Turning Scouting Reports Into A Gameplan

Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
We use Justin Fuente’s Rose Bowl game as TCU’s offensive coordinator as an example of how coaches turn scouting reports into gameplans. (Ivan Morozov)

Last week we looked at how teams scout their opponents. Now, let’s look at how coaches put this information to use, with Justin Fuente, a young co-offensive coordinator for TCU presenting at a Glazier clinic, as our guide.

Specific to scouting, Fuente and TCU hewed closely to many of the generalities we looked at last week. Ball location was a big point of emphasis. Fuente broke the field down into five areas:

  • Coming Off: From TCU’s 1 to the 15
  • Open Field: From TCU’s 16 to the opponent’s 26
  • Red Zone: From the opponent’s 25 to the 11
  • Red Zone Tite: From the opponent’s 10 to the 4
  • Goal Line: From the opponent’s 3 to the end zone

The other variable he looked at for scouting defenses and putting together his own call sheet was down and distance, which he broke into the following groups:

  • 1st and 10/2nd and less than 7
  • 2nd and 7+
  • 3rd or 4th and inches
  • 3rd and 1-2
  • 3rd and 3-6
  • 3rd and 7+

One of the interesting things to come from this talk was just how much emphasis Fuente put on first-down play-calling and execution. Normally, third down is what you hear coaches talk about, but Fuente hammered on first down. Interestingly, TCU’s practice schedule built around whatever their scouting uncovered, as the Horned Frogs did very little 1v1 work, and instead focused on repping against the scout team.

To show the outcomes of his game-planning work, he reviewed film from TCU’s 2011 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Fuente freely admitted his errors in the game, which I imagine is easier when you’re recapping a win that earned your team an undefeated season. One big thing that stuck out to Fuente was how talented Wisconsin was. TCU was in the Mountain West, so it was rare for them to see a defense with P5 depth and multiple NFLers on the roster. The second big thing was that Wisconsin kept things simple on third down. They preferred Cover-2, Cover-3, and Cover-1, and they didn’t do much pre-snap disguising. That meant TCU could manufacture favorable situations, provided the players could execute. Fuente was also confident he’d see lots of Cover-1 with underneath blitzers, and the game plan anticipated that.

Recognizing Wisconsin’s coverage tendencies informed another key part of Fuente’s game-planning: giving defenses something new to worry about. Fuente wanted to show every opponent some new wrinkle in the offense, but there was a constraint to his creativity: he didn’t want to make things harder for his quarterback or his offensive line. That meant he didn’t want to put in new plays, blocking schemes, or passing concepts. This left him with combinations of formations and motion to mess with. Swapping receivers around wouldn’t mess with the o-line’s blocking calls, and no matter how bizarre the motions or formations, the actual plays would still be the team’s core routes and concepts.

Fuente came up with two variations that he showed early to get into the heads of the defenders and their coaches. The first was a 2×2 with the receivers stacked and the back shifted to the boundary:

It might not look like it at first, but Wisconsin is in Cover-1. The