College News & Analysis

SEC Film Room: Kyle Trask is who we thought he was, Ole Miss did itself no favors vs. Alabama and more

We saw points galore in the SEC this weekend, with Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU and Missouri, Texas A&M and Florida, and Arkansas and Auburn all playing close shootouts. Offense is the name of the game in the SEC right now, and it has made the conference very exciting. Let’s take a dive into the tape to see which offenses stood out and which offenses need to go back to the drawing board.

Dan Mullen Continues to Impress

Florida's Kyle Trask hasn’t hit the lofty PFF grade he earned in a Week 1demolition of an Ole Miss defense that has turned out to be incredibly bad. The Gators' signal-caller posted an elite 90.9 passing grade against the Landsharks, his highest-graded game in his career to that point by far. However, his past two games — at home against South Carolina and away against Texas A&M — might have brought out the real Kyle Trask.

His grades of 70.7 and 56.2, respectively, in those two games are poor, but Florida has fortunately scored a lot of points and was on the wrong side of turnover luck in a last-second loss to Texas A&M. The offense continued to hum along against the Aggies, scoring 38 points mostly because of the scheme Dan Mullen employs and Trask’s playmakers.

Just over 64% of the quarterback’s yards came after the catch Saturday, which was the sixth-highest rate among the 46 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 25 times this week. The offense has the second-highest expected points added per play mark in the country among teams that have at least played two games. It seems Trask is more of a cog in the machine rather than a prime mover.

A case in point was a few snaps where the Texas A&M defense continued to look lost on the field.

I wrote about this mesh play against Texas A&M last week where the cornerback was staying high but not actually dealing with the wheel route of the backfield twice against Alabama. Here, it happens again against the Gators. Dan Mullen continued to put that defense in bad spots to create openings for his players.

Florida puts its trips formation into the short side of the field, and the defense responds by acting like it didn’t just do that. It’s one thing to put your nickel to the short side so that you can still negate the numbers advantage the offense wants over there, but it’s another to play cut coverage to the wide side of the field against one split receiver. When the running back bounces the ball, the safety is nowhere to be found because he has to cover over half the field deep by himself, and the corner gets locked out because he’s outside leverage, being that it’s a Cover 2 concept. This coverage concept is fine if the strength of the offense was flipped, but the Aggies gave the Gators all this room to run by not treating the boundary formation differently.

Here, the Aggies come up short on defense against this empty set from the Gators. I’m not sure what the idea here behind this is, but playing every defensive back within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage to the trips side and rushing only four defenders is never going to work. They must be in some type of zone coverage because the person manning the outside slot receiver jumps the other slot receiver’s bubble route. It’s impossible for the next defensive back to run with Kadarius Toney down the field when he’s flat-footed and that far inside. It's just a weird defense.

Set In His Ways

On the other side of the field was Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who might never become an incredible passer — even after continued exposure to Jimbo Fisher, the quarterback whisperer. However, Fisher’s offense does no favors for him. The Texas A&M attack is a fake spread offense. Yes, they technically play in “spread” formations but, conceptually, it is still the old pro-style attack that Jimbo is famous for.

Mond has to drop back and read a defense far too many times without the benefit of scheme doing the heavy lifting. Only 23.9% of Mond's passes this season have come on play action. That ranks 11th out of the 15 SEC quarterbacks with at least 30 overall dropbacks this season. It puts him right next to Jarrett Guarantano and John Chaney’s old school, pro-style offense. Texas A&M has also run only nine total screens this season. Have fun, Kellen.

Good things happen when you call play action. Jimbo called 10 such plays against the Gators, with Mond completing seven for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

The Air Raid is Bottled Up Again

After the ludicrous defensive gameplan put together by Bo Pelini in Mississippi State's destruction of LSU’s defense, Arkansas and Kentucky decided they were just not going to be ignorant. Pelini seemed to have ignored years of Apple Cup data on how to deal with Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack. Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom and Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White did not. Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello has now had back-to-back games where the majority of the defensive snaps came with only a three-man rush to contain the supposedly high-powered aerial attack.

