Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spread Run Variations (Mississippi State/Oregon)

If you have been keeping up with College Football at all over the last few years, you probably noticed that offenses keep getting more creative in their effort to keep defenses off balance. Dan Mullen and Chip Kelly are two coaches who have been some of the most active innovators of the spread running game. In this post I will explore a couple of run variations that these two coaches have used this year.


After looking at this post from, I observed Dan Mullen using some creativity in the way he ran the counter. He used many variations of the play but one in particular stood out to me.

Working from a base 11 personnel formation:

The base way to block the counter to the TE side would be to:
  1. Release the TE on the SS
  2. Have the PST and PSG Team to the BSLB
  3. Pull the BSG to kick the DE out and the BST to seal up on the PSLB
  4. The QB would hold the BSDE with the mesh
  5. WR's Block most dangerous threats
This is nothing revolutionary. The counter has been a staple in football for years. Dan Mullen ran his variation using three simple changes.
  1. The person responsible for sealing on the PSLB
  2. Backfield action
  3. Ball Carrier
In his variation the BST stayed to block to the BSDE. When the QB caught the snap he set up and showed pass, and the running back worked behind the pulling guard to seal up on the PSLB.

This draw/counter play puts pressure on the defense. First, if the backers (and safeties) are getting their run/pass reads from the backfield (this is common even in college) , they will be less aggressive on the run. Second, there is a high chance the backers will be caught off guard by who is going to be blocking them. Third, even if backers were alert to the one pulling linemen, it is not a reliable key. Mississippi State had been pulling one guard on Play Action passes throughout the game.

Another thing that worked in this play's favor was the situation. It was 3rd and 2, its a short enough down that the offense had just about their whole playbook to work with. Given the play call range, the Kentucky Defense had to much guesswork. In situations like these, the smartest thing for the defense to do is avoid bringing pressure and play a base call geared towards the run and short passes. For example a cover 1 variation. This was good for the Mississippi Offense because linebackers running through the gaps disrupts these plays.

This video is from The play occurs at about 5:10. The play is run a few other time throughout the game.


Chris Brown at Smartfootball wrote this article about Oregon's Zone Read of the defensive tackle. Oregon ran a variation of this earlier this year and combined it with stretch (outside zone principals. Working from 20 personnel, they aligned in this formation.

In this play the center, Right Guard, and Right Tackle full zone (outside zone). The runningback meshes with the QB on an outside sweep path. Again, this is nothing revolutionary. The creativity came on the backside. The Left Guard and Tackle released inside and blocked the BSLB and Safety. Finally the H works back across the formation and kicks out the BSDE. The unblocked person was the defensive tackle in a 3-technique. This was the QB's read.

Defenses have responded to defending midline plays by squeezing the d-tackle down the line to account for the running back and letting a linebacker work around for the quarterback.

The problem with that plan against this play is that it will not work effectively.

First, there is no way the d-tackle can play the running back (unless the back gets the ball and tries to cutback, not likely). Second, the backer will be getting a fast flow read, and be working to defend the running back themselves. So the play is essentially a ploy to get the D-tackle to do what he has been taught, and then run the QB ball right behind him where a huge hole will be.

The squeezing of the d-tackle opens up the play. Here is another view of the play to demonstrate the positioning of the players when the QB pulls the ball.

This play put pressure on the D, because it uses the techniques they have been taught against them. The reads that each of the defenders get will put them out of position versus the place the offense will actually attack.


These plays are examples that offensive coaches are constantly trying to stay a step ahead of the defense. Dan Mullen and Chip Kelly have the reputations they have, because of innovation like this. It will be a ongoing challenge for defensive coaches to constantly adapt and adjust to the offense as fast as the they (offense) has adjusted to the defense. I wonder when we will see these variations down at the high school level. They may already be, who knows. These have been the first times I have seen these particular play variations.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Defending Pull Schemes

There are many teams that rely upon pull schemes to move the ball. These schemes create problems for defenses that try to play base gap control defense and read and react. Plays like the dart are troublesome for these schemes. Lets take a look at the couple of typical pull schemes that teams employ.

This is the Dart and it has become a spread staple.

This is a simple fold play.

If you look closely a problem is created. The gap the pulling linemen is going throw gets split into two. This is similar to the problem that the ISO creates. This extra gap gives flexibility to the running back. Usually teams try to leverage their backers to deal with this. However this is not a viable option because the backers create a huge cutback lane, if they do this. Consider these two plays with the backers leveraging the puller.

Lets look at the the problem that is created. First off, consider the # of gaps that are needed to defend the running game.

There are six gaps and in this example we have 6 defenders to cover each of these gaps. So, whats the problem? The problem is that the offense moves where the gaps are on pull type plays.

What makes it a problem for the defense is that the defense does not rearrange the way that the 6 gaps are defended. So essentially, a gap is left open for the ball carrier to run through. If there is 6 gaps and 6 defenders then how is there an open gap?

The pulling scheme puts two players in one gap. The defense needs to avoid this. 2 defenders in one gap is a big problem. A simple and solid counter for these plays is needed. A good way to stop these plays is the fire the backers through their gaps. This allows them to penetrate the backfield before the pullers or double team get to them. However, firing your linebackers constantly is usually not the best idea (unless the team can't stop it).

Another way to defend this is have one of the linemen defeat the linemen at the point of attack. However, this is not the most reliable method year in and year out.

This was a long explanation of some simple plays, but I wanted to establish the problem the offense creates for the defense. The most effective way for countering an offensive concept is to look at the weakness of a particular scheme.

I was beating my head against the wall when I first started dealing with these plays, I tried to rearrange my fronts, stunt backers, and twist linemen. There would be some success, but I would leave myself open to other plays. It was a guessing game, but sooner or later I would get the defense out of position and give up a big play. I needed an effective counter that would remain sound against other plays.

What I realized was that both these plays relied on the guard base blocking the 3-technique one on one. I started slanting the 3-technique from B to A-Gap. This was a problem for guards to pick up because they did not expect a three technique to do this. If I had a tackle that had a problem with this technique, then I would cheat him back a step. This is not a hard technique to execute on defense, an it became my best defense for these types of plays. In one game the 3-tech had 6 tackles for a loss on this stunt.

The best part of it was, I was sound against everything else. The only change in the defensive scheme was that the backers had the B gaps.

If run effectively, the offense will have to get away from the single pull plays rely on counter OT or zone runs to get the ball going. I would rather face those plays. It allows the DE to spill the ball to the Outside guys.

This might seem like an overly simple adjustment. But I have found it to be one of the most effective ways to defend pull schemes. Teams have tried to counter it, but it more or less takes them out of pull schemes. Whenever you run a front with a 3 and a 1, the three technique draws a one on one block. This block is the weakness that the defense can take advantage of.

Even if you pull towards the 3 there is a one on one created. Consider this example.

Still the 3-tech penetrating the A gap creates a problem for this play.

This might have been too long an explanation for such a simple adjustment, but I found it helpful to understand it this way.