Zach Wilson Scouting: Utah (2019) Part 1

In this article, we break down the game Wilson had vs. Utah in 2019.  It’s not broken down into categories, because the 2019 film is going to be a game-by-game analysis.  BYU faced good competition in 2019, so it should serve as an indicator of how well Wilson performs vs. good defenses.  The examples are in chronological order of the game, and that is the only pattern it follows.

1)

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a major play.  However, I put this here to show one very specific action from the defense.  You have seen this late motion numerous times in the previous articles, and it’s been pointed out with examples on how the defenses fail to communicate, thus committing two or three defenders to it.   You can review them in the articles, but it’s a constant theme, where late motion causes these defenses to be confused at that level.  Watch this play, against a good defense, where Utah immediately switches at the motion, and they cover the receiver in motion, without missing a beat anywhere else.  That is the drop off in competition I keep harping about because the lower-level colleges just aren’t as good with these switches. 

This article will be published after all of the 2020 BYU articles, and what’s perplexing is Wilson isn’t nearly as reckless in the pocket as in the 2020 tapes.  This is actually a good read by him, as he checks his primary receiver running what looks like a post route.  That area is his passing lane read for this play here.  If this is zone coverage, then hit the inside for the post route (it’s not in this case).  The second defender to notice here is the linebacker that follows the running back on this play.  If that linebacker stays put in the middle of the field, the check down option to the running back.  If the linebacker clears, then the crossing route to the tight end (as was the case here), and Wilson makes a good pass.  This is just a bad drop from the linebacker. 

Wilson maintains pocket integrity, goes through his progressions even if he’s looking in the same area, and makes a good throw.  It doesn’t last the whole game, but this particular play should give hope to the main concerns with Wilson, which is processing capability, and floating back in the pocket. 

2)

This pass would be a bit of a stare-down, as Wilson locks in on the tight end, albeit I think it’s the pre-snap read.  Initially, the safety is playing back, which is what Wilson sees as he’s surveying from the pocket.  However, the safety moves up, which now changes the situation, but Wilson is ready to snap the ball. 

I would guess this was an option route for the tight end, which might be why Wilson is reading him first.  I base this guess on where the route eventually leads him, because it’s rare to have two guys running so closely with each other on a route combination.  You run the risk of the outside cornerback undercutting this pass.  You can even see the outside receiver extending his arms, thinking the pass might be coming to him.  Therefore, this was most likely an option route where the tight end had a choice based on the defense.  At the start, both him and Wilson probably assumed a quicker route, but the late movement changed it to one further down the field, which got pushed near the outside receiver’s route. 

Wilson once again maintains pocket integrity, stands in the pocket, and makes a great throw.  The outside shoulder throw is placed perfectly, and there is pressure on this play from up the middle.  Go back to some of the other examples from 2020, and notice how much he bounces backwards after play action, and then watch these two plays.  It’s a night and day difference.  Yeah, you can say he stared down his first option here, but he made a great pass.  Overall, this is a very encouraging play from him.  

3)

Just when you’re ready to pull out from the negativity, they drag you back in.  This is collection of issues Wilson displayed in 2020 throughout the games, coming up again. 

The first one as pattern, from the far hash mark, Wilson locks in on the field side outside receiver.  The play design has a built-in hot route combination with the mesh route.  As soon as the corner blitzes, Wilson needs to realize that he doesn’t have the time to execute the out route.  He needs to hit the mesh route coming from the field side. 

Notice the inside tight end on this play, and the route, because it’s supposed to work as a pick route.  When the outside receiver goes in motion, the defensive backs switch responsibility.  Now that slot receiver is going to run a crossing route as part of mesh, but the defense requires communication with the linebacker.   The defense switched the defensive backs flawlessly, but they didn’t switch assignments with the linebacker in time.  The defensive back falls back with the tight end, which was the responsibility of the linebacker (and you can see the defensive back trying to communicate during the play).  Let’s pretend the defensive back just followed the receiver as in man coverage, then the route by the tight end is supposed to impede his path and slow him down.  It’s essentially a pick play to a mesh concept, and almost assuredly open because of play design. 

Wilson needs to adjust to the blitz by moving on from his first read, because he doesn’t have the time nor angle to make this throw.  As soon as he sees blitz, it has to be checkdown to the crossing routes.  Instead, Wilson fixates on the outside out route, tries to evade the pressure by floating backwards, and then ends up throwing the ball away. 

4)

On the outset, it looks like Wilson is staring down his receiver, but I don’t think that’s the case.  The slot receiver has a free release with a safety not in position.  It looks like that is Wilson’s first read, but the safety basically hugs and stops the receiver in his tracks down the field.  I’m not sure how this is not a penalty. 

Wilson in this case, doesn’t come off his half field read and just floats a ball to a well covered go route down the sideline, which goes out of bounds.  The main issue with this play is Wilson’s footwork.  He doesn’t step into this throw at all, when he has the chance in the pocket, as this is thrown off-balance going sideways.  He has more than enough space to step into this throw properly, and the time to do so, but releases it across his body, which floats it down the field. 

The pocket is relatively clean, and probably the best he could hope for in an NFL situation, where he had ample time to get off the read, once the receiver was held, move to the middle of the field.  This is still a progression read, but once it’s covered, he needs to move to the third option when the pocket is clean. 

Side note: It doesn’t count, but that’s a great catch by the receiver.

5)

Remember Play 3?  Well this is pretty much the exact same call to the field side by BYU.  Watch how Wilson learns from it, although it’s very well covered. 

