Zach Wilson Scouting: USC (2019) Part 1

In this article, we are going to break down Zach Wilson’s game against USC in 2019, and see how well he did. 


The first pass of the game, and the breakdown is simple, this is just a bad pass. 

The read on this play is simple, USC shows single high safety that is lined up closer to the line of scrimmage than normal, and Wilson has a go route for the field side outside receiver.  This is essentially a one-on-one matchup, and Wilson locks in from the start.  I’m not a big fan of Wilson’s tendency to lock in on receivers from the start when it’s long developing plays.  Wilson could have read the two slot routes easily and then moved to the go route with perfect timing.  However, BYU tends to show a tendency to take some deep shots on the first drive at times, so this might be a pre-determined call.

Wilson sees the wide receiver as even with the defender, and pulls the trigger.  The receiver gains separation down the field, but Wilson just overthrows this pass.  There isn’t much to discuss here, this pass is overthrown. 


This is a 3rd and 3 play, and Wilson panics in a perfectly fine pocket, when there are about 4 options open to him. 

I’m not sure why Wilson moves on from the running back in the flat so quickly, because they have a high low read set up there.  Watch the field side outside cornerback on this play, because he’s about to be caught in the middle.  If he runs down the field with his receiver, easy pass out in the flat to the running back who most likely converts.  If the cornerback stays to defend the flat (which is what happens here) the field side receiver is going to be open, and someone with Wilson’s arm strength can get the ball to him before the safety comes into play. 

However, Wilson doesn’t wait for that read, even though the offensive line is doing a good job protecting him.  Once he moves on to the boundary side, he has a very similar decision to make there as well.  Would Wilson be able hit the running back in the flat or see if the outside cornerback releases the receiver down the field for an easy pass.  Instead, Wilson chooses option 3 which is trying to scramble away from a protected pocket, and gets stopped short of the first down. 

This play is concerning because Wilson doesn’t let the play develop from the pocket.  He needs to get used to sitting in a pocket where the defenders are near him, but still protected.  In this instance, Wilson panics in the pocket, and doesn’t wait for either side of the play to develop when he had plenty of time.  Once again, this begets the question of his pocket presence, and how he will handle a tight pocket in the NFL behind an average at best offensive line. 


This one doesn’t really have to do with passing, but rather Wilson catching the ball.  This is a trick play with a wide receiver pass, but Wilson shows good burst down the field.  The most impressive aspect of this play is Wilson adjusting to the pass being thrown behind him, making the catch and still retaining his balance to try and fight down the field.  This does show off his athleticism to a point, although this is going to be a pretty rare play.  I was mostly impressed with his ability to adjust to this pass. 


This is a missed touchdown, but I don’t think this is a terrible play overall. 

The play call here seems to call for a designed roll out, which limits the pass options to 2 here for Wilson.  He is locked in towards the end zone comeback route, which the correct read on this play.  Notice how Wilson throws this ball before the receiver gets out of his break, this is a very good anticipatory throw.  The defender doesn’t have a chance at the ball because Wilson makes this throw before the defender can react. 

The downside of the play is that it sails wide of the receiver.  Wilson has this great ability to create torque without planting his foot, and retain velocity on the pass.  He technically throws this ball off of his backfoot because his lead foot doesn’t get planted on this pass.  Unfortunately, that opens up his hips a bit too much, which leads the ball away from the receiver.  This is a situation where Wilson needs to plant his foot to create more velocity to make up for the split second gained by not planting his foot.  He will be more accurate on his throws, especially in tight windows.  The ability to do is great, but I think it needs to be reserved for special occasions where he’s completely under pressure, rather than situations where he has time to plant his foot and not compromise on accuracy.  

Overall, the traits on this play are positive because I love the anticipation on the throw, and the velocity generated without planting his foot.  The accuracy is off on this play, but there is more good, than bad here. 


