2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, In-game report: Josh Malone WR Tennessee
December 31st, 2016 By Corey Chavous
Tennessee WR Josh Malone, pictured, caught five passes for 120 yards and one touchdown in the Volunteers 38-24 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
It didn’t take long for Malone (No. 3 pictured below) to make his presence felt. His first big reception was a 31-yard post route in which he stepped on the toes of Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones. The plant off his right leg created two yards of room at the top of the route because he challenged Jones right down the middle of his numbers. His headgear and shoulder pads never moved when running the pattern.
When facing press coverage he wasted some time setting up his outside releases. He’s not at all out of place, however, using the defensive back’s leverage against himself. After he got a step on a defender, he worked hard to stack Nebraska cornerbacks Lamar Jackson, Eric Lee, Jr. and nickel back Joshua Kalu.
There was a difference in Malone’s pace off the ball when he ran some of his shorter routes. This allowed Jones to get a cleaner break versus his hitch pattern in the first quarter of the game. On Jones’ tackle attempt Malone did a fine job of stepping back and squaring him up after the catch. His quick lateral plant step left Jones lunging to make the tackle and it laid credence to his slippery nature. This was also the case on a curl route he ran against Jackson at the 4:52 mark of the second quarter. He didn’t get stuck at the top of his route as he sunk around the cone, but he was a little bit choppy. He did a fine job of plucking the ball away from his frame.
His pace also differed when he was setting up his stalk blocks on the perimeter. On a lot of occasions, he used a release that wasn’t necessarily as convincing as his normal press releases but enough to get the corner to turn-and-run with him; where he would then attempt to shield the cornerback down the field if the ball was run to his side. As Dobbs broke off a long run in the first quarter, he did not find color to block as the quarterback cut back across the grain.
Late in the third quarter, he did find work on Jason Croom’s thirty-yard run after the catch jaunt in which he broke a host of tackles. He was able to mirror cornerback Chris Jones down the field before Croom was taken down.
His conditioning stood out on an afternoon in which he was often asked to clear out underneath routes for teammates.
Overall, his play speed and conditioning stood out for four quarters. He’s asked to clear out a lot of deeper zones by running longer routes down the field for teammates to get room on underneath concepts. Even when the team was in Empty Gun Spread Trips looks, he often aligned at an outside receiver spot.
Despite a pass that didn’t give him a chance (third quarter), he was covered well by Kalu on a post-corner route out of the Volunteers’ stacked slot formation. The team was running a Dash (rollout) concept (out of a two tight end set) to quarterback Josh Dobbs' left side and Malone was the primary target on the play. He offered little body English at the top of his route and this allowed the Nebraska junior defender to use a transfer technique to get between him and the ball late.
FOURTH QUARTER MAGIC
This has been an area that Malone has excelled at in 2016. It was no different in the Music City Bowl. It served as a reminder of his clutch fourth quarter touchdown reception versus Appalachian State in the team’s season opener when they were down by seven in the fourth quarter. After the Cornhuskers had cut the lead to seven, it was his post route with a little under nine minutes remaining that put the Volunteers up 38-24 for good.
The team occasionally moves him into the No. 2 slot position on trips formations. From a Gun Far Trips left (Y-off ) alignment the team ran a spin-post concept with Malone (at the No. 2 slot) and the No. 3 threat to the trips side, tight end Jason Croom, both aligned off the ball. As Croom settled in front of safety Aaron Williams at about eight yards, Malone ran a post against the nickel back Kalu (whose safety –Williams- was taken up vs. Croom). He effortlessly tracked down the post from quarterback Joshua Dobbs with his efficient stride turnover. One subtlety?
He stepped through the diving ankle tackle attempt of Kalu and made it into the end zone. It’s a tackle attempt that trips up a lot of receivers.
Head coach Butch Jones felt the play may have changed the tide of the game.
“Obviously the big throw to Josh Malone, when they had the momentum a little bit,” Jones explained. “They were getting back in the game. And again, that shows you the competitive character of this football team.”
Although he tallied 120 yards, there was another opportunity for yet another big gain in the fourth quarter as he was in-between the underneath curl-flat player (Kalu) and cornerback Lee (bailing to a deep half) on a nine route (fly pattern). He kept running as opposed to settling down in the zone and Dobbs overthrew the pass out of bounds down the right sideline.
Regardless, his timely fourth quarter touchdown reception defined his game and served as a final memory for Volunteer fans. A player drawn to the fourth quarter in 2016 came through with yet another clutch play when his team needed him most. The development was something that many Vol fans had expected as soon as he arrived on campus. It's taken awhile for his confidence and technique to intertwine. The same could be said for senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl MVP. In the end, though, there was no doubt in Malone's mind that they were going to make the big play.
“As an offense, we stepped on the field with full confidence that we’re going to go down and score every time, no matter what possession it is and no matter how close the game is,” the junior deep threat concluded. “We came in the huddle just cool, calm and collected.”
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