Zach Wilson Scouting: Tennessee (2019) Part 1

In this article, we are going to be breaking down the BYU game against the University of Tennessee.   The Vols had a relatively decent defense, and they are playing at home. 


The first pass of the game, and all kinds of things to break down.  First of all, Tennessee is basically screaming slot blitz here, as the safety is lined up right over the slot cornerback.  It’s hard to tell from this angle, but Wilson’s first read (and also hot read) is the quick in route from the field side outside receiver.  However, Wilson gets lucky because the blitzing defender absolutely believes the running back got the ball, and goes to tackle him, giving Wilson a perfect opportunity to throw an 80-yard touchdown. 

However, Wilson just sails this ball and it’s not even close.  Although, this warrants a bit more of a deep dive.  On this play, Wilson has an immaculate pocket because the blitzing defender went after the runner, but that player will turn around at some point without a blocker in between him and the QB.  Therefore, this is the case where Wilson doesn’t have all the time in the world, although he has very good space for the time being.  Wilson starts the decision point of this throw as the slot receiver is cutting to the inside of the safety, with the assumption that it’ll be a clean cut.  However, the safety slows down the receiver, but Wilson doesn’t adjust for it.  In college, most QBs refrain from making anticipatory throws because of this exact reason, they have the time to wait and make sure.  In this instance, Wilson needs to wait, even if in the NFL, because the momentum of the receiver and defender are going in opposite directions.  If Wilson waits for one more step, he will have a wide open target for a long completion and possible touchdown.  Instead, Wilson starts the throw as the receiver is cutting inside of the defender, without factoring in any change to the route.  It doesn’t work here, but the trait of throwing a pass as the receiver is making a cut is commendable, and will translate over to the NFL. 

The issue here is really, the ball is just overthrown.  This would have shown up on the good read, bad throw article from the 2020 tape.  Even if you factor in the slowdown, this ball would still not be catchable.  This is just a terrible throw, but I think the idea of throwing a pass at the point of a route stem is something that is positive. 


This is a sack that is almost entirely the fault of Wilson, because he doesn’t pick up the blitz.  The blitzing defender does not get the sack, but Wilson misses the hot read.  Tennessee shows every sign of a slot blitz with the safety right over the slot defender in terms of horizontal positioning on the field. 

Wilson on this play needs to confirm the blitz before moving to the other side, because the blitz is going to be coming from his blindside.  However, Wilson seems to have pre-determined his read for the go route, on the boundary side. 

The first issue is not recognizing the threat of a blitz, because he doesn’t even look that way to confirm.  The play call has a blitz beater, which is reading the linebacker on the play.  The play action keeps the middle linebacker planted, so it’s a high low read on the linebacker for this hot read.  If the linebacker comes down too much for the running back from the backfield, hit the tight end on the crossing route.  If the linebacker stays with the tight end, hit the running back.  BYU is in a great call to beat this exact blitz, but Wilson doesn’t take advantage. 

The second issue is the read timing, because he immediately locks in on the most late developing route here.  Watch the tight end at his route stem, and watch the running back out of the backfield because those will break well before the go route receiver turns around to look for the ball, which is right around the time Wilson gets sacked.  In terms of timing, Wilson needs to look at the faster breaking routes first, especially in a blitz situation, and then move on to the progressions.  Locking onto the deepest route from the start is counter-productive because you’ve locked yourself into that route, but have to wait for the receiver to reach the route stem.  If Wilson reads this blitz correctly, he will look to his right first for the hot read, and then move on with his progressions.  This is another example, where I don’t see the fast processor, I see a QB that made up his mind pre-snap as to which route he was going to target.

The third, and quite possibly the worst trait that will transfer over is floating back in the pocket.  Wilson floats back about 8-9 yards in the pocket, which causes a big issue for the offensive line.  In this case, watch the right tackle and right guard on the play.  The right tackle has to block the blitzing defender and moves further up the field because Wilson has a tendency to float back in the pocket, which leaves him on an island.  He takes care of the defender because this is basically a cornerback trying to get past the tackle.  However, the tackle being so far out wide meant the right guard is now on an island as well.  The defensive end hits the guard with a jab step swim move, and gets right past the guard, because the guard must protect both C and B gaps here.  The jab step throws off his balance slightly, at which point the swim move ends the fight.  Ideally, if the QB stays in the pocket, the offensive lineman can block closer to each other, which creates less space for defenders to make moves.  This is a major issue that will pop up in the NFL if Wilson doesn’t fix it soon.  You can get away with it behind an elite OL because they are good enough to work angles.  On the Jets offensive line, floating back is going to be a major issue, one Sam Darnold had trouble with as well. 

This is just a terrible play from Wilson, he’s compounding mistakes from the start, and it leads to a sack.


This one is going to be good and bad, and the bad is mostly my extrapolation.  Overall, this is a good play.

The good for this play is that Wilson recognizes the safety over the top of the defender look, and confirms the blitz.  He doesn’t go into a hot read, but it’s good that he recognized the blitz and then confirmed the blitz. 

The bad is once again floating back in the pocket, which causes the right guard to be on an island, and he gets beat eventually.  This time it doesn’t end in a sack, but this is an issue. 

