Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
One of the staple plays in the LSU running game is the inside zone, but they run zone blocking even for other plays that normally lend themselves to gap blocking schemes, just as we do. You just don't have time to install multiple schemes in a college offense. I wanted to go back over the inside zone schemes that we both run and show how one may attack it.
The whole reason to run zone plays is to keep an attacking defense from getting upfield and to instead move them laterally, which explains the emergence of zones after the emergence of the attacking 4-3 defense in the 80s. LSU runs the inside zone blocking the same from the shotgun or under-center formations. LSU OL/OC Greg Studrawa keeps his system simple with a set of calls and tools that apply in all situations for his linemen to use. We've gone over the basics of zone blocking before, and it really isn't very different anywhere, though the emphasis does change in different systems. Some may emphasize the initial movement of the defender by firing off the ball forwards while some emphasize a more lateral step initially to get the defender moving sideways. The end results do end up changing, in my opinion, depending on which you want to emphasize.
For the last 2 years, Clemson has put in more of an initial fire-off-the-ball by stepping more forwards instead of laterally, and the run game blocking did get a little better this season as a result. For Studrawa's philosophy,. the lineman's eyes should come up and focus on the defenders playside armpit, with a 6 inch step at 45 degrees upfield, which is consistent with the articles we ran on IZ blocking this summer.
When the offense lines up, the first thing is to determine is who is covered by a defender and who isn't. When in TE sets, the TE can start the system of calls along the front. It does not start with the Center. Starting on the end of the LOS, you have to know who you're blocking and who you're working towards, particularly whether you're the post blocker on the combo block or the help. Remember in zone blocking that two blockers initially work together to generate movement, and the post blocker becomes the primary blocker of the two on the down defender while the other one peels off to take the linebacker. The combo block is set by deciphering who is covered by a DL and who is not.
If there is a TE, the line calls start with the TE. If there is not a TE in the personnel group, the first uncovered lineman from the outside-in starts the calls. Naturally, the TE is one of the poorer run blockers on the front, so he needs to know if he can get help and where the help is. If he was great at run blocking, he'd be a Tackle. In my opinion, LSU has generally had pretty damn good run-blocking TEs since Les Miles has been there. Once the TE makes his call with the OT, the next uncovered OL can make his call, which would be the Guard or Center.
If the Guard is uncovered, he makes the call with the Tackle and Center on who has which defender inside, depending on the alignment, and then calls the number of the linebacker he's going to work towards. For example, if the LB is numbered 56 and the Guard is uncovered, he'll call "TAG 56" which stands for a T-G combo on the 4i/5-tech DE and the Guard is going to peel off after the initial movement of the DE backwards to take #56. A combo with the TE and OT on a 6/7/8 technique End or SAM would be called "TED" by the TE and a 2nd level defender's number would be called likewise.
The Center has to know where everyone is going to go, otherwise he may not make the correct call on the backside of the run, and someone could come completely free inside, if the Guard is the one uncovered. If the TE is in and makes the call, its not quite as important. The Center may not know whether there is a TE in the game all the time and what the TE is doing, especially if you go hurry-up, so if the TE says nothing (as in a pass play, or when youre not going to let the defense know you're zoning once they've picked this up), he still needs to know what the calls are from the uncovered linemen.
The first thing a heavy zone running team sees is slanting and stunting to disrupt the zone blocking scheme. The TE can get matched one-on-one with someone in a blitz or in certain fronts, or the defense can run a stunt with two linemen stunting inside while a LB comes late around the edge.
The question is what does he do? Take the defender lined up across from himself or set up to take the LB? If he reads something funny in the front, he has to make a call to the Tackle-Guard that he thinks a slant move inside is coming, and take off the combo blocks. It all goes to regular man blocking in such a case. Expect Venables to do this several times in the Peach Bowl.
How do you determine what call to make? A covered lineman should worry about 3 things when he gets into his stance:
1. Alignment of the defender. Is he inside or outside leveraged? If youre a Guard, the DT is 2, 2i, or 3. That indicates where his DC wants him to go and which gap he has. The question to ask yourself is "What is the worst thing he could do to me from that alignment?" For a 3-tech, its when he beats you right through the B-gap over your outside shoulder and gets into the backfield to kill the IZ. For a 2i, its when he beats you into the A-gap on the inside shoulder. The same thing applies to anyone on the offensive front.
2. Position of the defender behind him. Another indicator on what the defense wants to do is the position of the LB relative to the DL in front of him. For a 3-tech in an Under/Over front, the LB is usually head-up to inside of the Guard, covering the A-gap as his primary responsibility. However, what if he starts cheating a little too much one way? Is he taking another step closer on this play? Is he in a 30 alignment (3-tech at 5 yards depth) as opposed to a 20 on this play, while the DT hasn't moved? He could be stunting outside or blitzing a gap with a twist. It can be a very subtle defensive change that tips an offense off on what is going to happen.
