Friday, August 27, 2010

The Ohio State Offensive Playbook Part III: The Zone Series

Zone blocking schemes and their corresponding play-action passes have become perhaps the primary staple of the Ohio State offense.  OSU utilizes the zone scheme in both 'pro' and 'spread' style formations.  The benefit for the offense, of course, is that zone plays are run largely the same for the players from both formations, while giving the defense two entirely different looks and taking advantage of the benefits each formation brings to running the zone scheme.  For brevity's sake, I am going to split part III into two parts (call them part 3a and 3b if you will), so that I can focus on the particular aspects of the zone read.  For starters, I am going to focus on the zone play from pro-style formations.

The Zone Scheme

Zone running actually encompass two different plays-the inside and outside zone.  Ohio State primarily runs the inside zone, but will employ both.
Inside Zone
Below is a diagram of the basic inside zone play, as well as a clip of Ohio State running inside zone.  (H/T:  Smart Football):

" width="640" height="385">
More, after the Jump:

To break this down further, Smart Football provides an excellent explanation of the zone scheme that I will not try to duplicate, but merely cite in full.
On zone plays, the linemen keep the same blocking schemes, regardless of how many tight-ends or wide receivers they use . . . On all zone runs, the linemen must ask, "Am I ‘covered’ (is there a guy directly in front of me, aside from a linebacker set back a few years)? Or am I ‘uncovered’ (there is no one directly in front of me)?"
If "covered," there is very little "zoning" at all: The lineman’s job is to block the guy in front of them. Fans, commentators, and even coaches often overcomplicate things. The "zone" aspect comes in with "uncovered" linemen. If "uncovered," the lineman must step "playside" — i.e. the side the run is going to — and help double-team the defensive linemen along with his "covered" cohort. Once the two of them control that down defensive lineman, one of the offensive linemen slides off to hit a linebacker. It’s not that complicated. Indeed, let’s say the five offensive linemen are covered by five defensive linemen. In that case, each guy (save for maybe the backside offensive tackle) will just block the guy in front of them — there is no "zoning" at all.
For the inside zone, the uncovered linemen are going to combo block more vertically.
On the inside zone the runner aims for the outside hip of the offensive guard. Now, his read can vary by team. Some teams have him read that three technique defensive tackle, while others have him read the middle or "Mike" linebacker. In both cases the idea is for him to find the "vertical" crease — either straight playside off the guard’s hip or backside on a cutback.
For those interested, here is a more in-depth discussion of offensive line rules in the zone game.  Zone rushing plays both simply assignments for the offensive linemen, and provide the opportunity for tailbacks with good vision to find the hole, taking pressure off the offensive line.
Lead Zone
Specific to Ohio State, it is important to note that the zone play can be run as a 'lead zone.'  This simply means that out of the I formation, the fullback will lead block for the tailback rather than block backside.  The offensive line's assignments stay the same.  What that means in practical terms is rather than set up a particular linebacker for an 'ISO' block, the O-Line is going to block like the fullback is not going to be there, and then the fullback simply picks up whatever defensive player shows. The fullback is going to aim for the same place as the tailback--the outside hip of the playside guard.  Generally he will block a playside linebacker.  Ohio State employs the lead zone as much, if not more, than the 'pure' inside zone--it is one of the most frequent OSU run plays.  Below are clips of Ohio State running lead zone.
" width="480" height="385">
" width="640" height="385">
Outside Zone
As noted, OSU employs the outside zone far less than an exclusively pro-style zone team.  Nonetheless, it is worth saying a quick word.  Here, again, is Smart Football:
It gets a little trickier regarding the difference between inside and outside zones, though this involves technique, not assignment. (And this is where the rabbit hole begins, as there are a zillion coaching points to doing this well, but that is better discussed in a coaching DVD rather than this overview.)
On outside zone plays, the offensive linemen take a bit more of a lateral first step and try to reach the defender across from them. He wants to get his body between the defender and the sideline. It’s important to note, however, that the very act of trying to reach the defender often gets him flying to the sideline, at which time the offensive lineman can then switch to driving the defender to the sideline. The runningback aims for a point outside the tight-end, though he can cut it upfield wherever a seam appears.
Here is an accompanying diagram of the scheme:
As one can see, the outside zone is attacking the outside hip of the tackle box.  The outside zone is an outside to cut-up play, inside zone is a play side to cutback play.
Naked Bootleg
From under center, the perfect accompanying play-action pass to the zone play is the naked bootleg.  As I previously noted, Ohio State emphasized this play during the jersey scrimmage, and I expect it to be a major part of the offense this season, as it utilizes the combination of OSU's inside run game, and the outside pass/run threat presented by Terrelle Pryor.
The top-left diagram demonstrates what Ohio State employed during the jersey scrimmage.  Ohio State would fake the inside zone from some variation of the I-formation, where the fullback would carry out his backside block and then release into the flat.  Ohio State employed a weak-side flood route combination off the inside zone bootleg.

