HOD Recap: NT Run Game

NT likes the outside zone for a number of reasons, one of which is that they think they have the athletes to get to the edge and make things happen. In October this was definitely the case, this past Tuesday, it was solid-to-okay. NT had some quality runs but struggled in short yardage. If that sounds like a microcosm of the entire season, you are right.

Smartfootball has a good read on the particulars of the outsize zone, and one of its prophets Alex Gibbs. The nuts and bolts of the play are in that you get double-teams and create lanes for a back with vision to take advantage of. The blocking assignments are easy to teach, and so the bulk of practice can be spent putting it into practice. Jeff Wilson has the vision and the required speed and agility to make devastating cuts when he sees daylight.

Stunts, LB scrapes, and bringing a safety in the box are some things that can mess up the blocking on these, and this is countered by going with an inside zone or a play-action. When all the zones are being blown up, its good to have a counter or power (pull those lineman) to take advantage.

NT relies on the inside and outside zone for its run plays, which is pretty common for an Air Raid team.

Harrell debuted the pistol look we see here against Army in October. It allows a better angle for the outside zone run that Jeff Wilson used to devastating effect. Aldo wrote a little bit about it here.

A couple of things to look for in this play:

  1. Backside tackle (Jordan Murray #71) cutting the LB Aukerman (#21) to slow the pursuit.
  2. Because this is an outside run play, even blitzing DB is neutralized because of the distance. He has to run down the line to prevent the cutback.
  3. The line does a step-and-reach to get to the next man. Elex Woodworth (#77) gets to the second level after Trey Keenan (#59) turns his man and gets a seal.
  4. Cannon Maki (#44) looks for penetration, and fills the hole 1 and attempts to get to an Army linebacker.
  5. Jeff Wilson has about four yards before he is contacted.

This is essentially how they draw it up. It worked about as well as you could expect. Ideally you want to have Jeff Wilson one v one with a safety in space instead of running into a pile, but that is quibbling.

In this next play we have another outside zone from slightly different personnel and alignment. By trading the heavy look for a speedier one with a slot receiver, the LB (#21) is off the line a bit. Army shows pressure but they drop off a bit. Interestingly, NT’s backside constraint action was wide open2. Tyler Wilson turns for the WR screen, and Thad Thompson was headed to block the retreating CB. NT never went back to this, nor can I recall a significant number of these during the season.

Here is the same play but straight on. You should get a sense of what the idea is from this view. Wilson is running to a point, usually a yard outside the tackle, and making a cut when he sees daylight. Here, he saw it behind Sam Rice and Maki, while shaking off the crashing LB (#11).

  1. TJ Henson gets knocked on his ass by the LB who nearly makes the play, but he had a long way to go to get that block, so we should give him some credit for getting there.
  2. Jeff Wilson makes a great cut, breaks a tackle, and gets the first down.
  3. Sam Rice and Elex Woodworth make this play by getting great blocks.

This seems like a great play so why did we not run it every time? Well sometimes it failed.

A couple things from this play:

  1. Look at the LBs flow fast to set the edge.
  2. Aukerman (or someone who looks like him) blows this play up by shedding Maki’s block easily.

Derp. A false start by 95 killed this drive essentially.

Power Runs

Remember I said when the defense starts to jump the inside and outside zones it is good to go to power/counter? NT did that in the first half with some success.

In the second half NT tried a power and an outside zone from 21 personnel to little effect. Then they followed it up with so me play action from the second look above. Turner Smiley caught it for a first down.

There was another play from a two-back set that faked a WR flare/rocket and handed off to Wyche coming back with a power scheme up front. Army LB #11 shot the gap and ran down Wyche. Great play by him. This isn’t an Army blog so … no gif.

Army’s LB Andrew King (#11) was ridiculous blowing up plays. He diagnosed runs quickly and fired into gaps really blowing up the blocking schemes. In OT, he rushed up the middle on the final two (Mesh) plays, and essentially hurried Morris into bad passes. I digress because he played so damned well.

With Army cheating up, NT had better looks for play action passes. Look at this screen grab on a 2-yard power run. Look a those safeties cheating up.

