Matt Canada is going to bring some interesting twists to LSU’s zone running game this year. LSU has been running zone (inside and outside) for years and, in fact, off the top of my head, I’d say they ran more zone than gap schemes in 2015 (in 2016, it seemed to shift back to more gap, but this is all from my fading memory).
Here’s former LSU offensive line coach, Greg Studrawa, giving a clinic on zone:
*you don’t have to watch that btw*
Anyways, the point is that Canada isn’t bringing this new scheme that we’ve never seen before. What he is bringing are new ways to control backside of the play.
Zone blocking means, generally, we are going to send all of the offensive line to the same side and the running back is going to “find” a hole somewhere withing the abyss (more on this later). If all 5 guys, and maybe the tight ends, are going to the same side, we have a problem with the backside.
Take a look at this clip from the St. Louis Rams against the Packers.
We can see that no one blocks Julius Peppers (#56) who is on the line outside the right tackle before the snap.
Ok, so, how we do control these backside players? In the Rams clip, they are trying to do that by running a QB bootleg. Some defensive player on the backside of the play has to respect that the QB can keep the ball. When you hear the term “zone read” and the QB reads the backside end, that’s a way to control the backside end.
LSU under Miles/Cameron (was his full name Cameron Cameron and why am I just putting this together right now?) was very basic in how they did this. Mostly, zone reads, bootlegs, the occasional interior defensive lineman read and that stupid QB pitch thing where the QB would “block/bluff” on the backside player. Basic stuff although still sound fundamentally. O/Ensminger added some wrinkles but LSU is going to join everyone in 2014 with some of the stuff Canada is bringing.
The first thing, and Billy touched on this here, is with the jet motion. The idea is that the motion runs pretty damn close to whoever we’re not blocking on the backside and it’s going to freeze them. Looking at it from the an offensive perspective, we’re not really afraid he’s going to knife into the backfield and make a play on the jet because he’s an ogre d-lineman and we’re cool guy speed receivers. This is the main way Canada controls the backside and you see this on almost every zone run. The amount of times he sends the jet action is pretty unique
Within this context, Canada does some other things to confuse the backside. These are more prevalent through all levels of football but, hey, if it works...
No. 83, the backside tight end is going to ARC block the D-gap through to the second level. You can see in the clip above, the C-gap is still open but if the ball is given on the jet, or should this be a zone read, the ball carrier would have a lead blocker. Think what we saw against Alabama and Louisville this past year as they tried to get Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts (oh did I mention Jalen Hurts — sorry sorry sorry).
I mean, I guess we could just block him.
The slice action is the progression off the split action. We wanna run by the backside defensive player and run into the flats as a pass route.
Block the backside end and read the second level defender to run or pass it.
~Running Back Reads~
One of the aspects of football strategy that is overlooked during football broadcasts are the reads that the running back makes when he gets the ball. We talk about QB reads and wide receiver reads but rarely the running back reads. I’ll give you guys a basic primer on what’s going through the ball carriers mind during these zone runs using the same clips from above.
Since we’re all pushing the defense in the same direction, there is no natural lane that is created from, say, a power gap scheme. The running back is going to have to key certain defensive linemen and read how they get blocked to decide which hole to hit.
For inside zone, you would generally start by reading an inside defensive lineman and for outside zone, you’re going to look at a defensive end or stand-up outside linebacker.
Here’s that outside zone run from the Rams. I’ve circled the reads for the running back.
As the running back gets the ball on his path to the outside he’s looking to see if his first read gets blocked inside or outside. If he comes inside, the running back will bounce it outside. If he gets pushed outside, the running back will then look at his No. 2 read and go through the same thought process. If that player gets pushed out, I go in. If he goes inside, I stay out.
Here’s the full play again:
Inside zone is inverted. This is inside zone split from the Clemson- Pitt game.
Inside zone isn’t as linear as outside zone. The back’s second read is going to be based on his first read. If No. 1 goes to the right, the back goes left and reads No. 2A. If No. 1 goes to the left, the back goes right and reads No. 2B.
And, again, the full play:
You can see the difference between inside zone and outside zone by the angle of the back (and the footwork of the offensive line, but that’s a whole other story). They’re simple reads but they happen at full speed in a tight area so they’re not quite that easy.
~Additional Thoughts on the Shovel Pass~
Billy detailed the shovel pass in depth over here but I wanted to touch on it a little more. I had been racking my brain trying to figure out the usefulness of the shovel option pass for a few months now and then it just clicked when I finally got my hands on some Pitt coaches film from 2016. I kept asking myself, “why do I need this in my (theoretical) offense?”. If I can’t figure that out then I can’t have it. What I realized is that the play is essentially an inverted triple option play.
The shovel player is the old dive back from the triple option. There’s an old saying that if you can’t stop the dive, you can’t stop the option. You have to stop the dive because it hits the fastest (it’s the first option) and it’s already hitting north-south.
The shovel part of the play is the old dive/fullback player. Defenses will tend to forget about the shovel especially when it’s paired with inverted veer like in the example above against Clemson. The inverted veer (or power read), in my opinion, is the best running play in football. It’s a power play where you don’t have to deal with the hardest part of running power: trapping the defensive end. That’s what kills power. I detailed that a lot this past season as LSU had a lot of success shutting down a few teams’ power attacks.
The quarterback is going to read whether someone runs with the outside runner to decide whether to give the ball on the sweep/jet or pitch it inside.
Clemson sees this as inverted veer, meaning they have to have an answer for 2 options: the QB and the outside runner. In this case, they have it played pretty well.
The end plays the quarterback and the linebacker plays the outside. They are set against inverted veer. The problem is that no one is playing the shovel/dive option. No. 10 Ben Boulware gets caught in the muck a little bit and can’t scrape over the top and it’s a big gain.
You don’t realize that the dive/shovel player is an option until it’s too late. With a regular triple option play, it unfolds almost in a linear way, while this inverted play bends the space-time continuum.