The combination of the inside zone run play and naked bootleg attacking the backside flat will be a primary play-combination for OSU this season.

This series can also be seen at, where I will be posting my game breakdown and other thoughts this season.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Movin' Day!

I have the pleasure to announce this fall that I am moving my blog to 'Along the Olentangy' at Sports Blog Nation.  There I will be teeming with fellow insider 'DontHateOState' to provide even more in-depth x's and o's and analytical coverage.  Not only will I continue to provide game reviews, but we will also provide in-depth game previews, x's and o's analysis of the Buckeye opponents, and much more.  The new blog will provide the opportunity to provide everyone more coverage of the type provided here, but also a nice, clean format to make things even better.  Thank you for everyone that has followed by posts over here, and I hope you continue to follow us at   

The Ohio State 3-4

Check out my guest post re the Ohio State 'half eagle/half under' 3-4 over at Eleven Warriors.   Thanks to Jason and the Eleven Warriors' gang for giving me the opportunity to post--they have been great to work with on this and on my article in the 2010 Buckeye Battle Cry

Sunday, August 22, 2010

OSU Jersey Scrimmage: Talkin' X's and O's...

I had the pleasure of watching the Ohio State jersey scrimmage yesterday with Bill Greene of  Bill will have all kinds of good information regarding the offensive and defensive personnel and looks, but I wanted to extrapolate on five offensive schemes that stood out yesterday.  

1.  The Continued Expansion of the Rollout Play-Action Game

As I've previously touched on, OSU clearly wants to continue with the success they have had with the outside play action passing game, based off their patented inside run game.  The beauty, of course, is that it both constrains the defense and puts Terrelle Pryor on the edge where he is the biggest threat. 
Ohio State is looking to build on this with the bootleg.  Yesterday's scrimmage featured numerious naked bootlegs off the inside zone fake from under center.   
The top-left hand diagram is essentially what you would see.  The fullback comes back to block backside and then releases into the flat.  The nice feature of this play is that it looks precisely like the inside zone action.  The pattern off of this was generally a weak flood:

Though this bootleg has long been an offensive staple for many teams, it has been relatively underutilized by OSU and  will be another successful way to both constrain defenses and take advantage of Pryor's abilities. 

2.  The Outside Toss

Another new edition to the play book looks to be an outside toss.  OSU ran this play from one-back '11'
formations to either a tight wing or trips' side.  One time they ran this into an unbalanced trips formation.  OSU blocked this as an outside zone play.  

The goal was to establish a seam through the wingback and TE getting outside leverage and hit it upfield quick.  Again another example of OSU trying to do more to get outside the tackle box. 

3.  Sprint Draw Series

Ohio State continued to expand on their use of the sprint draw run and play-action pass.  The OSU QBs and Oline did a very good job selling pass.  For instance, if they were running the sprint draw play to the left the QB would drop back and at the last moment reverse around and hand-off, rather than fronting out left after receiving the snap.  In one instance Pryor pumped faked a quick pass and then handed off, as has become so prevalent in the NFL.  The play was best on display on a 20 yard pass from Pryor to Stoneburner.  OSU ran the sprint draw pass with 3-verticals and Pryor hit Stoneburner on a perfectly timed cut where Stoneburner split the two deep safeties.  It again demonstrated the effectiveness of this play action pass at getting big plays out of the passing game.

