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Watching Film: The McCloud Era Begins

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Taking a closer look at the USF offense against SC State.

South Carolina State v South Florida Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Well, that was certainly much more enjoyable than the last two weeks. In media availability during the week leading up to the game, offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell indicated that he wanted to see the offense increase its tempo and play more decisively. The offense was able to deliver for their coordinator on Saturday, scoring 55 points versus South Carolina State.

Even taking the opponent into consideration, the offense played much better and showed many signs of improvement. It certainly seemed that Jordan McCloud’s first collegiate start helped to give the USF offense a jolt of life it had been sorely missing through two games. McCloud accounted for five touchdowns and led the offense to a bevy of big plays. Let’s take a closer look at the offense’s big performance.


On their third offensive series, the Bulls had the ball second-and-nine on the SC State 42 yard line. USF comes out in 11 personnel (1 back and 1 tight end) with two receivers on the right and a tight end and receiver on the left. SC State counters with a two-high safety look on defense.

USF is going to call a play that will attack the seams of the defense with both the tight end on the left and the inside receiver, Johnny Ford, running down their respective hashes. On this particular play, Ford will have the post read. All he is looking for is whether or not the middle of the field is open. If the middle is closed, he will stay right up the hash. If the middle is open, as it will be here with the two-high safeties, he will convert to a “Cover 2” post route. It’s hard to see exactly what the outside receivers are doing, but they will also initially release vertical.

Post-snap there is a small miscommunication on the protection. It appears to be a four man slide involving the left tackle, both guards and the center. The right tackle would be big on big on the backside. The players in the slide will all be sliding to the left. There is a 3-technique defensive tackle between the left guard and tackle, and a 1-technique defensive tackle between the center and right guard. With the 1-tech being on his backside shade, and no immediate threat in is slide side gap, the center could probably slow down and help the right guard with the 1 tech. He could give the right guard a hand while keeping his eyes up for any incoming threat. Instead, with the line still getting comfortable with new protections, the center slides left quickly and allows the 1-tech to penetrate.

The right guard could do a better job at the snap, but the center could give him a hand as well.

While there was initial penetration based on that miscommunication, the right guard Billy Atterbury does a great job recovering and giving the play a chance. Jordan McCloud does a great job navigating the pocket with quiet feet. He slides up into the pocket that was created and is ready to throw.

Meanwhile, Johnny Ford has made the route conversion to the post. While it may have been a hair late due to the pressure, McCloud sees the middle of the field open and delivers the ball to the post. The throw is probably a little too close to the opposite hash for the coaches’ liking, but Ford had gotten so far behind the defense it didn’t matter at all. The result was an explosive play for a touchdown.

With 9:27 left in the second quarter, USF has a third and seven from the SC State 20-yard line. The Bulls again come out in 11 personnel with two receivers on the left and a receiver and wing tight end on the right. The running back will also line up to the right.

Whether it be field position (red zone) based, or formation based, SC State rolls the field safety down into the box. They did this several times against Wofford. They would show two-high safeties initially, Then, as the snapped approach one would roll down, and the other would rotate the middle of the field. USF is ready for this and will again be attacking the seams. The tight end, Mitchell Wilcox, will arc release and attack the rolled down safety. The back will run to the flat and, along with Wilcox’s release, to make the safety expand.

The safety expands with the back and Wilcox does a great job of getting vertical while also getting wide and maintain leverage. His route gets him into space, but the QB will get him wide open.

Seeing the field safety roll down pre-snap, Jordan McCloud knows that he will likely get Wilcox wide open down the seam. The only player that could make the play on Wilcox is the safety that should be rotating to the middle of the field. So McCloud pulls a veteran move out of his arsenal. McCloud knows that the inside receiver on the left will also be releasing vertically. So right as he receives the snap McCloud looks to the left. The safety to that side must stay put because he has a vertical route being run right into his lap. McCloud has frozen the safety with his eyes. The center, Brad Cecil, does a great job here picking up a tackle-end-exchange (TEX) stunt that will be coming shortly, helping to create a clean pocket.

McCloud hits the last step of his drop and finds Wilcox. He makes an accurate throw and you can see how late the safety is to the ball. Wilcox makes the catch and gets into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.

Late in the second quarter, USF has the ball on the SC State 44-yard line. The Bulls are in 10 (1 back and 0 tight end) personnel with two receivers split out on both sides of the formation. SC State is playing a one-high coverage with the corners rolled up tight.

USF is going to run a Slot Fade concept. Slot Fade is basically the same idea as Smash. On Smash you have a hitch by the outside receiver, and corner by the inside receiver. Slot Fade keeps the same route for the outside receiver, but instead of a corner, the inside receiver will run a wide go route. He will end up in about the same spot as the corner would, it’s just a different way to attack the same space.

The protection will be one that the offensive line should be comfortable with, a full slide. All the lineman will step right and the back will fill in on the backside edge. This is a common quick game protection, and one USF ran last year. McCloud is given a clean pocket and he recognizes what appears to be Cover 1. Knowing he has man coverage to the field, he picks the slot to the field where he will have more room to throw.

The slot receiver on the right, Eddie McDoom does a great job getting leverage on his defender and giving McCloud a place to throw the ball. By choosing the field slot fade, McCloud has given the safety no chance to make a play on the ball.

The ball is on target and McDoom makes a good catch for a big play right before half.

Two plays later, USF has the ball second and 10 at the nine-yard line. They come out in 20 (two backs and 0 tight ends) with Johnny Ford lined up in the backfield on the right. There is a single receiver on the right and two receivers on the left of the formation. SC State will come out in a two high safety look.

