As I mentioned in Film Room’s previous installment, Tiger coach Eli Drinkwitz has, on several occasions, professed his commitment to having a “a dominant downhill running game,” centered on the principles of the Zone family of run plays. Last time, we studied the way Coach Drink builds a sophisticated constellation of Inside Zone plays from an array of simple building blocks. Today we look at his Outside Zone scheme, which is similarly assembled in the building-block mode.
The basic principle on which Zone plays are based is that each blocker is responsible for his playside gap. Outside Zone is just like Inside Zone in this respect. Indeed, offensive coaches would like for the two plays to appear the same to the defense as much as possible. The difference between the two is the angle taken by the blockers and the running back. As the name suggests, Outside Zone requires a wider angle than its Inside counterpart.
There are practically as many ways of teaching these angles as there are coaches that teach it. I won’t attempt to divine Coach Drink’s principles. But suffice it to say that if on Inside Zone the blockers take a 45 degree first step to the playside, they might take a 90 degree step on Outside Zone. If the RB aiming point is the inside leg of the guard on Inside Zone, the target may be widened to the tackle’s inside leg on Outside. Outside Zone is designed to stretch the defensive front a bit more, and usually it will hit a bit wider than Inside.
Let’s look at a visual comparison.
Also notice that on the Outside Zone the backside tackle uses a cut block technique. Because the aiming point is wider, the play is less likely to cut back all the way to the backside, so preventing backside pursuit is more important than covering up the backside defenders.
Here are two other examples of Drinkwitz’s Outside Zone play. In both examples the offense aligns in unbalanced formations with four skill players to the formation’s strongside and an uncovered tackle on the backside.
Now let’s look at the building block elements Coach Drink uses to construct his Outside Zone package, the same way we did for Inside Zone.
These building blocks fall into the same basic categories as those Drink used for Inside Zone: motions, H back assignments, and minor tweaks to the blocking scheme.
As on the Inside version, Coach Drink uses two basic motions into the backfield to dress up the Outside Zone—Jet and Orbit.
Whereas Jet motion was less commonly paired with Inside Zone, Jet is Drink’s favorite companion for Outside Zone.
We can get a good sense of the blockers’ wider angles from the tight view of this last example.
On the other hand, whereas Drinkwitz frequently employed Orbit motion with Inside Zone, I found only one (rather unsuccessful) example where Orbit motion was used with an Outside Zone.
H back assignments
Like Inside Zone, Outside Zone is versatile in that it can be called out of essentially any formation. While Coach Drink runs the play without tight ends or H backs, as we saw in our second example above, he often employs an H back aligned on an edge of the line or, more often, as an offset fullback. In these cases the H back is generally assigned one of four techniques.
The H back aligns on the backside of the line and zone steps along with the rest of the blockers. His job in the example below is to secure the backside C gap.
The Wham block is the same technique we saw paired with Inside Zone. The H back crosses the formation in a split flow action, and kicks out the backside edge player.
H Lead Playside
In this version of Outside Zone, the H back leads on the playside linebacker or a safety that drops into the run box.
H Lead Backside
From the same formations Drinkwitz can also have his H bend back to lead on the backside linebacker. In this variation the backside tackle does not have to climb to the H’s linebacker, and stays on the backside end.
The tight shot of this play give a clear view of the H back zeroing in on the backside LB as the linebacker moves with the play’s flow.
Sustained Double Team
I’m not entirely sure this is a scheme adjustment or a happy accident. In this example Appalachian State is facing South Carolina and the Gamecock’s beastly defensive lineman, Javon Kinlaw. On 2nd and 1 Drinkwitz calls Outside Zone to the left.
This diagram shows the way it would be blocked according to normal zone rules.
Here is the clip of the play.
Notice that the center and backside guard double team Kinlaw, who is playing nose tackle, but don’t combo up to the Mike linebacker. They stay on the double team and drive Kinlaw all the way out of bounds.
The App State linemen plow Kinlaw to the sideline and toss him out of bounds.
The Mike makes the tackle, but not before the first down.
I don’t know, but I tend to think—and I’ll admit, want to believe—that this was by design. It makes sense: with one yard to go why not secure the most dangerous threat to avoid a loss and practially guarantee a first down?
This is an especially interesting play. It is essentially a quick trap with an influence pull by the backside guard. Rather than the trap being performed by the guard, as is standard, the H back is the trapper.
The traditional influence quick trap to the fullback might look like this.
Coach Drinkwitz’s H Trap play looks like this.
I’m including H Trap in this analysis of Outside Zone because the backfield action and the assignments of the playside linemen are the same as on OZ.
This modified Trap play was on full display when Coach Drink’s North Carolina State offense ran it four times against Florida State. Here are three of those plays.
Notice in the first example the way the pull of the left guard influences the defensive tackle to step upfield where he is kicked out by the H.
On the final two examples the DT’s upfield charge is not nearly so aggressive, but the H back digs him out on both snaps.
I’m including Drinkwitz’s run/pass option (RPO) game here because his RPOs come off his Outside Zone game.
I’ve written about the RPO game earlier, but here is a short overview.
RPOs are called run plays that leave one run defender unblocked. The quarterback reads the reaction of that defender to decide whether to hand the ball off to the RB, or throw a pass to the area the player vacated.
In this diagram we have an RPO that combines an Outside Zone play to the left with a Slant on the right. The read man is the Will linebacker.
If the Will drops under the Slant, he has eliminated himself as a run defender. The quarterback hands the ball off.
If the Will steps forward to play the Outside Zone, he has vacated the slant window and the quarterback should have an easy completion to the recevier.
Drinkwitz seems to use Slants exclusively on his RPOs, but he does so out of different formations and route combinations. Derek Dooley called the play with much less frequency and out of one formation.
Here are several examples of App State running RPOs.
The backside linebacker sees an open window and attacks it, opening space for the quarterback to pitch to the single receiver on a Slant.
This, by the way, is the version Dooley ran.
On this second example, watch the left inside linebacker shuffle with the flow of the Outside Zone, removing himself from the slant window. The H back’s Shoot route occupies the corner and the Slant beats the safety for a big gain.
This play is almost identical to the one above, except the receivers are both running Slants. The quarterback pulls the ball and flips to the slot receiver.
While this pass falls incomplete, the scheme is an interesting one. The slot receiver clears out the safety with a Seam route and the outside receiver runs a Slant underneath it. Watch him find the hole inside the outside LB who is buzzing to the flat.
The window opens when the right inside linebacker steps forward to play the run.
Inside and Outside Zone are not Coach Drinkwitz’s only run plays of course. As I mentioned in the last installment, however, they made up almost 90% of runs called in the games I’ve looked at.
While these plays are commonplace in today’s college game, Coach Drink uses various elements to modify and dress up these simple schemes. The benefits are that opposing defenses must prepare for the various looks Drink’s offense will present, while the Mizzou offense hones their technique, practicing zone blocking over and over.
Next time in Film Room we will begin a look at Coach Drinkwitz’s passing attack.