4.  Shallow Crossing Routes

OSU also continues to expand on its horizontal dropback passing game by featuring a large number of shallow crossing routes.  Specifically, OSU repeatedly ran what is known as a 'drive' route in West Coast nomenclature.  Here, courtesy of 'Smart Football' is a diagram of the key two man route:       

  Essentially, the outside receiver runs a shallow cross while the inside receiver (or tight end) on the same side runs a shallow-in.  The QB can have several progressions, but my assumption based on what I saw yesterday is that the QB is reading shallow cross to square-in.  As Pryor progresses it is clear that OSU is more comfortable attacking the middle of the field.

5.  Unbalanced

The coaching staff also continues to use unbalanced looks to challenge a defense's soundess and keys.  In particular, as previously mentioned, OSU likes using the unbalanced twins I-look.  From this, one of OSU's favorite plays continues to be the fake sprint-draw to the lead side, then hit the FB on a quick weakside flat route.    

The play's simplicity belies it's effectiveness.  A defensive secondary is generally going to roll to the unbalanced twins side, leaving the backside corner back responsible for the weakside.  But the backside corner must deal with the most immediate threat, namely a releasing tight end.  This leaves the full back flooding into the flat with only the linebacker to cover that zone.  But that linebacker is held by the play fake, and generally a linebacker is subconsciously going to think run when he sees unbalanced.  The play is very effective for picking up yards and takes advantage of Zach Boren's talents as a receiver.  

In sum, OSU continues to expand on where they were at the end of last season, featuring the inside run game and play action and roll-outs off of those fakes, and a quick, horizontal drop back pass game.  The coaching staff is clearly continuing to expand the offenses possibilities with a veteran unit. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Ohio State Offensive Playbook Part II: The Sprint Draw Series

The second play grouping I want to cover is the sprint draw (also known as lead draw) and sprint draw play pass.  This play has long been a staple of pro-style offenses, but has been relatively under-utilized by Tressel's offenses, given the amount of I formation OSU has run.  However, the sprint draw and its accompanying play-action pass were more prevalent this spring and I expect it will likewise become a bigger part of the OSU arsenal this fall.  The reason is two-fold:  a) an offensive line well built to run-block this play; and b) as discussed below, the options the sprint draw play pass gives you in the passing game, particularly delivering the ball down the deep middle.

Sprint Draw

The Sprint Draw is traditionally a man or area blocking scheme, though it can be run with a zone scheme.  Below is a basic diagram of the play.  (Courtesy of Smart Football).    

And here from 'Husker Playbook':

Teams vary in how much they have their offensive line set for pass block, depending on how devoted they are to showing pass..  Here are the general line rules for the play from 'Shakin' the Southland':    

FST- Lead/base blocks End, could have help inside from the Guard (a "smash" call). If he slants (pinches inside to the center), then the tackle down blocks him. If he stays outside, the tackle may turn him out.
FSG-If covered, slides and base blocks the DT. If uncovered, he lead blocks the DE with the FST. If the Nose is shaded to his A-gap (1-tech), he will combo with the Center.
Center-If covered, takes the Nose Guard or Shade DT base. If uncovered, smash/combo blocks with the BSG on his man.
BSG-If covered, base. If uncovered, combo block with the Center on the Shade or Nose.
BST-Stays put, cuts off the backside pursuit.
 In so doing, the tackles are going to pass set, and allow the defensive ends to come upfield, letting the defenders' aggressiveness take them out of the play.  The key point is that on the playside defensive tackle, the two linemen are going to double and combo block through to the backside linebacker.  Against a 4-3 under, that will be the Guard-Center on the playside NG, against a 4-3 over, it will be the Guard-Tackle against the '3' technique.