You will see this play a few times from BYU, as this is a no read pass to the shallow crossing route.  Everyone else down the field is in automatic blocking mode, so Wilson is just waiting for the crossing route to come across.  In a way, you can think of it as a long developing screen pass. 

The issue here starts with Wilson floating back in the pocket, which allows the defender to speed rush the right tackle and bend around the corner.  This is a case where all Wilson has to do is move up in the pocket and that pressure is neutralized.  However, Wilson floats back in the pocket and then stays there, putting him directly in line with the defender that is bending around the right tackle.  Pocket integrity is an issue for Wilson, and it impacts the blocking schemes.  

The throw is terrible and it just sails on him.  Wilson throws this pass without really stepping into it, because of the pressure.  However, had Wilson moved up in the pocket, he had a perfect throwing window for the pass, which is the only read Wilson has on the play.  This isn’t a play where he might be distracted trying to read the defenses down the field, because he doesn’t have any other reads. 

If you go back to the 2020 film (which I hope you already read by this point), you will see that speed rushing off the edge wasn’t a big concern.  The offensive line was just too good against the competition.  However, with 2019 film you can see how defenses are attacking Wilson, and how the rise in defensive talent creates instant pressure if you float back in the pocket. 


I really love what Wilson did on this play, even if I buy into the theory that this throw is pre-determined. 

This is a simple mesh concept and Wilson hits a shallow crossing route, which shouldn’t warrant enough attention to be included in many articles.  However, watch the shoulder fake by Wilson when he’s staring at the running back coming out of the backfield.  The running back is fairly well covered by the defender, especially knowing the route was going to lead him directly to the defender anyway.  However, Wilson executes the pump fake because the defender has his hips turned towards the field, which allows him to drive on the shallow crossing route.  He won’t be in position to break up the pass, but he would be in a much better position to tackle the runner.  As soon as Wilson makes the pump fake, the defender flips his hips around, at which point Wilson moves onto the mesh concept.  He hits the receiver in stride, who fights for some yards.  This is a great maneuver by Wilson, as he consistently shows the ability to manipulate defenders to open up opportunities for the receivers.

On the negative side, Wilson tends to pre-determine throws, which can be a bad thing against good defenses.  In this example, everything Wilson is doing is to set up the shallow crossing route.  He’s not reading the progressions or the defense, he’s trying to manipulate an open area for the crossing route.  This practice can be problematic because it depends heavily on the pre-snap read.  If the mesh concept was well covered here, then Wilson would be in trouble because he hasn’t gone through the progressions. 


For all the complaining about Wilson not going through progressions enough, he actually does a beautiful job of reading across the field on this play. 

Wilson starts off this 3rd and 15 play looking at the deep post route, but it’s well covered.  Wilson gets away from that read to see the running back has slipped out of the backfield into wide open territory, and makes the quick read.  It does help that the defense essentially only rushes 2 on the play, and there has to be some form of miscommunication here.  The linebacker and the defensive tackle are essentially just standing in the same place, as if they expect Wilson to run, and completely ignore the running back. 

However, you have to give credit to Wilson to go through his progressions and not panic.  Far too many times Wilson has panicked in the pocket, but he stays calm here and finds the open outlet.  It also warrants mentioning that Wilson did not make the wild hero ball here for the post route, but stayed within the system. 


This is just a very good read and understanding leverage on the route. 

USC brings a blitz up the middle, and Wilson locks in on the tight end from the start.  The defender is playing press man coverage with inside leverage, and Wilson just throws a great back shoulder pass because the defender is facing away from the QB.  This play looks very easy on tape, but Wilson needs to read the defender post snap as a free blitzer is coming right up the middle.  However, this is an excellent read post snap, plus a very good throw. 

You might be able to argue the better option were to the field side of the play, but with the blitz Wilson doesn’t have time to read progressions.  He needs to pick a hot route and get rid of the ball as soon as possible, so I don’t think it’s fair to complain about Wilson missing open options to the field side on this play.  It was this great throw or possibly get sacked. 