Last week, we talked about the aggressiveness of the SC State safeties in the run game, and how they would often fly up leaving open areas behind them. USF is prepared to take full advantage of that scheme with this play call. The Bulls will fake a stretch with Johnny Ford appearing to be the lead blocker. As the safety fills for the run, Ford will get vertical and run right by him into the vacated area. The receivers will all sell run for the first few steps and then take off vertically. To sell run even more, the Bulls will down block on the right side and pull the center for the defensive end.

Post-snap, USF gets exactly what the want on the back end. The safety up top is held by the receiver, and Ford has run by the aggressive safety. Unfortunately, the defensive tackle beat the down blocks in the protection to their spot.

The end zone shot provides a better view of the quick penetration by the SC State tackle. You can also see Ford about to scream open.

Ford is about to break open and McCloud is thinking about maybe letting the ball go early to avoid the sack.

Ford is wide open but McCloud decides to pull the ball down and become a runner. This is one of the reasons you make the change to McCloud. When something goes wrong, he can make you right.

On this play, McCloud really makes the line right as he takes off and gets into the end zone for another touchdown.

After a long interception return, USF comes out for their opening drive of the second half. The Bulls have the ball on the SC State 32-yard line. USF has 10 personnel on the field with Johnny Ford in at tailback. There are three receivers on the right and a lone receiver on the left. SC State will almost overload the three receiver side, which is exactly what USF wants.

The 3x1 formation has gotten SC State to play with a five man box. USF is going to pull the right guard and have the left tackle invite his man up-field blocking him out of the play. The left guard and center will block down with the right tackle by first sealing the pulling guard’s vacant gap, then hinging. Ford takes a slight counter step and then will follow his guard.

Post-snap, you can see that the line has blocked this perfectly. Right guard Billy Atterbury and left tackle Donovan Jennings do their jobs perfectly.

From the end zone view you can really see the hole that is created by the offensive line.

All that’s left is for the pulling guard to make his block. Atterbury does a great job and Ford has plenty of room to run. The safety shading the three receiver side is trying to get back into the play.

Ford is off to the races, and he doesn’t lose many races. He goes untouched into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown.

Later, after a great punt return, USF opens its drive at the SC State 24-yard line. After a 9-yard gain on a first down screen pass, the Bulls have a second-and-one from the 15-yard line. They are in 10 personnel with three receivers on the right and one on the left.

USF will be running inside zone in the box, and the receivers to the right will be running a bubble screen. This play was one of McCloud’s few mistakes on the night. If SC State comes out two-over-three on the outside, as they do here, McCloud should throw the bubble as there is a number advantage out there. If the defense covers up all three receivers, run the zone read. Right now there is two-over-three outside. The outside linebacker is walked up on the line of scrimmage and will not be able to affect the bubble. He will have a big impact, however, on the zone read. You run zone read to gain a numbers advantage with the quarterback. The outside backer walked up is the quarterback player. So now you are playing seven on seven in the box.

If McCloud throws the bubble here, the Bulls get at least the first down and likely a touchdown. Instead SC State’s defensive end can tee off on the tailback because he knows there is a player for the quarterback outside of him. The play loses two yards and USF is unable to convert on third down the next play. They settle for a field goal when a touchdown may have been there on second down. This is a young player’s mistake, and with how McCloud played for most of the night, I don’t anticipate him making this mistake again.

After a Bulldogs fumble, USF had the ball on second down and six from the 10-yard line. The Bulls are in 11 personnel with two receivers and a sniffer tight end on the left and a lone receiver on the right.

The Bulls are going to run the “Snag” concept. The number one receiver is going to run a snag route, which I have always described as a slant and then sit. The number two receiver will run a corner, and number three will run a flat. The Snag concept can create both natural rubs and “high/lows” to give the offense an edge.

Post-snap the cornerback and safety both end up taking the snag. The corner carries it inside, and the safety sits on it. Wilcox outflanks his defender to the flat and McDoom gets open on the corner route.

McCloud hits Wilcox on the run and he takes it into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, USF has a third-and-nine at their own 45-yard line. They are in 10 personnel with three receivers on the right and one on the left. SC State is showing a two-high coverage.

USF is going to run a three- level pass concept down the middle of the field. Johnny Ford, the number three receiver on the right, will run a post splitting the safety. The number two receiver on the right will run a sit route over the ball to occupy the linebackers. The lone receiver on the left will run a deep dig route occupying the safety to his side.

McCloud gets a clean pocket. The safety to the boundary gets held by the deep dig. Ford breaks to the post and runs by everybody. McCloud steps up and lets it rip.

McCloud hits Ford in stride and he is able to reel the pass in for a 52-yard gain.

The very next play will be the last of the night for McCloud. USF has the ball on the SC State three-yard line after the big pass to Ford. The Bulls stay in 10 personnel with three receivers on the left and one on the right. SC State packs the box for the goal line play.

USF will run zone read or a smoke screen to the three receiver side. SC State is showing three over three so McCloud will now focus on the zone read. He will be reading the stand up player on the end of the line of scrimmage to the right. The outside backer over the number three receiver will blitz.

McCloud makes his read and decides to keep the ball. The end squeezes down and may not realize how dynamic McCloud is running the ball.

McCloud easily outruns the defense for a touchdown on his final play of the game.


The opponent on Saturday wasn’t great. However, USF played much better than the previous two weeks and probably even left some points on the field.

The defense continues to play well, and the special teams was excellent in this game too. Hopefully this offensive performance is the shot in the arm this team needs going into the conference season. With the bye coming this week, the Bulls will get some time to focus on themselves a little bit while also having some extra time to prepare for an improved SMU team. The biggest pre-season goal is still out there for this team. Hopefully Saturday was a sign of things to come.