As to the backs,

  • Although this is not always the case, the play is best when the fullback is assigned to ISO on the first inside LBer from the playside Guard over.  He is blocking this play just like a traditional ISO, taking the LBer head-on
  • The TB is going to take two shuffle steps, taking the ball as deep as possible.  He is then going to read the playside double-team through to the FB.  The TB's goal is to make the ISO'd LBer wrong no matter what by reading the FB's block and cutting off his backside.
  • The QB is going to open up (as opposed to Dave or ISO where he reverse pivots) showing pass.  He is then going to deliver the ball deep to the TB and set up to play-pass.
  The benefits of the play are multi-fold:

  • The sprint draw takes advantage of a strong, athletic offensive line that can control the line of scrimmage (See Cowboys, Dallas).
  • The play allows a tailback to get the ball deep to use his vision and cut based off the line's blocks.
  • From the I-formation, the play can be run to equal benefit to the strong or weak side.
  • Sprint Draw, as discussed below, is a perfect complement to the sprint-draw pass, which allows the QB to get a deep drop while providing the offensive line the benefit of the play fake, so that they do not have to hold their blocks on a 7-step drop. 
As noted, Ohio State ran this play more this spring than they did all last fall, previewing a play that will likely become a bigger part of the repertoire this year.

Sprint Draw Pass

Part of the reason for the sprint draw's increasing prevalence is the passing play it sets up.  The sprint draw pass was increasingly utilized by the Buckeyes last year and became more prevalent in spring.  This play-pass has also long been a pro-formation staple, perhaps most famously utilized in the college game by Steve Spurrier's 'fun 'n' gun' offense.    

The beauty of the play is that it looks identical to the sprint draw run and allows the QB to get a deep drop.  Yet it simultaneously holds the defensive front with the run fake, making the offensive line job's easier than with a 7-step drop back pass.  The offensive line blocks identically to the sprint draw play.  The backs also run sprint draw, with the QB again opening up, prominently extending the ball out for the ball fake, then pulling the ball away from the tailback and setting up to pass. 

Here, courtesy of JWinslow of's 'Ask the Insider's' is video from OSU's fall practice.  At the 1:48 mark one get's a good line-level view of OSU's line and backs running the sprint draw action (though it is a bit different since they are running this from an 'unbalanced set').  Note how the backside pass-sets while the frontside comes out aggressively run-blocking.  Pryor opens up and delivers the play-fake before throwing into the flat.

Spurrier utilized this play to run a WR read route where the playside receiver would run a curl vs. cover-3 and a post-corner route vs. cover-2.  Ohio State, however, has embraced this play for different reasons.  First and foremost, OSU is utilizing the sprint draw pass to run the 'three verticals' route.  Here is Smart Football with the play's basic description and design:

In this play, here diagrammed from a base Pro-Set, the outside receivers will run post-corner routes, and the inside receiver, Y, will run a "middle-read" route, or "adjustable-8". The running backs will control the undercoverage with a shoot and a swing route. The outside receivers and the middle receiver have simple keys to help them adjust their routes based on the coverage and the leverage the defenders are using against them.

 The play is particularly effective against cover 2, because it is impossible for the two deep safeties to account for the three deep receivers, giving the offense a 3 on 2 advantage and making this play a coverage beater

This key actor in this play is the middle receiver.  Here again from Smart Football:

The middle-read receiver will take the fastest vertical release he can. He does NOT want to get slowed by the second level players. He will get a pre-snap and a post-snap look at the middle of the field. If the middle of the field is open (MOFO - cover 2, 0) he will go for it. If it is closed (MOFC - 1, 3, 4) he will run a square-in route.

He will take the fastest release and push to a depth of 10-12. If he reads MOFO he will stick his outside foot and head for the nearest upright. He wants to catch the ball at 18-22 yards, and is expecting to get hit after he catches it.

If he reads MOFC he will plant hard at 10-12 and will stick his outside foot and make a 90 degree cut. If he reads zone he will try to make eye contact with the QB and find the window between the linebackers to catch the football. If he reads man he will burst and sprint away from his defender.