On this play, Wilson recognizes the blitz, and shows a good understanding of the defensive shell in relation to the routes that have been called, albeit this is not a great throw. 

USC shows blitz on this play from the boundary side, which leaves two defenders on two receivers, with a linebacker lined up against the running back.  One of the defenders is playing about 6-7 yards off the line of scrimmage, and the slot defender is only about 3 yards off.  The read on this play is the slot defender, because Wilson’s progression is to go towards whoever the slot defender doesn’t pick up.  Hypothetically, if the slot defender went with the wide receiver on this play (as opposed to the tight end), then Wilson would hit the tight end for the quick pass.  The middle linebacker isn’t a concern because he correctly assumes that defender is solely there to protect against the running outlet route.  This isn’t a complicated read though, and a good amount of spread offenses are based on the one defender read.  If defender X does 1, then go to 2, if he does Y, then go to 1 type reads that aren’t quite as prevalent in the NFL.  However, I’m impressed with Wilson on this play because that read was possible only after USC showed blitz, which shows an understanding of the defensive shell, because he recognized it right away. 

The wide receiver gets into open space, and Wilson makes the correct read.  However, this throw is towards the wrong shoulder, forcing the receiver to adjust to the ball and make a great catch.  It also leads him vulnerable to the big hit.  Wilson needs to lead him on this throw, rather than this back shoulder type throw, especially because he has time in the pocket to step up perfectly.  The offensive line picked up the blitz, so Wilson should make sure this is perfectly in line with the receiver.  Although I’m not going to put all the blame on Wilson here because the receiver does take an extra step to the inside after Wilson releases the ball.  I’m presuming the receiver was supposed to run a post route, but with how open he was in the middle of the filed, Wilson wanted to throw the ball away from the safety. 

Overall, this is a very good play because Wilson shows a good understanding of the defensive shell, maintains his mechanics, and has good velocity on the ball.  The throw is to the wrong shoulder, but I can’t confirm one way or another the exact route that was called on the play.  


Believe it or not, part of this is actually a good read, but it quickly falls apart before and after that. 

The first problem with this play is the progression read because Wilson locks in on the late developing route.  The receiver outlet route should be the first read on this play, to see if it’s open, but more importantly it impacts the defense down the field.  If Wilson looks at the receiver outlet pass, it holds the defender near that receiver.  However, Wilson doesn’t look at the outlet pass, which means the defender is reading his eyes and floating down the field.  When the receiver running a post or deep crossing route runs open, the defender that was on the quick outlet pass has now floated back to be a danger for the now otherwise wide-open pass.  This is a major issue for Wilson because he doesn’t seem to go through his progressions in order, but relies very heavily on his primary read being open even if it’s the longest developing route called.  He does a decent job of moving through his progressions afterwards, but by then the play is broken. 

The good read on this play is not throwing that deep pass to that post (or deep crosser) route because Wilson has a tendency to not pick up the backside defender, as we covered in the interception article.  Wilson is about ready to pull the trigger when he notices the defender, and pulls it back.

After that point, I have no idea what Wilson is trying to do here.  He has that deep crosser route receiver wide open for a throw, with a wide open passing lane.  He can step into the pass,  or throw it off-balance, but for some reason Wilson motions for the receiver to run deep, right back into the defender that was well behind him.  Nevertheless, the initial outlet route is also wide open when Wilson runs out of the pocket, the guy is basically jumping up and down for the ball, yet Wilson ignores the receiver.  Instead, Wilson keeps running towards the sidelines, allowing the defense to recover and limit this play to a minimal gain.  These are the type of plays in 2020 when Wilson takes the shot, but once again, that begets the question of how competition impacts his confidence. 

Overall, this is a terrible play by Wilson because he doesn’t read through his progressions right, which ends up costing him a wide open receiver.  He does recover to see the backside defender on the play, but then makes baffling decisions to not hit wide open options down the field. 

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

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