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Inside the Clemson Offense: Conflicting the Defensive End

We wanted to do one post to fit together some of the run game concepts and show how the success of the zone read, if its the staple play in the system, feeds the success of the entire running game. The overarching concept here is to cause confusion and conflict the DE, particularly if he's impossible to block. If we can instead get inside his head and make him think on every down, he'll have no other reaction except to slow himself. One could say that the plays below set up the zone read itself, but given that the block scheme for the read option is just a simple inside zone, we'll take the perspective that the zone read sets up the others.

The zone read option is nothing more than an inside zone play with a QB option to keep the ball. The OL zone blocks as if the ball was going up the A-gap on an inside zone, but the OT on the backside goes to his inside gap and combo blocks the 3-technique, or heads to the next level to hit the LB, depending on whether you run the play to the NG or the 3-tech's side. This leaves the DE unblocked on the backside of the zone, and the QB reads him: if the DE comes down to take the RB, the QB keeps it; if the DE stays home the QB gives the ball to the RB.

The Morris/Malzahn/Chip Kelly systems all add a backside bubble screen to make it a double-option play, but this really doesn't have anything to do with the DE.

Now what else do I want to throw at that DE to get inside his head? What if he has a tip on the read option and plays it right, or the opposing DC has instructed him to always go for the QB? We can use that against him with a Trap.

Now when he always charges towards the QB, he won't be expecting to get earholed by the Guard from the other side. The Guard can kick him out or log block, and he won't be in position to stop the RB.

Another option, very similar, is to run a Power on him. Below I'm using the TE/H on the playside, but he could also be set in the backfield beside the QB. Either way, he gets kicked out or log blocked.

What if he spots this formation based on my tendencies as a playcaller, and figures out that we're going to run Power from this set? To keep him from making that guess every time, I need to be able to run my zone read option from the same formation. Also, instead of having the TE/H kick him out, I just send the blocker on an Arc outside, and run the tight zone or power anyway. If he stops to set his feet to take on the H-back, he wont be able to do much to the RB in time to stop the play.





In addition to the Power and Trap, we can run a Counter Trey to the side of the most aggressive DE. He jumps too far in the backfield, and gets log blocked by the backside Guard.

Or if he's standing pat all the time, guessing that the QB will keep, run it away from him. Morris and Malzahn add another bubble screen on the backside as an extra layer of option for the QB:

Suppose we want to add an extra layer to really mess with the Linebacker behind? To do that, we start using backfield motions to confuse their keys. Jet motion, i.e. sending the 2-man from side to side, is one way we'll do that. To make it work you need to use jet sweeps effectively, but we could also send the backs in motion as options on the counter play too.

In this Wheel Counter, the 3-back goes in motion and is the intended ballcarrier. Usually, the WLB will start shuffling to the middle when he sees the 3 go in motion. At the snap, the 3-back should be beside the QB for the read option counter. However if the DE comes down to chase the 3, the QB can keep it. If the DE reacts in time to go for the QB, the QB just pitches it outside to the 4-back. This will mess with both the DE and the WLB to that side.

An alternative to running the zone read option is simply to run the speed option at that DE. Notice the 3rd play in the video below, in particular:

Or double-team him from the outside with an H-back and the OT, and simply run an outside zone play or jet sweep. Morris and Malzahn both instruct the back to fake-option pitch if the ball goes away, so he runs to the other side when the 2-man gets the ball every time.


The added plus of the jet movement is to mess with the LB's key read, this key-breaking is the whole point of the movement in our offense. If they focus on the 3-back above, they'll lose the 2, and vice versa.

Another option off that DE is to run a Dart. He'll see the OT pivot and pull out, so if he's expecting the Counter to be run away from him he could chase or stand pat, just like the zone read, but its a totally different play for the LB to adjust to.

Once he picks up that its a Dart, you send the 3-back to block him.

And, to mess with the LBs, use jet/rocket motion on top of that

So one more, to mess with his head, we'll run an inverted veer towards him. Look at the play below, he sees the OT down-block on the 3, then the 4-back is standing there so he could expect to be kicked out, but he isnt. The QB reads him on his reaction to the fake handoff to the 3-back coming across. If the goes for the RB, the QB keeps and follows the 4-back on an Isolation play. If he stays put, we can give it to the 3.

At this point, if your head is spinning trying to keep up with the options I've put on here, what do you think his is doing? One can always take the point of view of this option style as being a game to mess with the opponent's defensive ends. If you can't block a guy, then you run the option on him all day, and if you can block these plays well enough for the RB, and have a QB that is a threat to run the ball too, you can spend all day making the DE's head spin like a top.

But if Tajh Boyd cannot run the ball and the read option never really works, then you can see that the offense loses a whole dimension. The DE will always take the back or WR in motion and the LBs will keep their eyes locked on the back. You might fool them with motion still, but with the DE now locked on the RB, the defense will have a much easier time stopping the offense.

It is not critical that the QB be a Woody Dantzler for this offense to work, but he must be a threat to run and do something in the open field. If he cannot run fast enough to get you 5-7 yards and that first down, he's no good for this system.