3. Appopriate footwork for the play to get the first two accomplished. You always want to get 4 hands on the down lineman and get him off the ball when you run zone, and what he does predicates whether you can or not.
The covered man has 3 things that can happen, 3 directions the defender will go. Either he'll come straight up into your chest, to the inside gap, or outside. You can get an idea where he is going from his alignment. If youre a tackle, the 5-tech will usually go outside but he can still go inside, while a 6 tech End will definitely go outside unless he's running a loop stunt.. For a Guard, a 3-tech will go outside, so you can't allow that to ever happen. The bottom line is If he stunts inside, you can react with time to defend that, but you can't let him beat you by his alignment.
Now what do we preach at STS about the edge man on the LOS? Never get reached. Being reached allows the offense to completely dominate the LOS. The offense has the ability to run outside all over you when your DE or OLB gets reached (see anyone vs. Malliciah Goodman). A defender must keep that outside shoulder free and try to keep the ballcarrier inside where the LBs can help, so if he does manage to not get himself reached, the offense just has to adjust and push him laterally all the way to the sideline and hope a gap is created inside that isn't filled. For an outside zone the emphasis is to try to reach-block that end man, but for this inside zone you just want to create that hole for the RB to cut the ball back into. This is how the defensive reaction plays to your advantage.
Now what if the DL goes inside from an outside alignment? The only thing you can do is deflect him. If the Guard is sitting there uncovered and plans to head upfield, he may not be looking for the inside slant move and will get flattened. This is all the covered guy should be thinking about.
The uncovered guy has the responsibility though to anticipate that inside slant move. His first read, after the snap, is the hip of the nearest defender to his position. If the hip comes inside, he has to react to the slant move, he had better get his helmet under the defender's chin and put two hands on him. If its straight up, he can go upfield or one-hand help the Tackle by punching into the hip level of that defender. He can take a slide step and look for that inside move before he goes upfield. If the defender starts from an outside alignment and continues outside, the uncovered man can just proceed downfield, its unlikely he'll be able to help the OL outside of him.
Once the down defender is moved off the line, the uncovered OL should be looking to that LB he called. He attacks the LB after the LB has started to commit to one direction. He just just run right at him, because its highly probable the smaller LB is much more maneuverable in space than an OL. Once he makes contact, he tries to push from the outside downfield. If the DL went way outside, and he can't get any hands on him to help the Tackle, he can attack the LB once he commits one way.
Against an odd front, or any front where a 0/1-technique is aligned, the Center takes the NG. The only time he doesn't is if the NG attacks the Guard with a slant move. In the Over or Under, this Center will expect to man-up on the NG. The Guard-Tackle will TAG block the 3-tech on one side and 5-tech on the other, The backside DE comes free by design.
What is the defensive reaction to this very common scheme? They cheat the NG from a 1 over to a 0, or vice versa, and have him dive into the backside A-gap. The 3-tech goes outside, and the backside End drops off. The WILL twists around to the frontside A-gap and kills the play. Its the same reaction that would attack the TE when a defense sees he isn't doing well handling a SAM/DE on the line.
The Center has a call to take care of the 1-tech cheating to a 0. He can just call 'zone' with the Guard and it takes care of the stunt the same way as the TE's call. Then the Guard knows to expect the NG jumping at his inside shoulder and the 3-tech going away from him.
As for the rest of play, the TB has 3 steps to the mesh point on the IZ/ZR. The TB is responsible for the mesh, not the QB. By his 3rd step the ball should be there waiting or not. If the QB made the wrong read, its his fault that the play goes for a loss, not the runner's. His aim point is the butt of the frontside OT, and he has 2 more steps to the frontside after the mesh to take. As he accepts the ball, he reads the first defensive linemen beyond the Center. If the Guard is covered, and he's not getting much movement, the back should look to push it outside further. If the OT/TE is covered, he may be able to cut this ball back inside.
Clemson runs a lot of G fronts, with a 2i and 3 technique. You can run the zone to the 2i or the 3. The 3 often tries to cut inside to the A-gap and make the RB cut back. The block that makes or breaks the play is the one on the 2i. If you can't handle him, its likely going to be a loss. When the Center has to look frontside to protect that A-gap from the 3, the 2i can cut inside the backside Guard and into the other A-gap. The Guard doesn't have inside leverage on the 2i and may not be able to cut him off. It gets even worse when a defense can do this with a 1 or NG instead of a 2i.
Obviously you can flip it to run towards the NG/2i side instead and not have to worry about the backside cutoff, but Studrawa likes to run it at the 3 when youre in a G front. He rarely ever runs the zone to the 2i if he has a choice. if the defense flips the alignment, he'll run an inside trap or check to a Power. If the LB cheats to make up for it, you run read option because he can't get outside for the scrape exchange if he's cheating inside to stop the IZ. With Mettenburger in there, I don't anticipate this. Its more likely they'd do a regular speed option and pitch it to a WR in motion, such as Russell Sheperd, some way or another.