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Duck Tape: Film Study of OL Coach A’lique Terry

A review of the 2021 Hawai’i season with Terry as OL coach

NCAA Football: Utah State at Wake Forest
Sep 16, 2017; Winston-Salem, NC; Wake Forest offensive lineman A’lique Terry (55) celebrates after a touchdown against Utah State
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

New Oregon OL coach Terry rejoins the Ducks after spending two years as a graduate assistant in Eugene working with the offensive line in 2019 and 2020. In 2021 he accepted his first on-field coaching job as the OL coach at Hawai’i in what turned out to be head coach Todd Graham’s last year with the program. Terry worked as an assistant defensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings in 2022.

I reviewed the film of the 2021 Hawai’i offense and graded all meaningful offensive line snaps. My general impressions of that side of ball were that it wasn’t a very creative or dynamic offense, was fairly one-dimensional and eliminated large portions of the playbook as the season went on, and suffered from talent, discipline, and predictability problems. I didn’t find any of these issues surprising in light of the documented nepotism and endemic mistreatment that led to Graham’s resignation.

However I found myself agreeing with several writers and fans of the program that the offensive line was probably the best part of the offense, and while I can’t speak to whether Terry sheltered his players from those cultural problems, the film is very clear that the line was performing at a higher level than the rest of the squad. Some examples:

(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)

  1. :00 - Simulated pressure with the weakside OLB dropping out and the MIKE crossing over the DT to rush, good pickup with the RT and guards shifting their blocks over to keep the QB clean. He then throws it directly to that OLB.
  2. :15 – Nice protection with quick drop steps by the tackles against the best pair of edge rushers in the Mountain West (Oregon opened with this team in 2021 and I can vouch for that). Clean pocket throw to an open receiver lands on the turf.
  3. :23 – This MW team had the best interior DL, really quick first step, but the guards handled them well all day. Finally a perfectly placed ball with a beautiful spiral, bounces off the WR’s hands.
  4. :39 – Double twist from this line, a ranked team coached by a former Oregon DC. The line hands off assignments perfectly with great communication so the QB is clean, the ball gets caught and tucked away for a big gain … and promptly fumbled.

The Rainbow Warriors called designed downfield passing plays on close to a 3:1 basis compared to designed run plays outside of garbage time, and as the season went on the offensive coordinator (Bo Graham, son of the head coach) made the peculiar decision to eliminate several aspects of a modern college playbook like RPOs, designed QB runs, sweeps, and screen passes. So the vast majority of film that I have to evaluate is simple dropback pass protection.

The offensive line starters graded out between 11% and 16% error rates on my tally sheet, with the best performers at left tackle and center, the lowest grade at right tackle, and a significant injury rotation problem at right guard (I think they rushed the starter back onto the field a week too early). Those numbers are pretty decent in my experience — in fact in 2021 they’d be in the top half of the Pac-12 as I grade teams – though not at the standard Oregon has set over the last 20 years of single digits. The important thing is that I think they were performing at their natural talent ceiling, and when the offense was losing reps it wasn’t due to the line’s technique or mental errors. Here’s a sample of basic successful pass protection against four rushers showing good technique:

  1. :00 – The guards are forming a wall against the DTs as appropriate. Watch the shoulders and feet of the LT – he’s dropping at the proper angle to the rusher and the line of scrimmage, neither parallel so the rusher can get around him nor perpendicular so he can break inside, and his feet are always moving and just under his center of gravity. The RT gets a little flat off that first step, but has a weirder job with the back in tandem, and good run and recovery.
  2. :17 – Double twist on this play, T-E to the o-line’s left and E-T to their right. Great pickup, really great communication here. The spacing with the LG sealing that twisting end gives the QB ample room to scramble into open grass.
  3. :28 – Another double twist. The tackles in particular disengaging and trusting the guards to take over their guy so they can get the outside stunters is advanced stuff.
  4. :36 – No twists on this one, just a straight attack on a long yardage play due to some earlier undisciplined penalties. The line is holding up physically very well.

Interestingly, the offense actually performed better against the blitz than they did against four or fewer rushers in terms of per-play success rate, although offensive line error rate didn’t really change. I suspect that stems from facing Graham’s notoriously blitz-heavy defense in practice every week and having to build lots of blitz-beaters into the offense. At any rate, the line knew its job and how to communicate to deal with pressure:

  1. :00 – The defense is crowding the line here but drops out an outside backer and blitzes an inside one. Good pickup and communication, with the RT knowing that he takes the far outside man and the LT knowing that the back has that ILB.
  2. :11 – Pre-snap communication indicates the line is expecting an overload blitz to their left and that’s what they get. Proper realignment of the C and RG frees the LG to take on the blitzing backer cleanly.
  3. :21 – Cat blitz on this one, the RT sees it but knows the back has it and doesn’t get pulled off his assignment, good readjustment of his footwork as his guy tries an inside move. Also good job by the RG to keep his head on a swivel.
  4. :36 – The line knows this is a designed quick wheel against a man blitz. They don’t need to pick up the later blitzers since the pass is already going to be out by then, instead they combo the initial couple guys so the QB has a clean first two seconds.

I thought Hawai’i had a pretty promising rushing attack on a per-play basis, as well as a couple dynamic backs (with 6.4 and 5.3 YPC averages and four hundred-yard games between them) plus a dedicated wildcat QB and a starting QB with some wheels. So it was baffling to me that the Bows kept going away from the run for long stretches of games, and sometimes entire weeks. It also gave me a very small sample set to evaluate run blocking for the offensive line. I liked what little I saw but statistically I have to advise taking it with a grain of salt.

Mostly what I enjoyed seeing was some real physicality:

  1. :00 – That’s the backup RG, filling in for the injured starter. Good pull through the hole and great finish.
  2. :15 – Just resetting the line here, against a defense that isn’t built to stop it.
  3. :22 – Here the starting RG is back in, fitting well at the second level.

Zone-blocking technique looked pretty well coached, on plays with combos and second-level blocks that Oregon fans ought to be familiar with after seeing them as staples for decades. But I have too small of a dataset on other staples like split-zone or wide-zone reads to include for analysis, and other than occasional goalline pushes Hawai’i almost completely abandoned power. Here’s a technique demonstration on a sample of representative plays for what I do have charted:

  1. :00 – This is a classic inside zone play featuring both a LG-C combo and a RG-RT combo, with the LG and RT then moving up to block the ILBs.
  2. :08 – Nice seal by the RG, and the RT climbs up to the safety to open up a hole with the tight end for the back to get extra yards.
  3. :25 – This play disappeared after week six and I never got a great reverse camera angle on it, but it was pretty effective when they ran it. The LG takes the DT outside and the LT comes back in to seal the end.
  4. :31 – A couple good exchanges here, the RG takes over for the RT and the C gets to move up to the backer.

Finally, I noted a couple of interesting plays early in the season when the line got to show off some advanced techniques, before the bizarre playbook curtailment later on:

  1. :00 – This is an RPO, which in their fourth game Hawai’i was still employing. The OL has the timing right, hanging back within three yards of the line of scrimmage (note the LG and backup RG not chasing those disengaged backers) while it could still be a pass to avoid an IDP flag, then heading downfield to block once the QB tucks it to run.
  2. :08 – Again an RPO, and again the line knows not to cross the 49-yard line.
  3. :15 – This slide / half-roll had a 100% per-play success rate with an average gain of 22.7 yards, I have no idea why they stopped running it. The line is clearly capable of maintaining protection while moving laterally, or at least stringing out defenders away from the roll long enough for the QB to set up.
  4. :26 – Even better rolling pocket this time, and this is with two backup linemen in.