How USC Uses GT Counter in their Screen Game

It’s no secret that Lincoln Riley loves counter trey. He is probably one of the most creative coaches at scheming GT Counter into the offensive game plan dating back to his first year at Oklahoma in 2017.

GT Counter has always been his go-to run scheme and defenses have always had a hard time defending it consistently. He does a great job of window dressing and disguising his favorite run scheme through formations, motions, personnel, and backfield options (speed option, triple option, bash, same side, etc).

It has gotten even worse for defenses coaches as Lincoln Riley and the USC offense use GT Counter in their screen game.

Here are just a few different ways that he accomplished this from the 2022 season.

GT Counter Tunnel Screen

Below is a drawing of how USC uses GT counter in their tunnel screen game. This was against Stanford in 2022 and USC went to GT Counter Tunnel Screen multiple times in this game.

GT Counter Tunnel Screen
LTBypass 3 technique and get flat to the field with eyes inside looking to peel back for the first color that shows. Could be inside inside linebacker or safety from the backside.
LGShould bypass the DL but he spikes into the gap. Get flat down the line and look to block anyone in the alley
CBypass the first down linemen to the play side (2i) and look outside to kick out the OLB
RGPoint the toe and go to pull and kick out first defender
RTSkip Pull and follow pulling guard
AOLB is giving cushion so push crack to the CB
Z3 steps hard off the LOS and then banana back and replace the slot WR. Catch the ball and get inside the kick out block and then run fast to open grass
QBpunch fake with the RB as if running GT Counter to the left, flip the hips and set the feet to throw the ball to the tunnel screen.

Here’s another look of USC going back to GT Counter Tunnel at midfield. They line up in similar formation with Y off and sell Counter to the TE before throwing the Tunnel Screen.

There is a slight adjustment with the slot WR’s blocking because the CB is now pressed up on the outside WR. The slot now must immediately get out to the CB at a flat angle off the LOS. The outside WR can help the slot by pushing hard for 3 steps to force the CB to get depth at the snap of the ball. This will help the slot WR take a good angle to the CB to set up a successful block.

In the clip below, it appears the LG gets caught up peeling back and looking for work, rather than staying on his path and blocking the safety in the alley who eventually makes the tackle.

In the third clip, USC again runs tunnel off GT Counter action but now out of 10 personnel with an inverted 2×2 formation.

The linemen in this clip do a good job of looking for work as they release out into their blocking responsibilities. The Center who is the “kick out” block sees the WR engaged with the OLB, so he continues downfield and looks for work.

The LG initially peels back for trail defenders and see’s there’s nothing there, so he also continues downfield and gets his head on a swivel looking for work.

Finally, the LT is late getting out as he got caught up in the wash at the LOS, so he ends up being the peel back block and picks up a trailing DL. Without this block the DL may have made a tackle just a few yards past the line of scrimmage.

GT Counter Delay Swing Screen

Now that USC has successfully ran GT Counter Tunnel Screen, Lincoln Riley adds another layer to the already difficult offense by throwing another screen off of a similar look.

This time USC will be throwing a delayed swing screen off of GT Counter. In this look, USC makes it appear they are throwing the GT Tunnel screen, but now Williams pumps the tunnel and comes back to the RB late who is swinging out after the mesh point.

Here’s what it looks like:

GT Counter Delayed Swing Screen
LTPull and look to “log” or hook first defender you see on the play side
LGPull and instead of kick out, get to the outside shoulder and log or hook the DE
CBypass the first down linemen to the play side (2i) and look outside to kick out the OLB
RGDeuce on the 3 tech combo with RT to the backside LB
RTDeuce on the 3 tech combo with RG to the backside LB
APush crack to the CB
Z3 steps hard off of the LOS and then banana back and replace the slot WR.
QBpunch fake with the RB as if running GT Counter to the right, Pump the tunnel screen then flip the hips to throw back to the RB

Here’s a clip of USC running this against Fresno State:

This is a great job of USC adding another layer to their already successful GT counter scheme. You can see how the success of the tunnel screen forces the defense to react to William’s pump faking the tunnel into the boundary.

At this point, the defense has completely lost the running back because of the different action in the play. The LG and LT do a great job getting to the edge and log blocking or hooking their defenders to give the RB the space he needs to attack the edge after making the catch.

Here’s another clip of USC running the same screen off GT counter with a different presentation

Once again, the prior success of the tunnel screen has the Stanford defense completely selling out to that side of the field when USC gives the appearance that they are throwing Tunnel. The pump fake from William’s moves the defense just enough to out leverage them back to the boundary with the delayed screen to the RB.

Thought Process of Designing GT Counter Screens

Lincoln Riley is just a creative genius when it comes to window dressing his plays and adding layers to what the offense is good at (similar to how Kansas State protects Power Read with variations of 4 verticals).

The thought process behind these designs is first understanding that GT Counter is the bread and butter to the offense. This is what USC hang’s their hat on and what defenses know they must stop.

So how can USC protect their best run scheme?

Add a tunnel screen (among other things like boot pass, play action, RPO’s, read option etc).

But not just any old tunnel screen. Make the defense think it’s GT Counter and then quickly attack the perimeter with OL releasing from the backside of the play.

Now that tunnel screen is a success, how can USC check-mate the defense when they finally catch on and adjust to the GT Counter Tunnel Screen?

Make it look like GT Counter Tunnel, but now pump fake and throw back to the RB sitting off the edge.

Each play simply builds off the one before, which makes Lincoln Riley’s offense extremely difficult to defend because of the deception and misdirection built in to each concept. While defensive coordinators are playing checkers, Lincoln Riley and the USC offense is playing chess as they are always one step ahead.

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