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September 12, 2012

Bonus big-play breakdown

In this special feature, former Gamecock football player Marty Simpson takes a look at some of the big plays from the USC-East Carolina game.

[ ALSO SEE: Part 1 of this week's big-play breakdown ]

Seth Strickland TD Pass to Buster Anderson

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This is another instance of the ECU secondary playing catastrophically. The defensive left cornerback is in deep thirds. You can tell this is Cover 3 as opposed to quarter-quarter-half coverage because the defensive left end is actually the flat defender as he runs with the wheel route executed by the running back. If it was quarter-quarter-half coverage, then the defensive left cornerback would have the flats and that defensive left end would rush the passer.

Therefore, that left cornerback has deep thirds. It's his job to not allow any player to ever catch a ball deeper than he is. Oops.

The offensive left slot receiver runs a vertical route to hold the free safety in the middle so he can't cheat over to Anderson. The defender over the offensive left slot receiver is the wide-side flat defender.

Strickland does a great job of recognizing this and executing a great throw. However, this is really more about exposing how bad the ECU secondary is than how good the Gamecocks are. I am not taking anything away from the Gamecocks on this play, but I don't want to lose credibility with any true football gurus reading this. The defensive left cornerback plays this play about as badly as he could possibly play it.

Thompson TD Pass to Moore

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There are so many things worth pointing out during this play I am just going to start with my favorite. After he throws the touchdown, Dylan Thompson is zoomed in on by the sideline cameraman while he points to God giving thanks. First of all, I would like to note that the coach of the orange team in the Upstate hasn't cornered the market on God being involved with players' lives on a football team.

Secondly, I would like to point out that the cameraman inadvertently featured an injured ECU player in the background. I am not trying to make light of any player who has been injured on a play, but surely you all noticed this and found it slightly amusing, yes? I feel bad for this player, but not bad enough to NOT point it out to you all.

It's actually the defensive right cornerback who blitzes and hits Dylan Thompson. Unfortunately for ECU he missed the tackle and Thompson was able to spring free.

I assume ECU was willing to run corner blitzes because up to that point in the game leaving them in the deep thirds had proven to be ineffective. I guess the Pirates figured they might as well rush the passer with their pass defenders since they weren't stopping any deep passes.

If you pay attention to D.L. Moore at the start of the play he runs the short route on the offensive left. He is actually wide open initially but Thompson was not able to get the throw off in time. Then it just became a scramble drill.

This was the best play of the day, but I predict a bad one for the season. I am afraid this play taught the backup quarterback a lesson he should have never learned. The lesson Thompson learned on this play was, "Sometimes when I scramble right and throw back left good things happen." My fear is, later in the year this will come back to haunt Thompson. (Assuming Shaw is healthy in the later stretch of the season it may prove to be a moot point.) But if Shaw is unable to go against LSU or Georgia and Thompson has muscle memory kick in while he is rolling right away from pressure against those SEC defenses, this exact same touchdown play versus ECU will be an interception for a touchdown going the other way.

I am not taking anything away from THIS particular play because it was fantastic. Thompson clearly saw Moore had no one around him and then he deliverd a strike right to him. Then Moore made a great reverse direction pivot to spring free and Justice Cunningham got his money's worth on a nice peel-back block.

Overall I grade this play an A+ for excitement and big-play production. However, in the long run I am scared this play will come back to haunt the Gamecocks like Favre versus the Saints a few years ago.

Thompson TD Pass to Smith

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The pass protection on this play was perfect. The speed rush on the left outside was picked up nicely by the motioning tight end.

ECU was in deep-thirds here as opposed to man-to-man. You can tell because the slot receiver runs down the middle of the field to occupy the free safety and the defender directly in front of him doesn't run with him immediately.

Either way, deep-thirds or man-to-man, the theory is the same. You want to isolate the mismatch. In this instance Spurrier felt like he had a mismatch with DeAngelo Smith on the cornerback. They were never able to isolate Alshon Jeffery because there would always be a second defender over the top helping out. This year, with more of the wealth being spread to more players, teams have to respect everyone equally. So on paper it becomes easier to predict how to get one-on-one situations. One way is to run the slot down the middle and run the wide out down the sideline. The sideline will have a one-on-one match up.

Thompson does a great job of throwing the ball with enough air under it for Smith to make a play on it. Smith does a great job of coming down with the ball and getting his feet down in the end zone.

Something I noticed as Smith rolls out of the endzone is the two photographers. One does a great job of avoiding having his knees taken out and the other seems to either be photographing a different game or has clearly dozed off in the hot Columbia sun.

(But if you actually watch it again, this cameraman is getting out of the way as well. The still shot just paused in a funny way on him. I didn't want to offend this guy if he actually reads the breakdown!)

Jimmy Legree Pick 6

[ Jimmy Legree's Pick 6 begins at the 1:46 mark. ]

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The first thing I notice during this wonderful play by Jimmy Legree is that the Gamecocks disguised this coverage on the short side of the field. It's clear from the field corner that he is in Cover 2, which means the cornerback would be the flat defender (the one responsible for the short passes wider than the tight end.) However, Legree initially lines up like he is going to be a deep thirds or deep quarter player, which is not how he would align if he was playing Cover 2.

It's very clear that Legree is going to jump any short pass from the start of this play, but the initial alignment disguise created a great situation for him. He, in essence, baited the quarterback to throw a ball he knew he was going to intercept.

Another thing you can see in the above image is the defensive left outside linebacker shows like he is going to blitz. This will engage a pre-snap read by the quarterback to feel like his receiver on that side will be open in the short flats since that defender will be vacating that area with a blitz. But you will see the outside linebacker bluffs and retreats into the flat area and the inside backers actually run a criss-cross stunt. This is some of the imagination and aggression folks were talking about being the difference between Ellis Johnson and Lorenzo Ward.

Legree made a great break on this ball and a great catch. So often in a scenario like this the defensive back will prove why he is playing in the secondary instead of at wide receiver when he drops a sure Pick 6. Legree, however, stroked it all the way to the house for the Gamecocks.


And lastly, did anyone else notice how big Dylan Thompson's mouth piece seemed? I felt like every time he was yelling stuff out he had just chewed up like an entire bag of Rolos. Also, someone let him know he is allowed to take his mouthpiece out to yell stuff and then put it back in. Otherwise, this was a pretty flawless performance out of the backup quarterback!

From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former Academic All-Conference player who scored the Gamecocks' first six points in the SEC. During eight years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals and saw one player advance to set an NFL rookie record. Simpson now divides his time between his family, running Blue-Eyed Panda, Co-Hosting The Corey Miller Show on 560 The Team, and traveling the country as a stand-up comedian.

Check out Marty's comedian website here.

@GamecockCentral on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

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