At first glance, the play seems easy enough to execute.
First, send a big, physical receiver into the corner of the end zone. Then, have the quarterback loft a jump ball above the smaller defensive back. Finally, celebrate a touchdown.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege and several of his receivers have often made it look that simple, but the truth is there is much more that goes into making the fade route a dangerous red-zone option for the Red Raiders.
“As a quarterback you have to put the ball with enough air into a specific spot,” Doege said recently as he broke down the play. “We aim for the back pylon and that general area. Then for the receiver, he’s got to give me enough time to get the ball out, and time it correctly, and he’s got to win on his release. He can’t get jammed up or anything like that.”
While the play can yield high rewards, it doesn’t come without risk. The quarterback is aiming for a spot, so if the receiver doesn’t get there fast enough, a safety can find his way over to a gift interception. If the pass isn’t thrown high enough, the defensive back covering the receiver will be in better position to make a play.
Luckily for the Red Raiders, who open Big 12 Conference play at 6 p.m. Saturday at Iowa State, Doege doesn’t miss his spots too often.
“He’s got great touch on the ball,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We throw a lot of balls, and he’s worked with his receivers. He’s got some guys who can jump, too.”
The fade, Tuberville said, began to gain prominence in the 1980s, when receivers would run up the outside of the field, then break toward the back corner of the end zone to avoid the safety coming up over the top. Tuberville got a good look at how effective the route can be during his time as an assistant at Miami from 1986 to 1993.
“We used to run it at Miami a lot with Vinny Testaverde,” Tuberville said of the former Heisman winner. “He was about as good as I’ve seen throwing it.”
As the fade has evolved, defenses have adjusted, so quarterbacks have had to create new ways to find their receivers. Doege has developed a deft ability to throw the back-shoulder version of the route, which gives him the opportunity to throw away from defensive backs looking for a jump ball.
“There are different ways for different receivers to throw that fade ball,” Doege said.
Different variations of the route have worked for Tech through three games. In the first quarter against Texas State, Doege lofted the ball into the corner from 23 yards out and found Darrin Moore between two defenders.
Just before halftime against New Mexico, Moore lined up on the right side of the field at the 11-yard line and baited the cornerback defending him into thinking he and Doege were planning a jump ball in the end zone, only to stop at the goal line and catch a comeback dart for a touchdown.
The two plays showed the more diversity an offense can display with the route, the more effective it can be.
“You’ve got to understand sometimes, too, how to throw it,” Tuberville said. “Who is the receiver? Who is the safety? Do you bee-line it or do you lob it?”
Tech senior safety Cody Davis has watched Doege’s improvement with the route firsthand the last few years. The timing the quarterback has developed with a number of his receivers keeps the secondary guessing during practice, he said.
The focus the defense has to put on the fade can also open up other areas for the Tech offense to attack, and Doege has taken advantage. Through three games, the senior has completed 13 of 19 passes with nine touchdowns inside the red zone.
That kind of efficiency requires plenty of work. During the summer, Doege and Tech’s other quarterbacks throw balls into trash cans lined up in both back corners of the end zone in an effort to make the release point on the throw a dependable reflex.
“Their timing and how the receivers are coached to lean in and at the last second lunge for the ball,” Davis said, “both of those things make it really hard for those — usually shorter — corners to come up on the big guys with the big reach. So that is a difficult play (to defend). Our corners work that all the time. Sometimes the quarterback just makes it happen.”
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