Nebraska Running Game - Part 3 (Inside Zone)

I am still editing video of different Nebraska running plays and it is taking a lot longer than I had hoped it would. Instead of waiting for all the video to get done I’ll list some initial comments by former offensive line coach Milt Tenopir about the Nebraska running game as well as cover the basics of the inside zone scheme and associated run plays. Please note that the basis for the following discussion is from Coach Tenopir’s comments on video and in his excellent book, “The Assembly Line”.

In review please recall that Nebraska used a variety of different running plays but tried to keep the blocking schemes to a relative minimum for the offensive line. The inside zone blocking scheme covered four basic run plays that I’ll outline below. In addition there were five run plays (including options) off the outside zone blocking scheme. Several more run plays came off the trap game, the counter game, and the isolation lead draw game. In addition there were several more run plays such as reverses and shovel passes.

In “The Assembly Line” Milt Tenopir starts his review of the Nebraska running game by covering the blocking schemes associated with the inside zone game. Here are some selected comments from retired Coach Tenopir from around 1996 that I thought were worth noting.

The inside zone game is a vital part of our offense. We have gone to a lot of inside zone blocking which has simplified our offense a great deal. We actually run four inside plays that are blocked with the inside zone scheme. The inside zone scheme is a borrowed scheme but we have modified a few things that have benefited us. The overall concept however operates on the principle of our linemen being covered or uncovered.

We are primarily concerned with getting either horizontal or vertical movement on the defensive down lineman. If our linemen have a defensive linemen on them we execute what we refer to as a stretch-base block. The first two steps by our linemen are critical.

If the defender is head up or on the play side shoulder, the first step is a lateral step to the call side. We are trying to invite movement with the first step. Some coaches refer to this as a “bucket step”. We don’t want to lose ground on it so we merely refer to it as a stretch step.

The second step is directed toward the middle of the defender’s body cylinder. Caution must be taken so this step does not cross over the first step. If you cross over you lose all of your driving power. Once the first two steps are taken, you are ready to strike with the fists and drive the defender in the direction of his movement. Take him where he wants to go.

The uncovered linemen will also execute a stretch step, however, rather than going laterally, we step at the defender that is covering our play side teammate. By stepping at the defender, we can stop a slant by the defender, enabling our covered teammate to re-direct and help get push on the defender.

The second step by the uncovered lineman is directed at an imaginary point that is directly behind the near foot of the defensive lineman prior to the snap. If the uncovered lineman executes the first two steps properly, his head should be on the up-field side of the defender. If the defender plays straight ahead, a double team should occur between the two offensive linemen.

The linebacker is technically the responsibility of the uncovered lineman, but he must stay with the double team as long as possible until he has to get off on the linebacker. This means until you get to the linebacker or the linebacker comes to you. This inside-out double team will create creases for the back to run through.

It is important to stress that both linemen stay on the down defender as long as possible. Because of the rolling action of the running back, the linebackers normally flow to the call, then the uncovered lineman can bounce off late and get the linebacker on the rebound, allowing a cutback by the ball carrier.

-Former Nebraska Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir

Here is an example of the blocking scheme with regards to the covered / uncovered principle mentioned by Coach Tenopir (diagram 1)

The backside tackle will execute a stretch double with the backside guard if the guard is covered (diagram 2)

If the side by side linemen on the playside are both covered, then the one to the play side is on his own, executing a stretch-base block (diagram 3).

In total Nebraska ran four main plays off the above described inside zone blocking scheme. The first play is a fullback play coming off the dive option action. The fullback takes a one-step roll and aims at the butt of the playside guard. Coach Tenopir notes that the play has stayed onside some, but can also develop into a cut back (diagram 5). This play has similar motion to an option play that will be looked at later.

Coach Tenopir notes that Nebraska preferred to call this play rather than to have the QB read the give to the fullback on the dive option.

Another fullback play that was used over the years was the curl play coming off of pitch sweep action. The pitch play involved outside zone blocking and will be covered later as well. On this play Nebraska curled the fullback to the outside leg of the playside guard giving him the option of staying onside or possibly getting the cutback. The blocking for the interior lineman is the same as the dive option (diagram 6).

The third play off the inside zone blocking scheme for Nebraska was the popular one back inside zone run. Coach Tenopir notes that Nebraska was a strong believer in the I Formation. However they also used one back sets 30% of the time. Here is one example they ran the one back inside zone from (diagram 8c).

Nebraska would run this play often out of 2TE sets and 12 personnel or 11 personnel with 2 WR’s split to one side and a TE plus WR to the other side. In both cases the QB had the option of checking the call either way. If a team reduced the front Nebraska would go away from the reduction.

Nebraska had several effective ways to run and block this inside zone play to the tailback when there was a concern of having problems on the cutback because of the unblocked backside rush defender. Here are the most common examples Coach Tenopir mentioned.

The first example used a fold block by the left tackle and tight end when using a 2 TE formation. The tackle makes the decision to fold on the play at the line of scrimmage (diagram 11).

The second example (diagram 12) utilized the motion of a flanker coming across the formation. This play was run with great effect by RB Jacquizz Rogers and Oregon State this past season in the Beavers upset 27-21 win over USC in Corvalis, Oregon.

In order to break tendencies Nebraska also ran the inside zone play out of the I Formation at times. In this instance the fullback would block and neutralize the backside defender (diagram 13).

The final twist on the play involves the QB booting away on this play to influence the backside defensive end. The bootleg action of course ties into the passing game as well for Nebraska (diagram 14)

The fourth and final type of run play off of the inside zone scheme for Nebraska was the sprint draw play. Nebraska would run this play to the tight end side or split end side. Sometimes when run out of a 2 back set the fullback would become an extra blocker (diagram 16).

When the front side guard is uncovered to a split end side the fullback would be responsible for someone showing outside the tackle area (diagram 17).

I had a hard time finding all the types of inside zone runs in the Nebraska running game. I did find cut ups for the FB dive plays and some of the one back inside zone runs, etc. described above. I will include those down below.

In the Nebraska play book the one back zone runs were plays number 43 and 47 and were blocked as shown (Click here for 43 Dive example) and (Click here for more 43 Dive blocking assignments) versus different fronts. The FB Dive plays were plays numbered 11 and 19 and were blocked as shown (Click here for 11 Dive example) and (Click here for more blocking assignments). Please note that for simplicity I only copied the plays to the right (i.e. numbers 11 and 43). The same is true in reverse to the left for run plays 19 and 47. For each play the offensive line apparently had to learn blocking assignments for 16 common defensive fronts. No wonder the was an emphasis by the staff to simplify blocking assignments as much as possible!

Here are about 10-15 minutes of the two plays from some 1996 season era cut ups of Nebraska. There are a mix of formations and defensive fronts faced. The plays should utilize the covered and uncovered principles described above. Some run plays were successful other were stopped. There is a mix of everything.

Nebraska Run Plays 43-47

Nebraska Run Plays 11-19

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