In Athlon Sports’ College Football preview magazine they included the article, “What’s Up With The Fade” which highlighted the fade as an important goal-line play in a coach's toolbox, that left me wondering, “How did Miami use the fade so effectively last year?”
The Hurricanes executed the fade with an above-average amount of success last year, but how did Mark Richt make Miami so much more successful? The fade is a difficult play to execute, and Miami managed to effectively combine several components for success.
In order to work the fade to have the most success, coaches often use a certain type of receiver, normally a taller receiver or tight end, to have the most success. Certain fades also call for different personnel sets, a fade thrown deeper or with more elevation may call for a taller receiver or one with a higher vertical, while a shorter, lower throw might call for a more strong, physical tight end. Miami used many of these traditional rules when deciding on fade packages this year, detailed below:
QB Brad Kaaya:
While many of us groaned over Brad’s inability to move throughout the season. There is one place that we can all agree Brad was dynamite in, arm accuracy.
When Brad was on he was as good as any quarterback in the nation, making touch passes that even the most qualified of college quarterbacks couldn’t complete. Brad flashed NFL caliber accuracy multiple times in the 2016 season, and this was invaluable to the staff on several occasions, especially with the fade.
Brad’s ability to put the ball into a receiver’s hands without it being within the range of an opposing defensive back not only helped the fade be more successful for our beloved Canes, but also made it an even safer play.
Another element of Brad that can’t be overstated is his experience and football I.Q. For the most part Kaaya knew when a throw was safe and when it was dangerous. Also, Brad often built chemistry and understanding with his receiving core so that he could put the ball in the most advantageous place for his receiver.
Brad’s accurate and developed arm, and his understanding of football equipped Coach Richt with one very important element of the fade, a quarterback with intelligence and touch.
Here is a video showing just how talented Kaaya truly is, especially on this route tree:
WR Stacy Coley:
At 6’1”, 195lbs, Stacy Coley presents as a wide receiver with impressive and good size, in addition to his size Coley has impressive athleticism, as seen here... (Begin from 3:21)
Coley also manages to position his body frame in a way for him to get the ball while preventing a defensive back from successfully defending. This is a skill which Coley has greatly improved and developed in the last year, part of why, in my opinion, Coley was considered such an excellent NFL draft selection by the Minnesota Vikings.
In addition to his talents Coley also gained a lot of experience working the fade throughout his UM career, and most of this work was done with Brad Kaaya as his quarterback, building a vital understanding of how the play functions and building an understanding of how his quarterback delivers the football.
In Coley Mark Richt had a reliable and experienced receiver to use as a throwing option for talented quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Another example of Coley’s talent on the fade can be seen below:
Again, its a little thing, but it makes a difference. NFL teams love the goaline fade. Kaaya throws it well, good arc and location pic.twitter.com/sN7LAJmcum— 〽 (@BlizzFootball) April 9, 2017
As you can see Kaaya expertly throws the ball, and Stacy Coley uses positioning and his athleticism to complete the play over the defensive back.
TE David Njoku:
One of the most athletic and physically imposing Miami players in the last decade, David Njoku proved to be an extremely valuable asset in goal line situations. At 6’4”, 247lbs, Njoku is a HUGE man. So big in fact that WVU’s Dana Holgorsen said this of the Miami star, “their tight end is the biggest and baddest dude that we’ve faced all year.” As you saw throughout the season Njoku presented matchup problems across the field for opponents.
These qualities made Njoku a beautiful asset in goal line sets, with his ability to both overpower the defense, or overwhelm them using his athleticism. As a result David became a much relied upon target on fade routes.
This allowed Miami to be flexible depending on the situation, and allowed the offense to key-off several playmakers so that they could still execute their plays of choice effectively.
Below you can see some of David’s talents on display:
David Njoku with the touchdown reception pic.twitter.com/KoHD35Rj1W— Bruce Matson (@BMatz08) February 26, 2017
While not at the goal line this play demonstrates David’s physical ability to force himself to the ball.
Miami employed the fade in several situations in order to successfully score on opponents.
In packages with Stacy Coley Miami often used deeper fade routes both under the previous staff and the current staff. However Mark Richt made his mark on this year’s playbook with the addition of a more successful goal-line fade. As seen here...
Nice placement here on the fade... Kaaya was feeling it early on vs Pitt pic.twitter.com/vdPtzMsDdi— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 24, 2017
As you can see Stacy Coley is trusted to beat his matchup in order to effectively execute the play, and with his talents and experience he does just that, combining all the individual elements into one successful play. Coley also does an impressive job of being physical and preventing the DB from getting his eyes on the ball as easily, which greatly improves the plays chances of being successful. Kaaya also delivers a perfect ball, and times his throw out perfectly so that it meets Coley at the perfect time for it to drop into his hands for a tremendous catch. Brad also does a marvellous job of letting the ball float out of reach of the Pitt defender so that the worst possible outcome is an incompletion.
In addition to the shorter goal-line fade Miami also used a longer fade, most notably seen in the FSU game...
This is the best throw I’ve seen from Kaaya thus far. Almost incomplete due to WR, but touch and placement was perfect on bucket throw. pic.twitter.com/qr9BKJ285d— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) October 13, 2016
On this play the speed of Miami’s athletes is used as a weapon to get a few steps on the DB in order to allow the QB to drop a perfect over the shoulder throw that leads to the score. Miami executed this perfectly in order to get a much needed touchdown in the FSU game, in addition to a variation of it being used on the
game-tying late touchdown throw. It was also used later in the year in the Pitt game with David Njoku, as seen above.
This play allows the ball to be led away from the DB and keeps the ball out of the immediate danger of interception, unfortunately it requires a huge amount of touch and accuracy on the part of the quarterback. Thus making it a more difficult and low-reward play.
Miami’s different versions and uses of the fade allowed Mark Richt to effectively and intelligently use all of his different playmakers in various ways. In addition to providing another layer of depth to the offense.
You may have noticed one thing about all of this, every player singled out in this piece has moved on from Miami.
This is a cause of concern, but Coach Richt has consistently used the fade throughout his career and I expect him to find more players that can execute the play at a high level.
At the quarterback spot there is still no evident replacement, but in Malik Rosier’s first start against Duke he demonstrated an ability to deliver the ball accurately, and N’kosi Perry’s high school highlight video demonstrates an ability to deliver the ball on several similar routes. However, no matter who the starter is, whether one of the men listed above or someone new, none of them have faced the talent that they would as a permanent Miami starter. VT, FSU, Clemson, and several other opponents UM may or will face in their careers are on a different level athletically than Duke or any high school team. As a result the adjustment will take time, and more demanding and difficult throws such as a fade often have to be learned with experience.
The receiving side of the play must also find a few new players to be heirs to Coley and Njoku’s roles. Christopher Herndon is the clear heir to Njoku’s role, and slots right in with a very similar size and skill set, Herndon also posses the ability to grow his strength to be even more useful in the fade game. A replacement for Coley is less clear, as there is no wide receiver that clearly possess the body control on the same level as him. That being said, Ahmmon Richards represents a great option for a slot in at Coley’s roles on fades, with a similar size and time to develop the experience and skills, such as body control, that are necessary to run the play with success . Another option could be Lawrence Cager, who stands at a towering 6’5” and would be an excellent target for play styles such as the fade.
Despite the loss of several experienced players, Miami should be able to continue to use the fade because of the great athleticism on the roster. While the amount of success we saw last year might not be possible in 2017, it is fair to say that Miami can be an above average team in the fade if the personnel are used correctly. Here’s to hoping for more success in the future...