Arkansas rushed three or fewer players on 63 of Mississippi State’s 64 passing snaps. They blitzed one time and played zone on all but two plays. It worked. The Bulldogs' successful play rate fell from 43.6% against the Tigers to 36.9% against the Hogs. Their expected points added per play mark fell from .202 to -.253. It was truly that simple. Kentucky employed a similar approach on defense, rushing three on 77% of its defensive snaps and rushing four on 21% of its defensive snaps. The answer to the Air Raid really seems to be just put as many bodies in coverage and profit. Mississippi State quarterbacks have produced nine turnover-worthy plays to just one big-time throw over their past two games. The offense's expected points added per play figure is a combined -.369 in that same span.

A Rolling Tide

The Ole Miss defense was never going to stick around with Alabama's unfair skill on offense, but I don’t think the unit did itself any favors with its gameplan. Ole Miss ran any sort of two-high coverage fewer than five times Saturday night. The Rebels lived in Cover 1 and Cover 3 with a couple of snaps of Cover 3 cloud. Their plan, one would assume, was to limit the Alabama rushing attack by placing as many defenders around the box as possible. They had been more varied in their coverages in the first two games of the season, playing middle-of-the-field open coverages 39 times against Florida and then 59 times against Kentucky.

The problem in this Alabama game was that even with all their bodies in or around the line of scrimmage, they still couldn’t stop Bama’s run game. The Tide's run plays were successful just over 62% of the time for a ghastly .547 expected points added per play.

Ole Miss was never going to stop Alabama because of the talent disparity, so why not just play two-high safeties, allow yourself to get run on but suppress the passing game a bit more? In their one-high schemes, the Ole Miss cornerbacks were constantly exposed against the speed of Bama’s receivers.

What I’m about to write is not a typo: Alabama passes had a success rate of 77% and an expected points added per play mark of 1.05. That number represents the second-best expected points added per play figure against an SEC defense in the past seven seasons among teams that had at least 25 passes. It was an absolutely embarrassing display that is not at all the fault of the players on the field.

Look at the separation that the corners have to give to the receivers:

Play two-high, limit the explosive plays from the opposing passing attack and live with whatever happens on the ground. Instead, Ole Miss gave up over 60 points and has easily the worst defense in the FBS. It was a baffling gameplan, and then their insistence on continuing to call the same defense as the game wore on was just as bad.

Deceit and Confusion

Lane Kiffin has always been a great play caller, and with Matt Corral manning the offense for him this season, Ole Miss has really shown off to start the year. Knowing that the quality of players on his offense was of no match for the Bama defense, Kiffin continued to hit them with deceitful plays that freed up his players all over the field. This pop pass hit Alabama right in the heart of its defense on the second play of the game.

A few plays later, Ole Miss would call a similar jump pass/pop pass to score its first points of the night. Lane continued to come up with these types of plays for explosive plays well into the night. The right side of the offensive line —tackle Royce Newman and guard Jeremy James — played well the whole game, with each grading just above 70.0 as run blockers. Whenever Ole Miss created a big gain on the ground, it felt like those two had a big hand in it.

With all that said, Matt Corral has been outstanding to start the season. His 85.3 passing grade puts him 11th in the FBS among quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks. He’s been hitting big plays down the field, but maybe more importantly, he has produced only one turnover-worthy play. Kiffin has supported him with a ton of play action — just under half of his dropbacks are off play action — but he’s still been highly accurate and has made the correct decisions from the pocket time and time again.

John Rhys Plumlee is a supremely talented runner, but Corral fits this offense much better. Kiffin isn’t running his 2016 Jalen Hurts offense anymore. This is a spread you out wide, hit RPOs and downfield shots type of offense. He doesn’t need a runner at quarterback. Corral has just been perfect.

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