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msuthrowBy Rich O'Connor, Offensive Coordinator, Montclair St University

Why slide protect and match a back on a defensive end when you can train your QB to get the ball out quickly and effectively against various pressures.  Rich O’Connor, the Offensive Coordinator at Montclair State University (NJ) explains his “hot” protection and how his QB and WR’s communicate that system.

By Rich O’Connor

Offensive Coordinator

Montclair State University


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Editor’s Note:  X&O Labs Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar spent some time this spring with Montclair State University’s (NJ) offensive coordinator Rich O’Connor talking about his hot route system that he’s been implementing for the last 10 seasons.  Over that time, the Red Hawks have had tremendous success at the Division 3 level using this system.  O’Connor shares his insight below.  

FB12OConnorCoach O'Connor's Biography:  Rich O’Connor is entering his 10th as Montclair State's Offensive Coordinator. He has served on the staff for 30 years.  During his tenure,  the Red Hawks have qualified for five postseason appearances, including three NCAA Playoffs berths in 2009 and 2010. In addition two of Montclair's quarterbacks have been named the NJAC Offensive Player of the Year. Prior to taking over as offensive coordinator, O'Connor served as offensive backfield and special teams coach where he guided many talented tailbacks in his career. And if one were to look at the MSU Top 10 Rushing list, many of the names there have been coached by O’Connor. Among those included are the top two names on the list - John Walker and Ron Lewis (the two combined for over 6,000 yards in their careers.)


Anytime coaches devise six-man protection schemes, he has to made a decision on whether to slide protect with the back or to dual read with him and throw “hot” in the case of six man pressure.  Rich O’Connor, the offensive coach at Montclair State University (NJ) chooses the latter and he’s been doing so for over ten years.  His reasoning is simple- if the QB’s in the shot gun formation (and not in the Pistol) defenses can key the back and set their pressure to him (Diagram 1).  “Teams will key blitz the back,” said O’Connor.  “In that case, we will throw hot.  It’s part of running a pro style offense.”   According to O’Connor, it’s been a staple of his offense and he devoted 7 out of 15 practices this past spring just working on this protection.


To be clear, this kind of protection is based off the five-step game and not the quick game.  It’s also important to note that this isn’t the only protection that O’Connor uses.  In fact in some cases, particularly in the quick game, O’Connor does choose to slide protect.  But, this is clearly his protection of choice.  “Anytime we see a five, six or seven man pressure team we work on throwing the ball hot,” said O’Connor.  According to O’Connor, each week during the season, he and his offensive staff will sift through scouting report information in an attempt to determine the following:

Defensive Scouting Questions:

  1. What is the personality of the defense we’re playing? Are they a blitz team?  Are they a defend team?  Are they a little bit of both?   According to O’Connor, if a defense is over 35 percent on its pressures, then we will classify them as a blitz team regardless of down and distance.  This doesn’t include the red zone.  “Many times blitz percentages go out the window in the red zone,” said O’Connor.  “We don’t count from the 25 yard-line in to the end zone.”
  2. What is their personality by field position and by down and distance? How does that change?
  3. We try to look to see if they are a hash blitz team?  Do we get pressure from the field or boundary?  Some zone blitz teams like to blitz from the field.  Or, will they bring pressure from the boundary because defenders don’t have to go as far. 

Structuring “Hots” based on Protection

Once O’Connor has compiled that data, he handpicks where he wants his “hot” receiver that particular game week.   The hot receiver will usually be the inside receiver, because he is closer to the QB.  “If we see that 75 percent of the time, defenses are blitzing from the boundary, than that’s where we put him (the hot),” said O’Connor.  “The question we have to answer, if that’s the case do I want to swing the protection to the field and block the pressure and throw hot to the boundary (Diagram 2) or do I slide the protection into the short side of the field and throw hot to wide side (Diagram 3)?  We try to put the protection to field and throw hot to the boundary.”


The formula in most cases is to block the QB’s blindside and throw it hot.  Our protection scheme is a dual read for the back.  “Both linebackers have to come for us to throw hot,” said O’Connor.  “Cover Zero and rushing six is something you have to practice every week even if they don’t do it.  Basically, we are protecting a right handed QB’s blindside with the protection by blocking four.  His whole read is going to be in his face- his throwing hand side.  The hot is right in his face.”  O’Connor mentions that the only time it’s not necessary to protect the QB’s backside is in the red zone. 

The offensive line is responsible for blocking the four most dangerous and the Mike linebacker.   It is the Center’s job to identify the Mike pre-snap (which he will address in the next section) but for a starting point, the protection would look like the following:

Vs. Even Front (Diagram 4)- The Center is responsible for the Mike, the rest off the line blocks B.O.B. (Big on Big) protection.  The back works away from the “hot.”


Vs. Odd Front (Diagram 5)- The Guards have an open read and could “molly” out to block second level pressure.  The back works away from the “hot.”


It’s important to note that O’Connor mentioned that second level player bluffing (or faking a pressure) would not take him out of his protection. 


Click on the link below for a look these concepts in action.

What you’re missing…

X&O Labs Insiders members will gain full access to the entire clinic report on Coach O'Connor's Hot Route including:

  • His protocol for identifying protection based on defensive structure.

  • The four hot routes in O’Connor’s system and what pre-snap identifiers trigger them.

  • The pre-snap triggers Coach O’Connor uses to identify pressure.

  • The protocol that O’Connor teaches his hot receivers to go through pre-snap in order to put them in the most advantageous route situation.

  • How being in 3x1 and Empty sets adjust protections and change the “hot route” player.

  • In game cut-ups of Montclair State’s Hot Protection and pass concepts.


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O’Connor realizes that this type of protection doesn’t fit every offense or for any occasion.  “It’s an option if you don’t have a running QB,” said O’Connor.  “Or sometimes if it’s third and nine, you don’t want to throw the ball hot.  Sometimes they (defenses) will force you to throw it hot and get off the field.  Another option could be to max protect and get the ball deep.   First and second down is a good play for the hot.  First down is a good opener to throw hot.  You get six yards and now it’s second and four and you’re in good shape.”   



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