I started to write this post last week, but, unfortunately, the week got away from me, and I was unable to put it together before the Arkansas game came around. After the game was over however, I was glad that I had not gotten around to it, because Saturday provided maybe the best evidence of what I wanted to write about anyways.
Dak Prescott is a phenomenal player. I don't think any of us would argue with that. But there has been a particular play -- maybe it's actually more of an alignment than particular play, to be honest -- this year that has almost been unfair for opposing defenses. It's become one of those that when you see them line up in that formation, you almost are certain that a first down is coming, and most often times that result does follow.
You see, there used to be a time when I would cringe when I saw Mississippi State go five wide with an empty backfield. No tight end, no running back to protect; are we serious?! But with a QB like Dak and a good offensive line, those fears have subsided this season, and my thoughts upon witnessing a five wide set have gone from ulcers to high expectations.
Probably the greatest example of this formation's success came from MSU's breakout game against the LSU Tigers. Early in the second half with MSU clinging to a seven-point lead, State lined up in a five-wide formation. Luckily for the Bulldogs, LSU chose to go with a four-man front, one linebacker set with safety help on one side. The linebacker on this play choses to blitz, which meant that if State could block the five up front -- even for just a few seconds -- Dak would have a wide open middle of the field to rumble through. That did happen, and Dak used a stiff arm and a down field block to turn it into a 56-yard touchdown run that really grabbed the nation's attention. Let's watch:
While this is just an assumption, I have to believe that when State lines up like this, they give Dak the audible option to go from run to pass depending on how the defense lines up. There have likely been some examples of this throughout the season, but the examples that stick out for this formation have mostly been running play successes.
Against the orange and blue Tigers, Dak and the offense again were able to use the five-wide formation to their advantage for an early touchdown. On this play just before halftime, you see the offense come out in five wide with what appears to be man coverage. With that being the case, two linebackers are left along with four down linemen in the box to cover five linemen and Dak. With those numbers, all Dak has to do is make one guy miss -- if he gets the blocks he needs -- and he's gone. What's great about this formation too is that, if the Tigers would've come out in a zone and Dak identifies it, he could easily audible out of the run to a quick slant to any number of his wideouts.
As we watch the play unfold, we see that Dak does get the key block from Ben Beckwith and he makes one guy miss in a wide open middle of the field for a touchdown. The other thing to note here is the lack of any safety help -- the five-wide set combined with a four-linemen front leaves nobody home in the middle past the LBs -- which is a perfect mixture for a touchdown.
In the final example, we saw last Saturday night what having to respect Dak's running ability (see previous examples) can produce through the air in this formation. On this play, Dak again draws man coverage with two linebackers and a four man front. As you will see, one linebacker does drop into coverage against a slot WR, which leaves safety help, I believe on the right side of the field. The good news though is that the rush forces Dak to roll out the other way, away from any safety help. Where this big play gets created here is by Dak's threat to run in this situation. While this does look like a pass play the whole way, the defense is forced to still respect Dak's scrambling ability due to what he's done so far this season. The DBs on the left side of the field keep their eyes in the backfield as the play progresses, and as he continues moving towards the line of scrimmage, they (the DBs) commit to the run, which ultimately proves to be a poor choice. That leaves a talented wide receiver in Fred Ross WIDE OPEN behind the defense, which produces a game-changing (and ultimately game-winning) 69-yard touchdown pass to seal things.
While these are just a few examples from this season, these three plays are enough to prove the point: MSU's potential out of the five-wide is enormous. We've also seen this formation produce quick five yard receptions, and if we look hard enough, we'll likely see it being well defended as well. But the point remains: if you don't defend the formation well, Dak and company will make you pay.