(I realize this is not a run, but NT actually saw what Army was doing and reacted). The very next possession NT had a run look and grabbed this play-action play with it. Great play calling.

With the score at 31-21 in the third, NT faced 2nd and 2 after that play-action pass and followed it up with another outside zone run for a first down.

You’ll notice this is the same look from earlier, with less success and no backside screen action. See? I told you they never went to this again. Army was getting better at diagnosing these, and also cheating a bit with their line backers.

Staying with the same drive, following a Smiley short out and a Smiley Jet sweep3 NT faced third-and-one.

Oof. Close but no. Henson is pulling on the power play we saw earlier but misses his block in the hole. Jeff is hit before he can make a move and even then still manages to squirm out of it to get some forward progress. That is a tough block for Henson, as he has very little time to react to Army #30 filling the lane but … that is the difference between a first down and fourth. North Texas really has to improve here, as this is the weakest of weak spots.

Let’s try it again! North Texas lines up in their heavy look one more time and ran the outside zone. Army had eight in the box and NT had six on the line, Maki made seven, and the QB’s fake roll out accounting for the eighth man. Jeff Wilson’s “man” was the safety playing the deep third. On paper Jeff should have exploded through the hole and had the free safety at his mercy. What happened?

Well Army sealed the edge (Army #56) and pushed the play to Army #30. That “should” be Maki’s man but it was difficult for him to (1) see him coming and (2) make that block. The rules of zone blocking essentially say to block the man in front of you but if no one is there, help the man next to you 4. There is a guard-tackle double that creates the kind of push we want, and Maki is there to double at the point of the attack against anyone getting penetration. It looks like he saw Army LB #11 getting penetration (he was pretty great all game) and read that as his responsibility to create the seal.

Instead of Jeff Wilson running free in the secondary, he was stopped before he really started. Football is a funny game, and these little battles are what get people to fall in love with the strategy. That block likely was the difference between a big TD run and a 4th down stop. Huge.

Later and OT

Okay so NT turned it over on 4th down then forced Army to do the same. NT got the ball back and Jordan Murray committed a false start. Then we had this beauty of a run.

Jordan Murray cannot quite step out and reach his block so he seals him and this play is largely made because of Wilson’s vision and ability. If you are counting at home, NT ran this version of the outside zone play about a handful of times from doubles (2×2) and trips (3×1). The first was the TD.

Final Run

The final run of the game was on a play that got lots of yards the first time it was run. It is difficult to blame the play calling because Harrell did a good job mixing up passes, runs, and looks. Army’s LB corps are really good and blew these up themselves. On this play King (#11) sheds Sam Rice’s block, and forces Wilson to adjust his angle. Army #38 runs around Sam Rice at the second level and blows up Wilson in the backfield.

The Black Knights had a man running at Morris in case he kept the ball to run or throw.

Else

Jeff Wilson had an outside zone/sweep to the edge on the final drive that was called back because of an iffy call on Thompson. It was from trips left (a formation called Late in Leach terminology).

It was very similar to this run from early in the game and the one we mentioned above.

The difference being that in the second quarter Army was playing the run (especially on first down) more than they were on this second down play in prevent defense.

So there you have it. The NT run game really has potential. The same problems that plagued the pass game at times — penalties, missed assignments, getting beat one-on-one — affected the run game. In short yardage there really is no other way to scheme it better. The line just has to be able to win the individual battles across the board.

Next season those short yard runs will be something we all look at closely. They are an essential part of the offense, even if it is an Air Raid. All of these runs do not exist alone, but a part of the game plan and function good or bad depending on what the pass game is doing. The reverse is also true.

This offense is right on the precipice of being good. Cleaning up the mental5 mistakes that put the offense behind the chains, or bring back runs is the first step. The next is Littrell and staff improving the offensive line to the point where the pass protection is consistent and the short-yardage run game is more reliable. They really have to be able to get two yards.


  1. You stop that giggling right now, young man. 
  2. Marketing alert. 
  3. These sweeps have been rarely successful and so are pretty uninteresting. 
  4. They are a little more complicated than that but this is not a coaching clinic. 
  5. Mental mistakes can come from physical problems. In basketball guys hold when they are out of position and sometimes they are out of position because they are not fast enough. You get my meaning.