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Diagramming the Series: Boise State's First Series Against Northern Illinois

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The college football offseason is not short. Without doing any research I am going to assume it is the longest offseason in all of sports. Or, at least, it feels that way. Sure the spring practices, and scrimmage, provide a little comfort in the period known as "no college football" but it is only a minor relief.

So what do we do in the actual meantime?

How about we reminisce about games/plays that we all enjoyed?

That sounds good and/or fun!

The first game we can look at fondly? How about the most recent one in the Poinsettia? Let's take a dive into the first series and see what made it successful.

Rypien Throws to Wide Open Huff

The funnest/best things about the opening series is everything is scripted. The offense puts together a set of plays that they feel will work against the particular matchup that week. Because we already know the outcome of this game, we already know that plays under the umbrella of "everything" worked against Northern Illinois.

So how does the first play of the game start out?

Brett Rypien starts in a basic shotgun formation. While the Broncos are extremely famous for motions, and shifts, before the snap, this play did not include any such mind games. Sperbeck to the right by himself (notice how soft the CB is playing). Shane Williams-Rhodes in the slot and Chaz Anderson on the other side. Huff set four yards from the line of scrimmage.

Being the first play of the game, the Broncos do not really know how well ANYONE will be playing. What kind of push will the front line get? How aggressive will the defensive line be? Is Huff a glorified fullback based on where he is, and where the Broncos want to go to with the ball?

Then the ball is snapped.

after the ball is snapped

Rypien fakes the handoff to Jeremy McNichols. Hindsight is 20/20 (and probably because the handoff WAS faked) but look at the potential running lane for McNichols. Marcus Henry already had the defensive tackle going to Henry's right. Averill was in good position to control his man. The linebacker stayed home and was in good position to make a play on McNichols

Sperbeck runs a slant. But Rypien never appears to look his way. SWR runs five, and in, and forces the outside linebacker to commit. Anderson appears to run a go route. It is hard to tell since Rypien makes his throw to Huff before the camera pans all the way out.

Based on Rypien's eye line it seems like he wants to hit Anderson. But does not throw the route, probably with the man coverage and with how soft the cornerback played Anderson, that throw would have been too difficult.

The other possibility is SWR, however the linebacker has him covered.

So we have Rypien's outlet.

In the meantime Huff has a somewhat delayed release, even go so far as to clip the defensive end. The comical thing here is McNichols turned around to wait for the dump and it almost looked like Huff just remembered that he needed to cut out. Huff then released outside for a wide open reception.

#42 for NIU (the guy who was covering SWR) forced Huff out of bounds for the six yard reception. Let's take a look at the play in real time.

rypien to te play

Solid pick up on the first play.

Rypien Throws Deep to McNichols

There is no way you can convince me that Rypien did not want to throw the deep ball from the very outset. What is hilarious the defense thought it would be wise play McNichols man.

So how was this play set up?

Basic shotgun formation. McNichols initially set to Rypien's left. Anderson on the wide right (eventually the slot), Roh a standing tight end, Sperbeck, and then SWR.

Rypien sends McNichols into motion where McNichols takes a linebacker with him.

I know it is early in the game, and we also have the benefit of hindsight, but that is a bad matchup. The slower linebacker and the REALLY late safety help (thanks to Rypien looking him off) versus McNichols? That is not going to work. Just look at how deep Rypien gets before committing to even LOOK McNichols' way. Yes, Rypien still had to set his feet, but he did not tip his hand early where he REALLY wanted to throw. The one-on-one matchup between McNichols and #45 of NIU is exploited.

He trusts that McNichols will beat the slower linebacker and that the safety coming over the top will not be able to help. And Rypien is rewarded thusly.

Want to look at it from a different angle?

Of course you do.

Watch the safety help over the top. He does not know whether Rypien is going to hit Anderson streaking across or McNichols (again, Rypien freezing the safety with his eyes). The goal post is in the way, but you can still see Rypien is still in mid-throw before the safety even starts his break to help.

Way too late.

Rypien could have even hit Anderson across the middle as Anderson he had his man beat.

The safety over the top was the closest help versus Anderson. And if Rypien timed that throw correctly, could have had another option. But the McNichols reception was too good to pass up.

rypien mcnichols different angle

How sweet it is.

The only "criticism" here is that Rypien does not really throw it in stride with McNichols. McNichols had to pull up a bit and angle to catch it. Had it been a true "in stride" he would have been gone.


McNichols dabbing on 'em.

mcnichols dabbing

McNichols Running in for the Score

This play has a lot going on. Especially before pre-snap. The Bronco start innocently enough in their base set. SWR, Sperbeck, Anderson, Roh, and McNichols out wide.


Richardson, Dhaenens, Huff, and Hardee come in. More of a "heavy" set.

McNichols casually shifts to the back, while the tightends and Richardson line up to the right. 

Unfortunately ESPN tried to be fancy in their shot selections. So parsing what happened in the initial snap is kind of hard. But lets give it a shot.

Look at all that traffic. Nine defenders committed to crashing in and stopping anything headed their way.

Averill is the pulling guard as Henry blocks the tackle.

Huff blocks down on his tackle.

Baggett gets to the second level (in orange) and blocks the linebacker. Huff (in the green) gets to the second level as well.

So where is NcNichols as he starts his push up the middle?

So we see McNichols break free. And seemingly free space to roam, but what is this?! A defender to beat?


And the rest is history. Lets see that play in like it was meant to be seen. On loop ad nauseum.

And there it is. Paydirt. The goal of every play executed correctly, and poorly defended, is met.

If only every play were a touchdown, and came as easy.

Your Turn

What did you think? Awesome playcalling? Great execution? Northern Illinois just being "meh?" It is a long off-season. Let's do some more of these. If anyone has any suggestions (and possible YouTube links) we'll go over more of our favorite plays!