Film Study: How 6 Yards Of Shovel Passes Set Up A 50-Yard Touchdown

By Kyle Jones on September 15, 2014 at 11:30 am

Maybe Sasha from South Salem was on to something.

During his call-in show before the Virginia Tech game nearly two weeks ago, Urban Meyer was asked by a caller going by that name, "When might we expect to see 'the Shelley [Meyer] shovel pass in a game?'"

After a quick laugh, the Ohio State head coach dismissed the caller, telling her "Go take care of your kids, Mrs. Meyer."

For those unfamiliar with the play, the coach's wife was referring to the popular shovel pass option play often run by Meyer's Florida teams, which found great success when executed by quarterback Tim Tebow and tight end Aaron Hernandez.

However, the variation of the speed option has been called by Meyer's teams for years, having seen then-Utah quarterback (and current Kansas City Chiefs starter) Alex Smith execute the play with great success before making its way to Gainesville and Columbus.

Often thought of as a gimmick, the play is really just a wrinkle added on to the speed option to the outside, giving the quarterback three options on the play. He has the option of pitching to the running back on the outside, pitching forward to the tight end who has a pulling guard as a lead blocker, or keeping it to run for himself.

But since arriving in Columbus, the Buckeyes have rarely called the Shovel Option, one of Meyer's trademark plays. Pundits, fans, and apparently spouses alike have all wondered aloud when the concept will become a staple of the Ohio State offense.

During Saturday's offensive explosion against Kent State though, the concept made its return with great success, just not in the way many expected.

Midway through the second quarter, the Buckeyes called for the shovel option from a five-wide receiver formation. 

In this instance, the slot receiver to the left side was actually running back Ezekiel Elliott, who came in motion just before the snap, lining up behind left tackle Taylor Decker.

OSU Shovel Pass

After the snap, quarterback J.T. Barrett steps directly at the right defensive end, who is left unblocked on purpose, as he is the defender being read. If he comes upfield right at Barrett, the QB simply pitches the ball forward to the running back, Elliott, who is following a lead block from left guard Joel Hale (#51).

By the time this play was called though, the Buckeyes had begun inserting some backups into the lineup to get playing time, which led to some missed blocks from the less experienced players, and the play only resulted in a gain of four yards. 

The OSU offense was able to keep the drive going though, and six plays later Meyer's coaching staff dialed up the shovel pass yet again, this time putting running back Curtis Samuel in motion and acting as the receiver.

The Golden Flashes had dialed up a blitz though, allowing the rushing linebacker to take on Barrett and leaving the unblocked end to tackle Samuel almost immediately after catching the ball.

But by showing the same formation, motion, and play-call twice in one drive, the Buckeyes now had the Kent State defense perfectly set up for a new wrinkle.

On the very first play of the next possession, the Buckeyes once again showed the five-wide look with the same short motion from the left slot, this time from Dontre Wilson.

Kent State Safeties adjusting to shovel pass look

Now seeing this look from the Buckeyes for the third time, the Kent State safeties adjust their alignment, with the safety to Barrett's left creeping up to help stop the inside shovel pass that he is expecting. 

To account for the extra help being given to stop the shovel pass, free safety Nate Holley (#18) adjusts his alignment to the inside of Devin Smith, the furthest inside slot receiver to the right side. Holley gives Smith a natural outside release, hoping that Smith would run right into the coverage the Kent State cornerback, who would be responsible for the deepest vertical receiver to the outside.

OSU Deep Corner vs Cover 4

But both Buckeye receivers stay short, running routes that break inside and leaving Holley on an island with Smith while the cornerback steps up to cover the outside Buckeye receiver.

With a 5-yard cushion from Holley, Smith simply breaks outside leaving Barrett with a fairly easy throw. Holley makes one last-ditch effort to recover, diving at Smith's feet for a shoestring tackle, but the receiver easily stiff arms the Safety and trots in for an easy, 50-yard touchdown.

Although the Buckeyes hadn't broken a shovel pass for many yards, the threat still existed, and the Golden Flashes thought they had finally found a way to stop the Buckeyes offense.

In reality though, the Golden Flashes were leaving their secondary exposed, not only leaving one of the most dangerous deep threats in the nation in one-on-one coverage with a safety, but also giving him a head start. 

While it's fun to imagine Meyer turning to his better half for play-calling ideas, the inclusion of the "Shelley Meyer Shovel Pass" in the Buckeye game plan was a welcome addition not for its own success, but for what it opened up later on. Hopefully this is just a taste of more such concepts building on one another to open up big plays for the Buckeye offense in the future.

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