When Drew Barker went down to injury, it stand to reckon UK’s play-calling would at least change slightly to optimize the different skill set of back-up Stephen Johnson. One way this occurred is the introduction of the pop pass play in UK’s offense.
The pop pass became famous in 2013 at Auburn when Gus Malzahn used it with Nick Marshall at quarterback even if it had been around at other places previously. Essentially there are three different plays being run, hence the quarterback has options depending on how the defense reacts. Here’s the play in full, and below is a breakdown.
First, the quarterback and running back mesh into a zone read. The quarterback reads the unblocked defender: if he runs up field at the quarterback he gives the ball to the running back, but if he pounces on the back the quarterback pulls the ball and heads up field.
Below the defender Johnson is reading is the defensive end in the red box. Notice the receivers in Trips formation below in the blue boxes. CJ Conrad and Jeff Badet aren’t running routes, but are setting up a screen for Ryan Timmons. Finally, notice the offensive linemen are trying to hover around the line of scrimmage. Recall, if they go more than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and UK ends up passing the ball, it’s a penalty.
In this second image you see Johnson has pulled the ball out since the defensive end went after the running, and he is now running on towards the line of scrimmage. The safety that was originally aligned between the hash marks in the first image, is crashing down in run support.
At this point he is getting ready to throw. Go back to the first image. At the snap South Carolina had three defenders next to the Trips formation, but now that Johnson has sucked in the safety, UK has a numerical advantage.
Finally, notice the offensive linemen are getting precariously close to be three yards down field. If Johnson is going to throw it, now is the time to avoid a penalty.
In this third image you see good blocking from Conrad and Badet as their two men are out of the play. The red box is the safety and inside linebacker now trying to chase down Ryan Timmons.
This play would go for 11 yards, and place UK in the red zone.
This is a new wrinkle for UK’s offense, that probably only came about because Johnson is now the starting quarterback. The offensive line will have to be careful not to get down field, but this is a play that stresses defenses and can get UK ahead of the chains.