A great run game starts up front, but a big part of that includes great play action pass concepts that give you the ability to fake the run and pass protect so the quarterback has time to take a shot downfield.
Ferris State has one of the most unique and exciting offenses in college football today, and it's one of the biggest reasons they won the National Championship in Division 2 this season.
Coach Sam Parker, Ferris State offensive line coach and run game coordinator, has put together an incredible 6-part presentation on how they teach and install their unique spread offensive scheme.
See more on the Ferris State Offense here.
Ferris State Playbook - Play Action Pass Protection
In this article we'll be talking about the play action pass game from Ferris State, including how they teach the protection, how they build their pass game around their base run plays, and look at some specific examples from their 2021 championship season.
Watch the video below for the full experience, or scroll down to read more.
Ferris State Offense - Full Slide Pass Protection
They use a full-slide pass protection scheme, and they teach it similar to their inside zone blocking scheme.
The philosophy is simple: All five linemen have a gap they’re responsible for, and the two guys in the backfield are responsible for working on anyone who shows late off the callside tackle’s butt. The callside tackle in this example below would be the right tackle.
This philosophy is very similar to how they teach their zone, which is one way Ferris State keeps things simple for the big guys up front.
When teaching the inside zone scheme at Ferris State, they use the three-part phrase “Look-Lean-Climb” because they’re trying to move the line of scrimmage vertical and move the defense off the ball and out of the way.
Here they’re moving back in pass protection, so the coaching point is “Look-Plant-Kill”
They’re taking two sets into the gap, at which point they’re either going to “attack or plant”.
In other words, they’re looking for the threat that shows up in their assigned gap. If someone does come into the gap, they’ll “attack” him immediately and take him on. On other hand, if nobody shows, like a looper or a blitzer, then he’s going to “plan” and take a kill shot on the nearest defender.
Just as important, it’s crucial for these guys to understand how the pocket shifts on a full slide protection scheme like this one, and everyone up front is moving hard horizontally. This is ESPECIALLY true of the callside guard and tackle.
He tells them to go and get out of the way. Even if that guy runs all the way to the sideline, he’s more effective than if he just stood in the quarterback’s way blocking nobody while he’s trying to look downfield to pass or even take off.
Ferris State Offense - Man Slide Pass Protection
A lot of coaches also call this a “half-slide’ protection scheme which is very common at multiple levels of football. This type of protection scheme is useful when there is no attached tight end in the formation, or they just want to get him out in a pass route.
The biggest difference between this pass protection scheme and the full-slide is that the right guard and tackle in this example are locked on the defender immediately across from them. Wherever that defender goes, they go, and the back will make the adjustment. The two man blockers will want to “set for depth” - meaning to give themselves space to adjust to any kind of stunt or loop coming from the guys across from them. Still, they are coached to stay square and even with the other linemen.
Once again the back will make the adjustment, but his coaching point is a little bit different this time compared with the full slide. He’s going to be looking for the first person over the center and scanning inside-out out to the man side of the protection to pick up any blitzers..
There’s still a slide protection scheme going on, but it’s only to one side of the line. Those guys are taught the same thing, being responsible for a gap first, and following the same “Look-Plant-Kill” coaching points we just discussed a moment ago.
The order of installation is important here as well. In other words, they only install this protection AFTER they’ve installed the inside zone play, and then the full slide protection, because they are so similar for the offensive line. Then by the time you get to a half-slide protection scheme, 3 of the 5 guys up front are doing the same thing as the full slide, so it’s much easier for them to understand their assignments.
Play Action Pass Concepts - Unbalanced Quads
In this game, the field was totally covered in snow, so it was tough to tell who was on and who was off if you’re on defense, but this play shows how Ferris State uses the jet package to set up their vertical pass game.
The motion sets off a big alarm for the secondary, and the strong safety comes down hard to take away the threat of the jet sweep. Meanwhile the backside corner doesn’t chase the motion all the way across.
The thing that’s particularly challenging for the defense here is that Ferris State lines up in a clear empty set, which causes the defense to go through their predetermined empty check, but then at the last moment, they realize that it’s also an unbalanced check, so they have to make the appropriate call and change just before the snap. Combine that with the threat of the motion and you’re asking the defense to do a lot of thinking and communication in very tough conditions.
