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All-22 Review: Jaylan Knighton goes for over 150 against Georgia Tech

The young back came off of suspension to become the feature back the the ‘Canes in 2021.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Georgia Tech at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Inspired by our very own Jake Marcus’ post about the running back room, I dialed up the All-22 on Jaylan Knighton’s big game on the ground in 2021. His highest rushing total was the 162 yard rushing performance against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Knighton averaged 5.1 yards per carry over 32 carries and a touchdown. He also fumbled the ball into a Jacket defender’s waiting arms for a touchdown.

Knighton, who scored 11 times in 2021 (including three receiving TD’s), only rushed for 3.9 yards per carry on the season. However, as we’ll break down here in this piece, he was turning chicken poop into chicken salad on many carries last season. Knighton fumbled twice in eight games, losing the one against GT.

Miami 33 - Georgia Tech 30

The Hurricanes came from behind and held the lead against the Yellow Jackets. Three lost fumbles kept GT in the game, and Miami escape from another close one to an inferior opponent. Tech is rated in the SP+’s bottom 40-50 teams and for good reason, they’re bad. Manny Diaz finished 1-1 against the Jackets as head coach of The ‘Canes.

Tackle for loss

During the game, we have a tendency as fans to overreact (raises hand) to certain play calls and outcomes. This is one where Knighton didn’t have much else to do but get hawked down from behind.

Above- As you can see, Zion Nelson had a DL ‘stem’ (move pre-snap) on him and he failed to adjust his footwork. Nelson was beat off the snap and it resulted in a TFL that Knighton could in no way help. Also, it was a rare run call with no post-snap RPO tag for Tyler Van Dyke.

GT Counter

Knighton has a tendency to bounce plays a bit too much, but here he could see daylight and sprung an inside run, GT Counter, outside. The GT stands for Guard-Tackle, when you see GH or GY it’s for guard and the TE.

Above- As you can see above, the guard and tackle pull, essentially the guard should “kick” the defensive end, or drive them to the sideline. The 2nd man (tackle here) should “wrap” or pull and work up to an inside linebacker while serving as a lead blocker.

Above- you can watch Knighton bounce this thing to space, but also see how bad GT is at tackling. Their slow linebacker (10) and poor tackling cornerbacks should allow an OC to game plan how to get a RB on their CB’s in space. Many OC’s have a rule: you block S’s and LB’s, you force CB’s to tackle.

Chicken salad

Knighton made chicken salad from chicken poop more than once during this game.

Above- you can see two different plays where Knighton looks to be stopped for a loss, but manages to get positive yardage. The left side is Nevaughn Donaldson (55) over-committing to the combo and taking his eyes off the player who comes free.

Above- Number 0 for Tech, the big Nose Tackle, was giving Miami center, Jakai Clark (53), fits. 0 was commanding doubles and when Miami didn’t double him he drove Clark into the backfield like in this clip

Outside Zone

Of course when the CB’s prove they can’t tackle and one of the linebackers is playing slow- you have to dial up a little OZ. The crack from the wide receiver helps to eliminate one 2nd level defender while dragging the CB on a slant pattern, but also then forcing him to be the last line of defense on the edge.

Above- As you can see the tackle, Jarid Williams (62), does a great job of sealing the edge for the offense, Rambo selflessly puts his body on the line for the block, and Knighton is free.

The flip 6

Plays like this are infuriating for coaches, but, you either teach it or allow it. Miami ranked 81st in fumbles in 2021. The Hurricanes fumbled 1.3 times per game in ‘20 and ‘21. This wasn’t just one fluke effort by Tech, in speaking with ACC assistants GT saw a weakness and worked on turnover circuit with a renewed focus heading into the game.

Split Zone, bounced

Split zone is a variation of what I call “base zone” and some call “zone lead.” In my install plan, base zone goes in first and there are RPO’s tagged but not a ‘read’ option read for the QB. Split zone is the sister play to base zone.

The Q still won’t have a ‘read option’ read on a DE, will have RPO tags, and instead of ‘inserting’ from the H-Back, he’ll come across the formation and ‘kick’ the DE. The split zone play’s h-back block allows a wider cutback lane for the RB.

Above- It’s also an OODA Loop breaker because as you can see from the LB no.4 for GT, when the LB’s read ‘cross back’ (4 is reading the H, 10 is reading the RB) it causes 4 to remove himself from the play side gaps.

Above- 4 is completely out of the play, and 10 is too slow reacting and moving laterally to make a difference, too. The safety eventually makes the play on Knighton.

Agility, the true meaning.

Knighton has true agility. Agility isn’t what many people think it is. Most people are defining change of direction drills when they say agility drills. Agility is the ability to recognize a threat and move off of that threat with efficiency.

It’s visual, cognitive, and motor skill all blending into one, quick, thin-sliced movement. The more the player has to think about what they’re seeing the less likely they are to make a big play. It has to become natural, second nature, a “Flow” moment in a game.

Above- you can see a display of agility. Knighton sees the linebacker, 10, and cuts off him and re-accelerates all seamlessly. He has one cut, this one just on no. 10, in the clip above.

So how do we develop agility?

1- After we develop change of direction. A player has to earn the right physically to begin to prep for psychological, and technical work. Throw too much at them too quickly in the early off-season and the athlete is more likely to get injured.

2- Progressively. It’s a slow and steady ramp up. From COD drills, you then start to incorporate closed drills with a moving defender. The RB will cut off a linebacker, and attack a set of cones after to work on acceleration off the cut.

3- Small sided games. Eventually you can incorporate competition. I like to play small sided games that simulate situations on a football field. Imagine having a ball carrier and two defenders set up. One defender’s job is to be the 3-tech DT, the 2nd is to be a LB. The RB will cut off the 3-tech and then off the LB.

Or, rather than stepping over bags, which you never see on a field, this would be an ‘open field tackling’ drill where the defender is trying to cut off the inside, and shove the ball carrier out of bounds. The ball carrier is trying to cut back inside and score.

Create situations, spaces, and timing that simulates an actual play in a game. If the average play is 5.5 seconds don’t create a 15 second drill. If you’re still doing bag drills by the start of the season, your players aren’t progressing rapidly enough.

Above- Knighton has two ridiculous cuts in this clip, one on no. 10 (woof, 10, rough game) and one at the 3rd level (secondary).

The wrap

Is Knighton an elite, can’t miss pro prospect? Not yet. But can he develop into a pro prospect? Absolutely. He’s 5-foot-10, 190 pounds of cut-and-go. He’s not the biggest back but he’s not too small, either. Knighton took a bit of a pounding in Lashlee’s inside zone based run game but could really excel from being a one-two punch with a heavier back.

Thad Franklin, Cody Brown, Don Chaney Jr. are all bigger backs that are on campus. Chaney needs to stay healthy, while Franklin and Brown need to improve their acceleration, agility, and top end speed. If Knighton is being used on 15 really good snaps per game he’ll be even more explosive than if he’s asked to grind out 30 carries with no receptions. He’s a great receiver, use him there!