With this in mind, one can see why the Buckeyes are now utilizing this play--it takes advantage of  Jake Stoneburner's receiving talents.  Similar to what the Indianapolis Colts like to do, Ohio State can hold the linebackers and safeties with the sprint draw fake and then hit Stoneburner on the skinny post.  OSU ran this play repeatedly during the Spring Game with Pryor throwing to Stoneburner.  In particular, this play caught my attention then:
Building on this, the most promising thing I saw in the Spring Game was a Pryor to Stoneburner connection on the 3-verticals route.  The defense was playing a cover-2 man under.  As described in the above article, Stoneburner read the cover 2 and broke to the post.  Pryor read this perfectly, stepped up into the pocket, and delivered a strike before Stoneburner broke on his cut.  It was very well executed and bodes well for OSU this year.
 The Sprint Draw 3-verticals pass play also gives OSU the ability to give the defense an unbalanced look and run the play virtually unchanged, as can be seen above in the fall practice clip.  A defense seeing an unbalanced look with naturally think run play, and the run fake will only further underscore that belief.  For the offense, the WR responsibilities are simply altered, with the inside receiver to the unbalanced twins side becoming the middle WR.  Below you can see this play against PSU and how PSU's safeties were held in place by the run fake.


Tressel and company have done a nice job recently mixing unbalanced looks with more 'open' spread and pro-style concepts, confusing defenses who are thinking run first.  This trend will likely continue this fall. 


Monday, August 9, 2010

2010 Ohio State Offense: Dave Update

Here is a great additional resource for the Dave play:  a copy of the 2002 OSU playbook.  Though outdated in some respects, the Dave diagram and rules hold as true today.  The playbook gives the rules for each position and diagrams the play against nearly every possible defensive combination.  Well-worth the read.

One will note, however, that this playbook does not contain the Dave rollout keep or play-pass, demonstrating how these were a nice adaptation by the coaching staff last fall.   

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The 2010 Ohio State Playbook Part I: The 'Dave Series'

Based on my observations from last year and this spring what follows below is a discussion of the main plays that will likely constitute the 2010 Ohio State offense.  This list is not comprehensive but is instead what I would consider some of the Ohio State offense's "base plays." This post is a follow-up to my preview article in Buckeye Battle Cry.  There, I discuss the schematic framework the 2010 Buckeyes will likely bring to the table.  Here, I look at some of the underlying plays that Ohio State will run.  I will begin with the run plays and corresponding pass plays, and then preview some of Ohio State's primary pass patterns.  Part I will begin by looking at the 'Dave Series.'


The Dave Series

Power (Dave) Play 

Any discussion of the Ohio State run game under Tressel must start with the ubiquitous 'Dave' play (ofter referred to as the power-play in general nomenclature).  Tressel is not alone in favoring this play--it is generally considered the most popular run play in modern football.  Tressel discussed the play in detail at a coaching clinic, but the basics (courtesy of Chris Brown) are as follows:

  • The lineman to the side the run is going (playside) essentially “down” block, meaning they take the man to the inside of them. For the guards and center, that includes anyone “heads up” or covering them, but for the playside tackle, he does not want to block the defensive end or other “end man on the line of scrimmage.” These lineman use their leverage to get good angles to crush the defensive lineman, and the fact that they don’t have to block a couple of defenders on the playside frees them to get good double teams and block the backside linebackers. To use Vince Lombardi’s phrase, the idea is to get so much force going that direction that they completely seal off the backside.
  • They can  do this because they get some help to the playside. First, the fullback (or, more often nowadays, some kind of H-back or other player) is responsible for blocking the otherwise unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage (“EMLOS”). He uses a “kick out” technique, simply meaning he blocks him from the inside to out, in order to create Lombardi’s famous “seal” going the other way.
  • The final piece of the puzzle is the backside guard (sometimes nowadays a tackle). He pulls and “leads,” meaning he retreats, looks first for the fullback’s block to cut off of, and then heads into the crease looking to block the first defender that shows up — typically the playside linebacker. He can block him whatever direction is best; it’s the runningback’s job to find the open lane.
  • The runner takes a lateral or slight delay step, takes the handoff from the quarterback, and follow’s the pulling guard’s block. As stated above, he wants to cut off that man’s block and get vertical quickly. It is a power play so he has to be willing to hit the hole fast; it’s not as much of a “read the defense” run as are zone runs, though it is a good complement to it.
 Here is a basic draw-up of the play

 OSU will run Dave from some variation of the I formation or from their "tight bunch" set where they have 3 TE/FBs bunch tight to the formation's strength (see below):

OSU can run this play either to the strong or weakside--though practically its more difficult to run weakside because they angles are so tight.  The play also lends itself to better angles against a 4-3 over rather than a 4-3 under, because of the difficult back block the center has against the backside 3 tackle  (see the top left diagram above).

