IOWA CITY — It seems like a simple enough route. Most might see the fade as, drop back and toss the ball to either the 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-3 guy on the outside wearing green. Simple, right?
Cedar Rapids Kennedy might learn this first hand Thursday night as it hosts Iowa City West.
The first lesson is actually a simple one, locate No. 10 and No. 20.
“That’s how we start every game, we want to see how Jeremy (Morgan) and Dondre (Alexander) are going to be played,” Iowa City West head coach Brian Sauser said. “If they’re going to play them soft on the outside, we’re going to throw it to them.”
But like the fade itself, it’s not that bland. So far this season, before the snap of the ball, the Trojans have set themselves up to devour undersized corners.
Iowa City West usually lines up in a formation with at least one tight end, sometimes two. This causes the defense to draw its safeties in the box, dictating man coverage on the outside.
“You better put the eighth guy in the box with two tight ends,” Sauser said. “But the second they bring the eighth guy up then it’s one-on-one on the outside. I also think teams are going to practice what they’re good at. Most teams play Cover 3, which is essentially single coverage on the outside. We’re also using what teams do in our favor.”
With favorable matchups created, it’s now up to Alexander and Morgan to create separation on a rather flavorless route: one step to the outside, then straight.
“I don’t really want to tell my secrets,” Alexander, the smaller of the two wideouts at 6-6 said. “But if I’m just doing a fade, I’ll probably just fake inside or something to get him off balance a little bit. If you get him off balance just a little bit, it’s enough time to give me one step ahead and that’s good.”
With 371 yards among the two outside pass catchers, defenses are well aware of the abilities of the duo. It’s the most of any wide receiver tandem in the league and Alexander’s 260, it tops. In fact they’ve hauled in 21 balls in two games this year. The rest of the wide receiver corps, consisting of eight players, have combined for 17.
So with the targets on their back, the initial shake and bake often isn’t enough, especially during a 60 minute game. That juke in the first quarter probably won’t work in the fourth.
“It’s a development through the game. You always have to make them think you’re doing one thing, then do the other,” Morgan who has a 32 inch vertical leap said. “So you just have to keep them off balance.”
A half of a mis-step is all that’s needed for the tandem to burn the corner. Still, at this point, there’s not much they can do if the ball isn’t placed at the right spot.
The Trojans often use the fade as a quick hitter. So as the corner attempts to recover, quarterback Nate Boland tries to place the ball on the outside, but if all goes well make it come up a little short. This way, with the defensive back running to make up ground, he might run passed the play.
“We think that gives us the best advantage because Jeremy and Dondre, if we under throw them a little bit, it turns into a basketball rebound,” Sauser said. “And that’s something they’re very comfortable with.”
Comfortable might be putting it lightly. Alexander, Morgan, Boland and Sauser all said there have been situations in games this season, where before the ball was snapped, they knew the play would be successful due to the formation and personnel on the field.
“I prefer it being a jump ball,” Alexander said. “I’m real confident. Going against our class cornerbacks, I feel honestly we can’t be stopped. Not trying to sound cocky or anything but when you have a lot of experience, that’s what it takes.”
Morgan said the tallest corner he’s faced is about 5-11, which would give him a seven inch advantage. There’s not much a corner can do at that point. Even if one is doubled, it leaves the other with man coverage.
It is possible to double both Alexander and Morgan, but then that leaves only seven in the box.
“We’re more than happy to run that football if teams are going to play us with two safeties over the top,” Sauser said.
So why don’t the Trojans run, what seems to be an unstoppable play every down? Well, there is some risk associated with it. Boland’s only interception this year came on a fade to Alexander.
“Well they start getting used to it. Sometimes they’ll have safety help over the top so the fades won’t work,” Boland said. “Some people in the crowd don’t realize that, so it’s actually harder than everyone thinks.”
The one aspect that Kennedy brings to the table that the Trojans haven’t seen this year is experience corners. They’ve seen Alexander and Morgan before and may not be intimidated.
Confident, prepared, even physically equally, whatever opponents bring to try to stop the Trojan offense, Sauser and Company likely won’t stop running plays for their top two targets.
After all, players like Alexander, who is getting looks from Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and Morgan, who verbally committed to Northern Iowan, don’t come around too often. Nevermind on the same team.
“If we can get our guys one-on-one going up off two feet they’re going to catch it most of the time,” Sauser said. “Jeremy and Dondre, you’re not always going to have guys like that. But when you do, you certainly want to utilize their strengths the best you can. And you know throwing jump balls at those guys are just really effective.”