Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The 3 running plays virtually every offense is built around

At Football Study Hall I have a new piece up about the inside zone running play explaining how it's been used by tons of offenses across the country as the foundational play of their running games. It's a particularly good play for the teams that can find and develop big, mauling OL that are able to drive defensive linemen off the ball.

The schools reigning at the top of the Division 2 and FBS levels, Mount Union and Alabama, both rely on inside zone to make up the basis of their running games and indeed much of their offense in general. Alabama has always made it their focal point under Nick Saban but it's been easily adapted to suit the "pro-style spread" system that Kiffin has been utilizing at Tuscaloosa of late for reasons I explain in the above article.

The team dominating the level in between Mount Union and Alabama is my son's favorite team, the North Dakota State Bison.
The Bison build their running game around the Power-O play, which was also the foundation of the Tressel-era Buckeyes and a big part of the Malzahn Auburn offense. Power is also fairly versatile and used both by spread and pro-style squads.

Power is about getting mobile guards that can pull and find targets in space and using double teams to drive people off the ball rather than relying on brute size like inside zone teams often do.

Then there's inside zone's counterpart, the outside zone play. Most teams carry all three schemes in their playbook but generally recruit and develop OL to excel in one or two of these concepts and then build around that play. Outside zone linemen need to be quick so they can execute the reach blocks since the goal in this scheme is to create creases for the RB by putting horizontal stress on the defensive front rather than vertical stress like on inside zone.

This is an ideal play for schools that can recruit lots of quick, hard-working dudes that can be molded into gifted technicians but may lack NFL-size or power.

Here's what schools in the Big 12 are built around:

The outside zone teams

TCU had some fairly big OL last year and would run some inside zone as well but their specialty was running outside zone and inserting lead blockers into the horizontal creases or using speed option with Trevone Boykin to add extra stress.

Texas Tech
Tech has found that the long, quick guys they like for pass protection tend to do best with outside zone as the main run game complement since it matches their proclivity for beating DL with their feet and length rather than with strength. Kingsbury studied the Oregon run game for inspiration here and the Ducks are very much an outside zone-based team.

Oklahoma State?
The Cowboys aren't much good at anything. TE coach Jason McEndoo is a power guy and OL coach Greg Adkins has a history of using IZ, OZ, and power as part of a pro-style approach, but OSU could really stand to nail down just one scheme to help Randolph out. Considering their OL is marked by experience and lack of talent, I'd say outside zone is probably the better path for them in 2016.

Like the Cowboys, the Jayhawks weren't that great at anything last year, in part because they have some terrible players on their OL. When they want to set up their screens and RPOs though they are often working off outside zone.

The Sooners ran a lot of counter-trey in 2015 and mixed in some interesting schemes in their run game but they've been an outside zone team for a long time now and it's where they really shine. When you consistently have massive and athletic tackles like Orlando Brown combined with an insanely powerful plant and go runner like Samaje Perine you often aren't going to want to do anything more than aim at the perimeter and then cutback when teams over play it.

The inside zone teams

Kansas State
You could put the Wildcats just about anywhere on this list and it'd be defensible. The basis of their running game is using the QB to create advantages and running every scheme known to man. My guess is that with 6-5, 300 pound center Dalton Risner as the sole returning starter in 2016 and Jesse Ertz or Alex Delton the most likely starting QBs (zone-read guys) that K-State will feature a steady diet of inside zone next season.

West Virginia
The Mountaineers have run a fair amount of power in the last few years as Dana Holgorsen has continued to evolve his variety of the Air Raid down the "smashmouth spread" path. By hiring OL coach Joe Wickline and with what they look for in their players (massive guards) I think it's safe to say that inside zone is still their foundation and power is an effective counter punch.

Iowa State
Iowa State was very good at inside zone last year but lost almost every single OL and the entire coaching staff. At Toledo, Matt Campbell tended to run a lot of different schemes like pin & pull and power, but his Mount Union roots emphasize inside zone and that's the scheme that Mike Warren dominated in last year. I'm not totally sure what to expect here but I'd guess they stick with inside zone as their building block play.

The power teams

The Bears run a lot of inside zone and power, like other smashmouth spread teams, but I'd say power is probably their typical go to play. This is a big reason why they use blockers at TE rather than seam-stretchers, they need guys that can kick out a DE and blow up a LB in the hole more than they need guys that can stretch the seam. Heck they line up outside the seam anyways and use track stars to accomplish that aim.

The Longhorns are now a veer and shoot team, like Baylor, so power is a major part of the formula but they were best at power and counter last year anyways so it was always likely to be a big part of the formula in 2016.

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