If one was to sit down and list the differences between a prototypical Bobby Petrino lead offense and a prototypical Scott Satterfield lead offense you could likely fill up the better part of a notepad dissecting how the two minds differ in their approach to attacking defenses. While many of those differences have been highlighted extremely well, even on this very website, one area I think we’ve overlooked is the significance of a key role we rarely saw in offenses past, but one that’s crucial in keeping the Satterfield train moving. The H-Back.
While the H-back is a somewhat dying ‘position’ there are certainly schools, such as Louisville, that use it in a substantial amount of their playbook. While I am no Scott Satterfield, or remotely close to a D-I coach, the high level concept is that I can take an athletic tight end who has the ability to both block and catch balls out of the back field, and line him up behind the line of scrimmage and allow him to do either from a single formation. The H-back isn’t so much a position (as it’s almost exclusively a TE) but a role or job that the player performs. You need your H-Back to be a lead blocker off the edge or up the middle? He can do it. You need your H-back to release in the flats and make catches? He can do it. You need your H-back to sprint to the outside and seal a crashing linebacker or corner on a sweep? He can do it. The key of course is finding that guy, the guy who can do all those things consistently. Heading into 2019 Louisville was down to one scholarship tight end in Jordan Davis and a couple walk-ons. Jordan Davis is a good player with good size, decent hands, and some solid speed, but a H-back he is not. So….
A few weeks into the offseason Marshon Ford emerged as a player who was catching the eye of Satterfield and the staff at the tight end position. The walk-on had the size (6-2/226) to throw a block, plenty of speed, and a quick stat check showed he had some hands as well (35rec/9TDs his senior year at Ballard). Look out boys and girls, I think we got ourselves a H-Back. Ford looked like the prefect fit for this new role, and he grinding his way to earning a starting spot before Fall camp even began, oh, and he got a scholarship for his work. The playbook is officially open.
If I took a poll among fans what is one of the more successful plays Louisville has run this season with some level of consistency? Easily in the Top 5 is the “Tutu Sweep” (While not official, that should definitely be the name). The formation may be slightly different each time, the blocking up front may be different each time, but there is one thing that rarely changes. Marshon Ford helping turn the play from a short gain to six points.
In this first example Marshon (#83, H-Back position) comes off his initial block, cuts back up field and seals off the tracking safety to free Tutu into open space. His block lets Tutu see green. You never want to let Tutu see green.
Again, Ford (#83) jumps out of his position and seals the edge freeing up space on the outside for the speed of Atwell to gain the advantage over the defense.
On another sweep Ford not only pushes his man 5-6 yards upfield but also ushers him 7-8 yards from left to right and completely out of bounds by the time Atwell passes him.
You know the drill. Ford, block, Atwell, yards.
Of course, its not just that play that Ford shows his worth, below is another example of Ford engaging his man around the 15 yard line, ends up blocking two defenders on the play and creates a space past the 10 yard line giving Hawkins a lane to score.
On this example Ford first sets a block that turns a 3-4 yard gain to a 16 yard gain. The next play, his block takes the DE and linebacker out of the play on the cutback, allowing for a walk in TD.
The bonus to a H-back, as I referenced above, is his flexibility to not only dish out punishment from a blocking standpoint but to also be an offensive threat. We saw a few catches and a nice gain from Ford in the Notre Dame game on a free release and then Satterfield dropped this play on EKU’s head twice, both going for a score.
Actually, if I had one complaint with the H-back spot it would be to utilize the threat of Ford catching passes more than they have recently. In the last three games Ford doesn’t have a catch at all and the three before that he only had one grab in each. He may not have Atwell or Fitzpatrick speed but odds are he is getting a linebacker in open space and I like his chances to make a play.
This new Louisville offense has been fun to watch and learning the nuances of the new system has been an added bonus to you know, actually winning games again. All I ask is that when you spread the love to the offensive playmakers don’t forgot to heap a bit of praise on one of the unsung heroes thus far in 2019. Tip of the cap to Mr. Ford, the redshirt Freshman who is already making plays like a veteran.