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Counter: How an age old classic play dominated the Hurricanes

Blake Baker and the ‘Canes gave up 500+ yards on the ground, and counter did a lot of the damage.

Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Counter. It’s an old school play (by today’s standards) that pushed the Washington Football Team to multiple Super Bowl wins in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s now ran with reads off the back side defensive end, RPO’s tagged onto it, and of course from the shotgun and pistol as opposed to under center.

UNC Tar Heels Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo loves counter, and it’s a staple part of his offense. Counter is a great change up play from the typical inside zone and split zone schemes that many OC’s, including Longo, run on a regular basis.

Throughout the 62-26 steamrolling the Tar Heels laid on the Hurricanes, UNC would set up the defense with inside zone and outside zone runs, before hitting a counter for a big gain.

The trick to stopping counter is to wrong arm the guard, have your inside linebacker (ILB) fill the wrapping guard (hit him in the mouth with your inside shoulder, outside arm free) and have the safety run to the ball.

Where did Miami go wrong?

More often than not they didn’t wrong arm the kick out block (Guard typically, Center in one example below) and when they finally did, the safety wasn’t even on the screen to help in run support. When they weren’t trying to wrong arm, their defensive end (DE) got logged (the OL got outside of him) or kicked out and it left a massive hole.

Choose your scheme and from there, choose your technique. Many work. But you have to choose one and teach the thing and everyone on the defense has to communicate and be on the same page. Clearly Miami isn’t on the same page neither in run fits nor back end coverage.

G-T Counter Read

Above- you can see the diagram for the G-T Counter Read that UNC ran at times against The U on Saturday afternoon. The play-side of the OL will block ‘down’ (back) making the defense thing the play is going to the D’s right (O’s left). The back side guard and tackle (in blue) will pull. The G’s job is to ‘kick’ or block the play side DE that is unblocked to the sideline, and the T’s job is to ‘wrap’ or cut through the hole up to a LB.

The QB will read the back side DE (red). If he ‘squeezes’ (runs after the RB following the OT in blue) the QB will pull. If the DE sits or comes towards the QB, the QB will handoff.

Above- The DE is obviously going to come up field and sit. So Howell hands off. The TE/H skips the DE to climb up to the 2nd level.

Round 2

Above- you can see the DE is too far upfield. Once he sees a down block he has to know he’s either the read, or a kick out block is coming. It’s split zone, counter, trap, or he’s a speed option or power or zone read guy for the offense.

The DE should have worked down the line tight to the down block and then wrong armed the guard. This would’ve jammed up the inside of the offense and forced Williams to cut back into help (the other DE) or to bounce outside (probably breaks it for a TD anyway).

G-T Counter

Above- The QB is no longer reading the back side DE. Now he’s reading the WLB, and it’s an RPO post-snap. If the WLB sprints up to chase the pulling guard, he leaves a massive hole for the pop concept from the J.

If the WLB sits then handoff and the LB can’t react in time to out run the puller who will be picking him up on the wrap.

Above- This time you do get a wrong arm, however, there’s no one outside to take on the force. This leaves the back alone for about 10 yards to pick up a big gain.

Above- this is on the LB play. He’s the OUTSIDE guy, he’s not the MLB. The MLB needs to fill between the kick out and the down block, the OLB needs to force this thing back in.

Above- This time Jaelan Phillips does squeeze down the line off of the down block better, he takes on the block with his inside shoulder, leaving his outside arm free to eliminate the bounce outside. The LB, however, looks to be on an outside path vs. inside if they’re trying to funnel this back in... I’m not sure what’s going on. I think they’re just throwing crap at the wall.

Center-Tackle Counter “check”

Above- UNC sees something pre-snap and switches the counter from guard-tackle to center-tackle. This is a common switch really well coached teams can make.

Above- Here, the DE doesn’t wrong arm and is easily logged by the Center, the tackle comes through to wrap and it’s a long run for UNC.

H-G Counter

Above- When your O-Line starts to wear down you can now let your tackle stay behind and block out on the DE, and your H-back can be the wrapper. He’s further away than the OT, but he’s faster (you’d hope, at least!).

Above- The H gets way out in front and he’s ready to take on the MDM (most dangerous man) of the defense.

The Wrap

In the end, counter wasn’t the only reason Miami lost to UNC. Miami was defeated in every aspect of the game- coaching, motivation, tackling, communication, effort, coverage, run fits, run blocking, etc. The ‘Canes played a horrible game that felt flat from the kickoff.

If there is going to be a bowl game for the Miami Hurricanes (not because they are undeserving, because they deserve one, but I’m more talking about COVID, canceled bowls, opponents backing out, etc.)- it’s going to have to be a massive bounce back game to instill any confidence in Manny Diaz heading into 2021.

Coach Diaz is the king of the off-season, something I’m assuming he learned from Mack Brown at Texas, but after the ‘Canes fell apart at the end of last season The U promised us change. We’ve seen improvements but the bowl game would be a true test of keeping this ship on the right course.