As we mentioned in our last Film Room installment, a central part of coach Eli Drinkwitz’s offense is what he called in his Tuesday introductory press conference, “a dominant downhill running game.”
Coach Drink’s run game leans heavily on blocking schemes from the Zone family, specifically Inside Zone and Outside Zone. How committed to Zone schemes is Drinkwitz? These two schemes made up almost 90% of all run plays called in the games I analyzed. (These were 2019 contests against Charlotte, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Troy, and Louisiana again in the Sun Belt Championship, as well as 2018 games versus Florida State and North Carolina when Drinkwitz was offensive coordinator at North Carolina State).
Zone schemes are, of course, practically ubiquitous in contemporary football. One reason for this is the scheme’s simplicity. What sets Coach Drink’s approach apart is his use of shifts, motion, misdirection, and variations in blocking assignments to complicate the scheme. Each of these elements is like a building block, and Drinkwitz assembles the various pieces together to design each play.
This puzzle-like method of play construction makes what is at root a very simple scheme look extremely complex. It also makes my presentation of the Inside Zone run game difficult. The approach here will be to present the various building blocks, then show how Coach Drinkwitz cobbles them together to produce sophisticated individual plays.
But first, let’s acquaint (and, for long time readers, reacquaint) ourselves with the Inside Zone scheme.
There are basically two families of run plays. In Gap schemes the playside blockers block down to their backside gaps and blockers from the backside pull around to the playside. In Zone schemes the blockers all step to their playside gaps.
Here is an example of an Inside Zone play with a constraint Hitch to the left and a Bubble Screen to the right.
And here are a few examples of standard Inside Zone plays from Drinkwitz’s offense. Notice how the blockers move to the playside in unison.
This example features a shifting tight end and H back.
But Coach Drinkwitz rarely ran Inside Zone without incorporating some of the complicating building blocks I mentioned. Here is a short primer on the elements Drink uses to dress up his Inside Zone plays.
There are two main motions Drinkwitz uses with Inside Zone.
The Jet motion can add an element of misdirection and quickly alter the defense’s run fits.
(We can only hope Inside Zone with a Jet fake gives future Mizzou opponents fits like it did the Tigers early in 2019.)
Orbit Motion moves a receiver into the backfield who becomes a pitch man in an option version of Inside Zone. We will look at Inside Zone Option in a bit.
An example of Inside Zone with Orbit motion.
H Back Assignments
The next building blocks are the H back’s assignments. There are several different ways Drinkwitz has his H back operate on Inside Zone plays.
Seal the backside
The H back joins the linemen in stepping to a playside gap. In this case the H is responsible for the backside C gap.
On this example, watch the left side, which is the backside, for the H back joining the linemen in blocking playside gaps.
Here the tight end and H back shift to an unbalanced formation, then seal the backside of Inside Zone to the right.
The Arc block sends the H back to the backside alley.
Should the quarterback keep the ball, the Arc block will become a lead blocker.
On the Wham block the H back crosses the formation—this is called split flow action—and kicks out the backside end man on the line of scrimmage, or EMOL.
In both these example the RB hits the crease created by the H back’s Wham kick out.
The Search assignment is another split flow action. Rather than kicking out the EMOL, the H passes him up and turns upfield.
Inside Zone Option plays are based on old fashioned triple option schemes. The quarterback has a pitch man available if he pulls the ball on the handoff/keep read.
This example combines a Search technique by the H back with Option from a Full House backfield.
Another innovative Inside Zone play that Drinkwitz runs is the Quarterback Follow. The QB rides the running back, pulls the ball and follows the RB up into the hole. The addition of the running back as a blocker evens up the numbers in the run box.
Drinkwitz especially likes the play in short yardage.
But he also calls it in the field.
These are the main building blocks Coach Drink uses to dress up his Inside Zone scheme.
Let’s see how he assembles Inside Zone plays by combining these elements.
Building Blocks of an Inside Zone
What follows are examples of combinations of these building block elements that form interesting versions of Inside Zone.
Jet Inside Zone Wham
Jet Inside Zone with a Shoot constraint by the H back
(For more on constraint theory, see my previous installment.)
Jet Inside Zone Arc
Orbit Inside Zone Search Option
This tongue-twister of a play is one of Coach Drinkwitz’s favorite Inside Zone combinations. The next six examples cover all three phases of the play.
Handoff to the running back.
Pitch to the motion man.
Orbit Inside Zone H Seal Reverse Option
This final example is a tendency breaker. The motion man runs Orbit into the backfield, then runs an option path going back in the direction he came from.
Inside Zone is a staple of almost any contemporary offense. It was a favorite of Mizzou’s previous two offensive coordinators, Josh Heupel and Derek Dooley. What sets Drinkwitz’s Inside Zone game apart from that of his predecessors and most other coordinators is the ways he uses motions and subtle tweaks to assignments to transform a simple scheme into a dazzling and confusing set of plays.
In the next installment of Film Room we will look at another member of the Zone family, and possibly Coach Drink’s favorite run play, Outside Zone.