University of Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt: The Shallow Cross Series
This past spring, the featured Saturday afternoon guest speaker at the annual USC Nike coaching clinic was University of Georgia Head Football Coach Mark Richt. Coach Richt flew in just for the day to make the presentation and then turned around to go home for what I imagine was an awfully long one-day trip. Compounding the travel distance and jet lag involved, Coach Richt was also visibly suffering from a slight head and sinus cold.
The crux of Richt's one hour presentation centered on the well-known Shallow Cross Series in the passing game. The play is nothing new and has been around football for quite some time.
However the play, which I'll describe in some detail below with images and video, was made famous through its repeated and highly successful use by the Florida State Seminoles in the 1990s towards the end of their spectacular run of 14 consecutive Top Five finishes.
According to Coach Richt, this single pass play was run by FSU during its heyday as often as a dozen times per game (albeit out of different formations). Bobby Bowden and Richt believed in running it again and again until the defense could stop it. Often the opponent simply could not.
This play was designed for superior execution honed by repetition. The shallow cross play was often half of FSU’s offensive passing yardage gained in any given game.
Coach Richt still uses the play today at the University of Georgia. QB Matt Stafford reportedly runs the play fairly well but is still developing in reading all the different routes and making the required throws with quick timing.
The shallow cross features five eligible receivers (not all WRs) and is run out of the shotgun with only a five-man offensive line protection scheme, meaning it has to have built in hot routes to handle any blitzes or the QB will get drilled. The routes are packaged in a manner such that the play will generally have at least one open route versus whatever defense the opposition plays.
However, the play requires both precise and quick reads by the quarterback. Despite possessing just medium arm strength, for example, former QB Charlie Ward ran this play to perfection and it was a big reason for his success in college football. FSU averaged 520 yards per game and Ward threw for just over 3,000 total yards passing with a 69-percent completion rate when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1993.
This first part of Coach Richt's presentation covered the tactical explanation of the Shallow Cross Series and how it works. This section is the detailed X’s and O’s breakdown on the alignments, different formations, adjustments, and key points of the play versus different defenses.
For those interested in that level of detail I'll link to the 40 minute video I made of the presentation. In the video Coach Richt explains the nuts and bolts of running the shallow cross package from four different 3 x 2 sets for offensive alignment.
For example there is a version called "1 Z" (see diagram below) that features the flanker on a shallow cross, a "1 Y" option that features the Y receiver on a shallow cross, a "1 Ted" adaptation which was Richt's designation for a tight end, and a "1 X" version where the split end runs the shallow cross.
Here is a sample diagram I made of the "1 Z" version with four wideouts and the QB operating out of the shotgun with a single back offset.
The front side of the play (right side) is a combination of three routes. The outside Z receiver runs the shallow cross, the Y receiver (Richt's nomenclature) runs the choice route depending upon the type of coverage (one high or two high safety, etc.) and the halfback runs either an arrow route or a scat route.
On the back side the "Ted" receiver (Richt's nomenclature) runs the hot route and adjusts in case of blitz. Otherwise he tries to split the defense depending upon the number and exact position of the safeties. The outside X receiver runs a bench route for clear out purposes and is not the main option on the play.
Details about pass protection, QB reads, adjustments versus different coverages, etc. are in the video (Click here for direct link to the 40 minute video).
The final part of the presentation highlighted various cut ups of the play, and this might be the easiest and most interesting part for college football fans to follow since it just involves video and Coach Richt's comments. The video shows most of the different reads and throws required for the "1 Ted" version of the shallow cross against different coverages and lasts about 10-12 minutes in length. (Click here for direct link).
I spoke briefly to Coach Richt later during the day when he was taking questions from attendees in another room before he left. I asked him a follow-up question about the plays' somewhat declining effectiveness compared to the Florida State years. Coach Richt replied that he used to think it was easy to make the play work.
However, in reality and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it was special players like Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn that made it so effective in the past.
Also, Coach Richt noted that he thought the best general defense versus the play is a Cover 2 scheme, which is now so common. This defensive secondary alignment makes the play essentially a Hi / Low or “Smash Route” type read to half the field versus the flat defender. An adjustment or "tag" to the play can also create the smash route concept on the back side as well with minor alterations to the play call.
Still, the Shallow Cross is a very effective play but apparently not quite what it used to be in the past. Interestingly Coach Richt noted that many opposing defensive coordinators learned not to blitz the play (he wishes they would however) as that strategy gave up many big gains and easy TDs in the past.
Notes: 1) If for any reason the video or images do not display try accessing them via this link to a web page I created with the same basic information.
2) Apologies in advance for the level of video and audio quality. Recording and editing this medium is something I am just learning.