tarik Black in this case) if/when the corner commits to stopping the run. McCaffrey makes the right read, keeps the ball, and gains a few yards.
McCaffrey grade: +1


Overall, my theory was reinforced in this game that McCaffrey is/was not capable of managing the passing load that Shea Patterson had in 2019. If you look through the plays above, McCaffrey makes great decisions in the run game, and he runs better than most college quarterbacks; but he struggles when it’s time to throw the ball. The pass plays listed above:

  • Play 3: Poor pocket awareness
  • Play 4: Likely overthrow, but PI makes it null
  • Play 6: Double-clutch allows defender to get hands up
  • Play 8: Accurate throw on short crosser
  • Play 9: Panics too soon and scrambles
  • Play 10: High throw on a slant RPO
  • Play 11: Good decision not to throw RPO

It was the first game of the season with a new offense, and McCaffrey was a backup redshirt freshman. So it’s understandable if there are some jitters. McCaffrey does throw a nice ball and has plenty of arm strength. But there were a lot of glitches.


  1. Comments: 134
    Joined: 9/13/2015
    Apr 28, 2020 at 7:02 PM

    I like the idea of this content, thanks for posting.

    I wonder how Shea would score in this he using your point system. While I want to find our own Joe Burrow and flame thrower through OSU for the title….I would settle for some point of improvement. My theory is that McCaffrey will make better decisions, activate the run game, and have better pocket presence than Shea but won’t make plays with his arm as much.

  2. Comments: 1863
    Joined: 1/19/2016
    Apr 28, 2020 at 9:38 PM

    This is really good stuff Thunder. May end up there as one of your “best of series”

    I didn’t like play 1 or play 7 (speed option to the short side, to a LB/FB)

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