The gray area on this play deals with the progression reads.  It’s my theory that Wilson makes up his mind about routes, and then tries to manipulate the defense to make that route open.  In a vacuum, this is a great trait, knowing how to manipulate safeties and linebackers in college is an amazing skill, that very few QBs possess.  Aside from his arm, this is probably the biggest mental attribute I love about him, he’s very advanced in manipulating defenses to open up a route. 

The downside of this theory is that, I don’t think he goes through his progressions when he has his mind made up.  I think he commits to a route early far too often and then works to make sure that route is open.  On this play, he confirms the blitz and with knowledge of the route surmises that the safety won’t impact the receiver.  Immediately, he turns to the right side to clear out the area by looking at the running back, tight end, and the crossing route in the opposite direction to form the mesh concept.  Here’s the issue, the second read on this end is the tight end that is wide open at a greater depth than the crossing route that eventually gets the ball.  If he’s going through his reads properly, that route has to be the one he throws because it opens up faster and is located further down the field.  This is just a theory, but Wilson seems to have predetermined this pass, which works out fine in this case.  However, it might be an issue in the future.  He has an amazing skill to look off defenders at times, but there should be some worry if he’s not going through his progressions.  This play works out fine, but this is something that I think could be a concern. 


This is an incomplete pass, but it’s a great read by Wilson that ends up being incomplete by sheer chance. 

Once again, Tennessee is bringing the slot blitz and at this point I’m sure you can see it before they blitz as well.  This time Wilson doesn’t check the blitz, but I can’t blame him because he knows he’s about to have a wide open receiver here.  The receivers run a scissor concept, but there is only one defender in the vicinity.  You can see the middle linebacker trying to communicate the lack of coverage on that side as the ball is snapped. 

The big miscommunication happens because Wilson is under pressure and makes an anticipatory throw.  The ball is out of his hands before the receiver even makes a move, because most likely this is a go route.  However, the aforementioned middle linebacker makes a great recovery on this play, which causes the receiver to suspect zone coverage.  He slows to sit down in coverage, when Wilson can see it’s man coverage and has already thrown the ball according to the read.  It’s really a miscommunication, but this is a great read by Wilson.  He stays strong in the pocket, makes the right read, and makes a good anticipation throw.  Maybe you can argue it’s a bit on the low trajectory for the throw but that’s nitpicking. 

I do want to point out the right guard again.  In this case, it’s not Wilson’s fault but a product of the blitz.  Due to the blitz, the right tackle gets on an island, but so does the right guard, and once again, the guard gets beat.  This isn’t the case on this play, but there would a similar effect if you float back in the pocket creating openings in the line.  Again, this isn’t an example of floating backwards, but just pointing out an example of having tackles on islands, and the impact for the rest of the offensive line. 


I go on and on about Wilson not picking up the blitz quite as well, so here is a quick example of him going to the hot read because there is once again, a slot blitz.  Tennessee seems to love this slot blitz. 

This play isn’t anything special to breakdown, but Wilson stays in the pocket, finds his hot read crossing route and throws the pass right before he gets hit. 


We see one of Wilson’s favorite throws again, the field side outside receiver from the far hash mark.  However, I’m not going to complain about this throw because this isn’t a much of a repeated pattern in this game, at least so far.  The defensive back is playing well off the line, so with someone like Wilson’s arm strength, this is an easy pass.  As long as Wilson doesn’t fall in love with this throw to the 2020 levels, this is a great pass. 


This is another example of where I think Wilson’s game will transfer to the NFL.  He has this quick read throw that actually is reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers on this play.  Far too many times, I hear the Rodgers/Mahomes comparison, and I don’t think it fits because both of them are much better at the mental processing aspect of the game.  However, the ability to make these quick hit throws reminds me of Rodgers. 

On this play, it’s just a quick read to see the tight end open down the field, and making the quick pass.  It is a bit risky because it goes right by the defender’s arm at the line of scrimmage.  I think this is going to be his biggest strength because he does have a good release with very good arm strength, and these quick throws take away the processing issues.  


Here comes the processing issues here, because this is a quick pass option, basically set up like screen pass.  The play is set up to have a quick pass to the receiver, but Wilson doesn’t pull the trigger.  This is a fatal decision for the play, because the blocking is set up for the quick pass.  The issue here is that Wilson is waiting for the running back out of the backfield, because it’s a screen pass for the running back as well.  However, with the blitz and pressure, Wilson needs to throw the hot route in this instance. 

Notice the right tackle on this play, as he releases his block quickly, because they are setting up the screen pass.  The running back also doesn’t stay in to block, because his responsibility is to be ready for the screen pass. 

This whole play goes back to the processing issue where Wilson is determined to set up the screen, which is why he’s looking at the wide open quick out route and doesn’t pull the trigger.  He’s trying to get the defenders cleared from the middle, rather than going through his hot read on this blitz.  The pace of the defender is too quick for the screen pass, thus this play is dead.  Once again, I feel like Wilson pre-determined this pass from the line of scrimmage, and his progressions are meant to create a lane for that pass, rather than reading the actual progressions.  Otherwise, on a blitz with a free runner (albeit he isn’t the one that gets the sack), Wilson needs to take the hot route because he stares right at it.  Also, a case where Wilson’s juke move to escape the rusher doesn’t get him anywhere.

This is the end of Part 1, please check back for Part 2.

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