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Pin & Pull: Inside LSU’s Improved Blocking

Passing efficiency is fun, but this is still a physical running football team. 

For all of the changes that Ed Orgeron has implemented since taking over for Les Miles three games ago, the one that has most Tiger fans excited has been a new found offensive explosiveness.

Since Steve Ensminger took over as offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron’s place, LSU has scored at least 38 points in each game and set a new offensive record of some kind: total yardage in an SEC game against Mizzou, yards per play against Southern Miss and, of course, Leonard Fournette’s record 284 rushing yards last weekend against Ole Miss.

Under Ensminger the Tigers have definitely been a more active passing team with a focus on some different areas of Cameron’s playbook. But the biggest change that I’ve noticed has been a significant shift with LSU’s offensive line away from gap/power running plays to more zone plays. LSU’s always been an active zone team, but there’s definitely been a change in focus, including a style that you didn’t see much of before – the pull and pin blocking system.

Pin and pull, basically, combines gap principles into the typical inside or outside zone running play – one or two linemen pull outside of the tackle box in order to create additional gaps that a defense isn’t prepared for. You tend to see it more in one-back looks, where it can help create either a lead blocker to clear a path or a nice convoy to create a seal, a la the ol’ Vince Lombardi power sweep.

LSU’s had a lot of success running his play as of late, including on two of Fournette’s touchdowns against the Rebels.

Pull and pin involves the play-side offensive linemen making calls based on who is “covered” or “uncovered.” That is to say, who has a defensive lineman aligned over him or the closest play-side gap. The uncovered linemen pull, while the other play-side blocker block down on the nearest inside defender – “pin” them inside, while the pullers get out in front and set the edge.

Breakdown Sports has an outstanding article on it here, including this diagram of a typical pull and pin on a stretch play out of the shotgun.

The running back targets the outside hip of the farthest blocker as his target point, tries to get to the edge and cuts back inside if the defense closes it off.

LSU showed these principles off on Fournette’s 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Here, you see the Ole Miss front aligned in a very wide front, with defensive end Marquis Haynes way out beyond the tight end.

Ethan Pocic and Maea Teuhema each pull, while Josh Boutte blocks down on the nose tackle and Jeter moves down to the nearest defender, in this case a linebacker. Haynes shoots up the field quickly, forcing Teuhema to almost turn this into a typical power play, kicking him out wide for Fournette to follow right behind Pocic. The result…

Typically, the first puller is going to hit the first man in his path, while the second is usually headed to a designated target at the second level, usually the middle linebacker. In a two-back look, the fullback lead can operate in that role. Here, we see LSU use them in the I-formation, with Ole Miss trying to overload with Haynes and Breeland Speaks to the strong side.

Teuhema will pull solo, while Jeter blocks down on Speaks. He kicks out Haynes and the fullback leads Fournette through a very nice hole.

In other overload settings, without a fullback, the second puller may cut his pull short to hit his second level target, pictured here.

Pin/Pull provides an offensive line with some options to deal with particularly active edge players, such as Haynes (or, next week against Alabama’s Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson). It also provides more options for dealing with congested boxes, something that this video from a Texas blogger discusses:

LSU’s offense has been rocking and rolling the last few games, and while the passing game has been solid, the work Jeff Grimes has done with an offensive line that has battled some injuries has been remarkable, including this emphasis on different tactics.