The downside of this play (which I have previously discussed) is that all the action is front-side so that OSU can find itself in a situation where back-side penetration breaks down the play.  But OSU has taken steps to make Dave a more dangerous play, as discussed below.

Dave Rollout Designed Run

As mentioned in my Buckeye Battle Cry article,  Ohio State in 2009 developed a nice package to take advantage of the initial Dave action.   Interestingly, Ohio State did not develop a series that attacked the backside pressure, but instead choose to further attack the front-side of the play action and put the force players in a bind.  The first play they used to do this is a called fake Dave QB roll-out keep.  This is actually an old play that T-formation teams used to run that OSU has successfully revitalized.  OSU ate up chunks of yards calling this play against Oregon on the final drive.

This play looks exactly the same as Dave:

  • The offensive line to the front side is going to run the exact same play.  Everyone through to the Center is going to down block to the inside gap.  
  • The FB is going to again attack the EMOLS.  As you can see watching the above play, however, the FB is going to try to 'influence' the OLB or DE to 'wrong arm' him like the defender is taught to do against the Dave play.  The FB will then hook up and box him in if successful.  
  • The backside guard is going to again pull, but this time rather than lead up inside the FB's kick-out block, he is going to pull around the FB and lead up on the outside 'force' player.  
  • The QB is going to fake Dave and then get depth and run a sweep, following the backside Guard's block.
One can instantly see the bind this puts on the outside defensive players.  As noted, the OLB or DE is taught to come in hard when they see the TE down-blocking to clog the C-gap.  But this play takes advantage of this aggressiveness by using the natural outside D gap that the defender is responsible for.  Oregon's players came down hard on the Dave action, leaving a wide outside gap.  It also puts the force player (the safety or corner) in a bind because they must think pass with the QB rolling out.  Of course, it helps to have a QB that runs a 4.3 and that naturally wants to find the edge against the defense.

Dave Rollout Pass

The final play that encompasses this series is the rollout pass off of the Dave play fake.  This play looks identical to the Dave rollout-QB keep except that the pulling guard is not going to go downfield.  Instead he is going to settle down outside the down blocks to create the pocket for the QB.  And the QB is going to get more depth than he would when running the designed run so that he will have room to set his feet and step into the throw.

OSU likes running this fake into a 'twins' set, meaning two wide receivers to the same side.  The base pattern they run off of this is a smash route.

This is one of the more popular route combination in college football, particularly against cover-2.  As one can see, it puts the cover-2 squat corner back in the disadvantageous position of having to cover a hi and low pattern, giving the offense a 2 on 1 advantage.   

Ohio State also likes taking advantage of the 'switch' concept to the two receiver side.  Originally a run 'n' shoot concept, the switch, as Chris Brown describes:

Is, at core, a two man concept. Two receivers release and "switch": The outside guys angle inside for 5-6 yards before pushing vertical, while the inside guy runs a "wheel route" under the outside guy, rubs right off of his hip, and then turns up the sideline. That's when they play gets interesting. 
 Finally, OSU will run essentially a variant of the smash where the inside receiver (normally Sanzenbacher) will run an out route and the inside receiver (Posey) will run a post-corner route.  This combination led to the majority of OSU's big plays out of the pass game last year.

As noted, the play puts the front side defensive backs in a bind.  Not only is it an effective pass combination against cover-2 or man, but the defensive backs must also contend with the run threat from Pryor, exacerbated by the called run play.

Tressel and company have therefore figured out a way to take their favorite run play--Dave--and make it far more effective by adding the run-pass edge threat that Terrelle Pryor presents.  Expect these plays to again be a large part of the 2010 offense.