Add the threat of the vertical pass off of that action, and it’s almost unfair to ask the defense to cover this play.
This play was drawn up after Ferris State had played this same team earlier in the year and run a simple jet sweep out of that same formation. So what do they do this time? Throw a vertical shot off of it. It’s not a pure progression that the quarterback goes through here, it’s a one-man read, throwing to one of their best players at the #4 receiver to the quads side on the vertical, and he pops wide open here.
In Coach Parker’s words, they believed the defense would be just as worried about some kind of quarterback run scheme back away from the jet as the jet itself, and the tough winter conditions made it easier to disguise their intentions to throw the ball down the field.
When we look at the pass protection, the QB makes the call to slide the protection to his blind side (the boundary). The right guard has no obvious or immediate threat to his gap, so he turns back and goes for the kill shot on the A-gap defender working against the center.
Away from the slide side, the left guard and left tackle’s sets have to change based on where their defenders are aligned. They still do a great job of getting inside leverage, anchoring the feet down, and getting heels in the dirt.
Play Action Post-Wheel
This play is really more of a dropback pass in terms of shot plays, from the first time Ferris State played Grand Valley in 2021. There is a play fake but the real action happens once the quarterback is flushed from the pocket and finds the #2 receiver working his scramble rules. The receiver makes the catch and breaks away for a long touchdown run.
It was early in the 3rd quarter, and they were looking to create an explosive play from a tendency of their own they were trying to exploit.
The #1 receiver is running what they call a “climb” route, or specific kind of post to clear out the coverage to his side. The #2 is running the curl as a way to get open late, but also to put a rub on any man defender who may be playing over the top of #3 in coverage. Then the #3 receiver is running a wheel route, which was who they were trying to hit on this play. Because of the breakdown in pass protection, the quarterback had to improvise.
At Ferris State they coach up their quarterback to be able to roll out in the opposite direction, reset his feet, and make throws down the field. Because of his playmaking ability this turns from a potential disaster to an explosive scoring play.
You’re not going to be able to coach everything that happens on the field. Sometimes your players just have to make plays, and that’s exactly what happened here.
Play Action Double Post from a Condensed Formation
It’s the first play of the game for this offense, and they want to take a shot. Ferris State runs the double post concept like everyone else, and here they’re running it out of a condensed formation.
(Ferris State loves doing things like this that defenses have a limited number of answers for, including putting the formation into the boundary)
This particular play is designed to be a constraint off their power read package, so when the receiver comes in motion, they have two players in the backfield heading in the same direction to help sell the fake.
The defense is in an unusual front, something Coach Parker calls a “TNT” front with double 4i techniques and two overhangs (similar to the Tite Front).
They slide the protection to the right, which they believe is the side to the primary overhang. The left tackle has to handle that defensive end on his own, and the overhang to the offensive left side should be handled by the pair of players going in motion. They are blocking that guy based on what they’re doing with the protection and selling that to him with the play action.
Ferris State constantly preaches culture and being fearless for the sake of your teammates. On this play, the QB knows it’s going to be a quick decision on his part. He’s going to take the snap, carry out the fake, and hit one of the two vertical routes or if they’re not open, he’s going to have to take off. In this example he takes a shot as he gets rid of the ball, but he buys enough time and puts enough air on the ball so that his receiver makes the play for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game.
Play Action Boundary Fade with a Zone Read Look
This last play in the series may be the easiest and simplest shot play they have in the playbook.
The receiver coming in motion from this 2x2 set signals to the defense that the zone read is coming. It’s one of the most “bread-and-butter” looks they have from this Ferris State offense.
The motion man crosses the center and the quarterback “meshes down” with the back, causing all seven defenders in the box to bite on the play fake. The threat of the motion causes the defense to either worry about the jet sweep, or something else the Bulldogs do a lot of, which is using that motion man to trap, or kick out the edge defender.
The quarterback comes off the mesh and just throws that boundary fade for a big play down the field.
A lot of coaches get weighed down with worrying about which coverage the defense is in, but all Ferris State is worried about here is getting the defense to buy into one of their top run concepts so they can open things up down the field for a throw like this one.
CLICK HERE watch more clips from Coach Parker’s incredible 6-part presentation going in-depth on the Ferris State Offense