Film Room Focus: Three Back Sets


The Three Back Set against BC

In today’s episode of Film Room Focus, we will take a closer look at UNC’s very successful three back set that it employs with Marquise Williams at quarterback. In the below image, you can see the basic idea of the play from the BC game a couple of weeks ago. Back then, Marquise was still used as a short yardage and specialty quarterback, and this is one of the packages UNC used to cater to Williams’s skill sets.

AJ Blue, behind Marquise Williams, and Eric Ebron, to Marquise’s left, both are designated blockers on this play. Of course, UNC can run with any of the three running backs (part of what makes this package so potent- the unpredictability of who is going to run), but in this case, TJ Logan, to Quise’s right, is the runner. The white arrows designate the two running options on the play, and the blue arrows show the blocking routes of Ebron and Blue.

This image was a screen shot from ACC Network/ Fox Sports South Broadcast.

One quick tangent- you might be asking yourself, Why is Eric Ebron slotted as a running back in this formation? For two reasons, one being he is a valuable blocker for the run game, but also because UNC wants to get the ball in Ebron’s hands as much as possible. You will see Ebron lined up here and recieve handoffs like a running back because he is that talented and UNC wants to find lots of way to get their star TE the ball.

Circled below is the “mesh point”- where the running back and quarterback, the two components of the read option play, meet. Watch how Williams keeps his eyes downfield and freezes five BC defenders. They don’t know whether to charge to the near side of the field or up the middle to stop the run. However, the diamond formation and its blocking formation leads the defense to believe Logan will take the ball around the end.

This image was a screen shot from ACC Network/ Fox Sports South Broadcast.

Marquise Williams would trot into the endzone for a score, untouched by a confused BC defense. The circled red players lunged for Logan, party because of the blocking scheme, and are left out of position. Credit UNC’s interior blocking as well for walling off a nice hole for Williams to run through. This play really illustrates the excellent design of the three back set for UNC’s offense with Marquise Williams at quarterback.

This image was a screen shot from ACC Network/ Fox Sports South Broadcast.

Three back bet, but with additional windowdressing

But we know the BC game was a couple of weeks ago, and between that game and now, a lot has changed. Marquise Williams is the starting quarterback for this team now, after Bryn Renner’s injury. With all of Willliams’s reps and experience comes the expansion or “opening up” of the playbook for Marquise. UNC has slowly added in more wrinkles and responsibilities for Marquise as he has gained experience.

The play below illustrates another element that UNC has added to the three back set. This time, UNC opts to run the read option with the running back behind Marquise Williams. The two backs that flank him are the designated blockers in the play. The difference here however can be found at the bottom of the screen. UNC has added in a screen pass to the many options on this play. This matters because it gives the defense, and the safety standing on the Pitt logo, one more thing to think about.

This image was a screen shot from ACC Network/ Fox Sports South Broadcast.

The blue circle is the mesh point; notice again how Marquise keeps his eyes downfield to read the defense. Also, look at the screen pass being set up. It serves as some extra window dressing that entices the two DBs on the near side of the field. Also, the safety is frozen in place for an extra second as he waits for Marquise to commit to the run or pass.

This image was a screen shot from ACC Network/ Fox Sports South Broadcast.

Marquise Williams would run for a first down and change on this play. The player forcing him out of bounds was the safety, number 25, standing on the Pitt logo. He was frozen at the beginning of the play by the screen pass option, and was late getting over to tackle Marquise. That extra second he waited was the difference in five extra yards for Marquise to pick up. Great play design by Blake Anderson and great execution by UNC.