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.


  1. Great Post! I'm noticed these varitions too! It should be fun to see how they tweak this for the Bowl Games! What Oregon games did you see this in specifically? Here's a feed on youtube you need to subscribe too. He puts up the highlights of every game!

    Thanks for your blog!

  2. I don't remember the specific game, it was in OCT is about all I can tell you.

  3. Good article. Oregon really liked this play in the Red Zone, but I don't know if they run it as much this year as last, with the new QB who is not as physical a runner as Masoli was. Do they still use it as much?

  4. I am not sure how much they use it, I have not spent a lot of time studying their game type this year, this play just stood out to me when I saw it one day. I could see this play being more fitting for Masoli. However, it is good for the current QB who has more acceleration than Masoli did.

  5. Oregon's Outside Zone Read loves to push flowing D linemen past where they're already headed. Check out this video explaining Oregon's Spread:

    Chip Kelly is the master at throwing in wrinkles to his already-effective spread offense, FishDuck is a great resource to pick apart his brain. Check it out:

  6. I haven't noticed but it is better that they try to be more creative. It brings a lot of possibilities to the game and makes things more interesting. it is something that price per head services community is looking forward.