Asked to describe the style of his offensive system in a 2016 interview, Eliah Drinkwitz answered, “It’s going to start with a physical downhill run game...It’s going to be a downhill, run-the-football” approach. This philosophy was borne out last year as App St. averaged 43 rushes per game against 26.5 pass attempts.
It makes sense, then, that as we begin this Film Room series introducing the major elements of newly installed Mizzou Coach Drinkwitz’s offense, we start with this central pillar of the Drinkwitz offense: the run game.
Before we get to the particular run schemes Drink employs, however, we need to address an important part of his run game strategy, structural elements that protect these schemes called run constraints.
Playing the Numbers
Of great importance to success in the run game is balancing the numbers. We’ve all heard coaches talk about “counting the box.” This phrase refers to comparing the number of defenders that can immediately defend the run with the number of defenders the scheme can control, either by blocking, reading, or otherwise influencing.
In a four-wide spread formation, calling a RB run play into a five-man box is a no-brainer. The offense has five blockers available, one for each defender. We’ll call a run box where blockers are equal to box defenders a neutral box.
Running into a box in which the defense has one more defender than the offense has blockers—we’ll call it a +1 box—is viable if the unblocked defender is neutralized in some way. The most common way to do this is to have the quarterback read the unblocked man, choosing to handoff or keep the ball depending on the defender’s movement.
If the backside end-man-on-the-line-of-scrimmage, or EMOL, chases the RB, the QB pulls the ball and runs.
If the EMOL stays at home or comes upfield, the QB hands off to the RB.
So running the RB into a +1 box is completely viable with a QB read.
The problem is when the defense sneaks another defender inside, getting to +2.
The problem of the +2 box
The problem of +2 can be seen in this example.
The Sam linebacker (in red) blitzes off the edge. The Sam becomes the backside EMOL, so the QB will neutralize him with a read.
But because the box is +2, there are not enough offensive players to block the Mike linebacker (in orange).
An offense, therefore, must have mechanisms in place to deal with the +2 run box. These mechanisms are called run constraints.
Run Constraint Examples
The most common run constraint is the Bubble Screen.
In our example, the QB would see the blitzer and sling the ball out to the Bubble, which is attacking the space vacated by the Sam.
Here are examples of Bubble Screen constraints from Drinkwitz’s 2019 Appalachian State offense.
Vs. North Carolina
And a snap from Coach Drink’s 2018 North Carolina State offense.
A second quick screen Drinkwitz used as a run constraint is what we’ll call the Now Screen. Whereas the Bubble Screen has the inside receiver widening into space, the Now has the outside receiver jab step downfield, then look for the ball just behind the line of scrimmage.
Drinkwitz liked to run the Bubble to the field where the slot can widen into space. He preferred the Now into the more confined boundary side.
Two examples from App St’s UNC game.
A third quick screen constraint used by Drinkwitz is the Shoot Screen. The principle is the same as the Bubble with the screen man getting width into a compromised area of the defense.
What makes this screen more difficult to defend is that the screen man can be hidden in the backfield at the snap, as he is in this example against the Tarheels.
This next example is from the Sun Belt Championship game versus Louisiana-Lafayette. While the screen man does not get the ball, notice that he succeeds in protecting the run by removing a defender from the box.
We’ve seen the way quick screens operate as run constraints. There can be a problem, however, with exclusively using screens as constraints. Defenses can neutralize quick screens with tight man-to-man coverage.
In this example, the defense aligns in a seven man box with Cover 0 (man-to-man with no deep safeties) behind.
On the left we see that if the outside receiver blocks the cornerback, the safety is free to make a quick tackle on the man he is responsible for covering. On the right the outside receiver’s crack block on the safety brings his man, the corner, right to the screen.
In this situation, a good alternative to a quick screen is to run the receivers on quick routes capable of defeating man coverage.
One option is to run Hitch routes. In this example against South Carolina, App St’s QB chooses to handoff while the receivers run constraint Hitches.
The possiblity of a constraint keeps the extra defender just outside the box. He makes the tackle, but only after an eight yard gain.
The next example also features constraint Hitches. Watch both inside LBs fly out toward the constraints on the snap, leaving a wide open middle of the field.
Another rather innovative quick route constraint is Slants.
In this example versus UNC, watch the way the outside Slant breaks into the open space vacated by the Sam linebacker as he creeps into the run box.
I’m excited to offer you an overview of the core of Coach Drinkwitz’s offense—the run game—but thought it necessary to first discuss the mechanisms Drink uses to constrain the defense from squeezing down too tight on the run.
In the next couple installments we’ll look at the two run schemes that make up the solid core of Coach Drinkwitz’s offense: Inside Zone and Outside Zone.