The same mesh concept with the inside route acting as the pick route happens here, but the linebackers stay home on the mesh concept.  Watch Wilson look to the outside receiver again as last time, but quickly corrects the issue we saw in Play 3, by looking at the mesh concept.  Unfortunately for Wilson, the linebackers are staying back on this 3rd and 6, so he doesn’t have any options. 

Wilson uses his athleticism to get to the edge, turn the corner, and covert a first down here.  Once again, the mental side of his game seems so much better than 2020, as he even runs out of bounds to play it safe, rather than try to break tackles.  Mentally he does everything right, especially with pressure up the middle, tried to go through his progressions, and extend the play.  A subtle point to run down the field to clear out blocking is also a good sign of situational awareness. 

The play didn’t count, they were called for holding.

6)

There isn’t much to breakdown here, this just a bad throw.  Wilson checks the right side of the field first, which is clearly intended to hold the safety because both those routes aren’t anywhere near the stem when Wilson moves on.  This is just a case where the receiver was even, but he wasn’t leaving.  This is very good coverage from the defensive back, and Wilson is probably lucky he overthrew this ball because the defensive back was in a better position to catch it than the receiver.  Ideally, Wilson moves away from the go route and checks out the middle of the field for the tight end, but given the rush, I can’t blame him too much for thinking his receiver might have been able to get a step. 

7)

This play doesn’t count either, the defender was called offsides. 

This isn’t a bad read, the pre-snap movement showed man coverage, at which point Wilson just picks a side to focus on, as you can see the stems of the two outside routes occur simultaneously.  The boundary side outside receiver has a slight opening, but it’s a tight throw, and Wilson doesn’t pull the trigger.  Once that window is closed, this play is doomed. 

This is where Wilson being a scrambling QB and not a true mobile QB really hurts, because this is one of those situations where the defense locked up all the routes.  A QB like Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen may get to the outside on this play and turn the corner, but Wilson was not able to this time. 

The other aspect that needs to be noted for this game as a whole is you need to notice the drastic difference in competition.  This is an excellent defense, that communicates well, covers well, and is disciplined.  Far too many times in 2020, we saw multiple guys just running around free, whereas this is a good example of Wilson having to work against a good defense.  This game should highlight the level of incompetence of defenses on the 2020 tape. 

The last tidbit here is this very careless throw away pass, that almost gets intercepted.  Wilson just flicks it out there, much to the surprise of the defender.  Yes, he’s out of bounds and it’s not an interception even if he catches it, but this is careless. 

8)

This play was interesting because I wanted to bring up the shell games on defense.  Notice the defender when the tight end goes in motion, as he follows him across the formation.  This is usually a good indicator of man coverage, so Wilson has to be reading man cover here at first.  However, Utah reverts to a zone cover shell, and the call that BYU had catches them off-guard. 

Once more, field side outside receiver is the first read, although the first read is a bit worrisome because Wilson is likely assuming man coverage at the start of this play.  The outside defender is establishing outside leverage at the start, which in a man cover situation should dissuade Wilson from thinking this out route will be open.  If he read man coverage at first, then this would be the wrong first progression.  It works out because Utah switched to zone coverage, leading to a wide-open receiver. 

The throw is to the wrong shoulder, but he’s wide open, so Wilson should get some leeway. 

9)

I’m not exactly sure what Wilson is throwing at on this play, but it’s all kinds of wrongs, with a couple of good qualities sprinkled in. 

The first part of this play is the lack of progression reads, which I mention over and over again.  The first set of routes that break are the quick out routes, but Wilson ignores them completely, thus they are now out of the picture.  I want you to watch the play again from the first angle.  Watch the running back out of the backfield, right before he stems the route.  Is he open?  Yes, he is, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s not.  You move to the middle of the field, right when the TE should be reaching the stem of his route.  Is he open?  Probably not.  Move to the left, with the cutback route, is he open?  Yes.  You see how the route combination is set up, so Wilson has time to read the routes?  If we even go to the other side, watch the quick out route, is he open?  Yes, but let’s imagine he’s not.  Move to the middle of the field, right when there is the cutback, and you have a guy that is open. 

The positive aspect of this is that Wilson is trying to manipulate the safety on the play.  He’s looking at the middle of the field with the tight end, and hoping to get the safety to move away from the middle of the field.  He succeeds minimally, but the idea of manipulating the defense with his eyes is great.  However, the cutback route is not wide open, but rather the receiver only has a step or two on the defender, and Wilson doesn’t pull the trigger.  This also goes back to the issue of confidence, where 2020 Wilson may pull the trigger because he knows the safety at low level competition might not make the play.  At this point, this play is dead in the water because all the routes have reached their stem.  It should now be a broken play, where he has to reach open space to make the defense react.  The best way to resurrect this play is either waiting for someone to run open, or try to scramble out to find an opening, forcing the defense down the field to abandon their responsibilities. 

Wilson on this play, decides to throw it directly to the defender.  I’m not quite sure how this ball isn’t intercepted, it goes right to the guy, hits him in the chest.  I don’t understand the reward of this throw, there isn’t anyone close to the ball for BYU.  This is one of those instances where there is pressure, albeit it’s from sitting in the pocket for too long, and Wilson makes a terrible decision.  This is a horrendous decision and throw. 

10)

This is the very next throw, and it’s a beauty.  The throw is simple and the read is just the primary one.  Wilson sees the defender well off the line of scrimmage, and makes a quick throw.  The aspect that makes this a great throw is really the anticipation, because Wilson reaches the decision point two steps before the receiver turns around.  The ball leaves his hand before the receiver fully turns around, and takes one more step.  It’s just a great anticipatory throw from Wilson. 

So naturally, the guy drops it. 

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

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