Nebraska Running Game - Part 4 (OZ)

The next part of the Nebraska running game of the 1990′s that I want to look at is the family of run plays in the outside zone category. According to former offensive line coach Milt Tenopir there were five primary types of plays run behind this blocking scheme. The five main ones were the Pitch series, an Outside Zone (stretch play), the Dive Option, the Speed Option, and the Belly Option. For simplicity I’ll break this segment into two parts. The first will deal with Coach Tenopir’s comments on the Pitch and the Outside play and then follow up shortly in another post with the three option plays.

For starters here are some selected comments by Coach Tenopir from either his book “The Assembly Line” or comments he made on film during coaching clinics.

In an attempt to use the same technique for as many plays as possible we chose to use the outside zone blocking scheme on five of our run plays. The scheme uses the same basic covered and uncovered principles as our inside zone scheme.

Line splits are reduced to one foot when a play calling for the outside zone blocking is called in the huddle. Occasionally we will get caught with an improper split if the QB calls an audible to an outside zone play. If that does happen we merely make the best of it.

Our objective on the outside zone play is to initially try to get the ball outside. With that in mind we are trying to force a hook block on all down defenders.

All of our linemen that are covered with a down defender executes what we refer to as a rip-reach block. To execute such a block we have the covered lineman take a hard lateral stretch step to the call side. We want to out-flank the down defender on the first step. On the second step we allow our covered lineman to use a crossover step to the call side of the play.

The next thing we have him do is rip his inside arm through the call side armpit of the defender, similar to the rip that a defensive lineman will sometimes use on a pass rush.

We want our covered lineman to lean on the defender after he rips through the armpit and force his stomach up field. If he does not do this then his stomach will be facing the sideline and he loses sight of the linebacker. He will now try and escape for the linebacker.

If the play side guard and tackle are both covered the tackle would have the defender by himself and not think about escaping for the linebacker.

In addition our uncovered linemen use a technique that we refer to as pull and overtake. Before we can overtake the down defender to the call side, we first must get our helmet past him, then get on him and roll him up field. The pull step must be a lateral pull. We want to gain depth and distance on our first step on the pull. The one foot split is essential if you are going to get the overtake.

The key to developing sound offensive linemen is the repetitions in practice. You should never let a day go by when you have not worked on the very basic principles. In order to continue to improve technique daily repetition throughout the season is a must.

Before we went to the inside and outside zone schemes we found ourselves being very average technicians because we had so many techniques to teach. There is no excuse for technique deteriorating through the season.

-Former Nebraska Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir

As I mentioned above there are two main run plays in the Nebraska playbook utilizing the outside zone scheme that are not option plays. The two plays are the pitch play and the outside zone stretch play.

41-49 Pitch Play

Versus this type of a 4-3 spacing (5 Tech, 1 Tech, 3 Tech, 9 Tech) Nebraska ran the toss or pitch play in the following manner. The play side tackle will pull laterally two steps, check to help the tight end, check for any front side linebacker plug, and then turn to seal off the middle linebacker (Diagram 27)

Nebraska had multiple ways of running the play using either motion or formation to help account for the force player on the outside. Here are two common adjustments (Diagram 28a and 28b).

Nebraska would either / or the pitch play in the huddle. The QB would make call the Pitch one way in the huddle and have the option of checking to the opposite side at the line of scrimmage if the defense presented a more favorable picture going opposite.

To avoid any specific tendency Nebraska would run the Pitch Play to the weak side of the formation as well as to the strong or tight end side. Diagrams 30a and 30b show two examples of running the Pitch to the weak side.

There are more specific play related details. Some can be uncovered here in the blocking assignments for the Pitch Play – plays numbered 41 & 49 in the old Nebraska Playbook. Number four simply means the I formation tailback in this case will take the ball to the outside right in the case of play 41 and to the outside left in the case of 49. Click here for the first set of blocking assignments for 41 and click here for the second set of assignments versus other fronts.

Here is a sample pitch play for Nebraska in 1996 versus Texas that went for a 25 yard touchdown run. I’ll show the pictures one by one and a video link to the play at the end in conjunction with the outside stretch play.

41 Pitch

2 TE Set with backs in a Power I set into the boundary. Here is the first lateral stretch step noted where the linemen try to out-flank the defender.
The next step involves the cross over step and then the blocking decision for the linemen based upon covered or uncovered principles mentioned above.
On this play the right guard was covered but the center was able to block the defender leaving the guard uncovered and able to escape to the LB level unblocked.
Here you can see the play has a good chance to make some nice yardage. The backside cut off blocks have created a pile up. The RB has a clear angle to the outside and a lead blocker. There is no real chance to stop the play for a 4-5 yard gain. Nebraska has out-flanked the defense and the RB now essentially has two lead blockers.
A Texas LB has a chance to make the play coming hard across the field. The WR has the Texas corner blocked to the ground. While the LB tries to make the tackle another Nebraska lineman who escaped down field cuts off other possible support on the play.
The shoe string tackle by the LB fails on the play and the back steps in for the TD with several defenders in pursuit from behind. The running back gets the TV attention. The offensive line largely goes unnoticed for executing properly and doing their job on the play.

The other non-option Nebraska run play that utilized the outside zone scheme was the outside stretch play which Nebrasks simply referred to as “Outside”. The play is basically the same as the pitch play except the ball is not tossed. Instead the QB hands off the ball to the tailback on the stretch play. Here are a couple of examples below in diagram form. In Diagram 36 the offense tries to exploit the front of the defense. In Diagram 37 the offense checks away from the strength and the secondary support (player M).

41-49 Outside Play

As with other plays Nebraska would run the play to the weak side toward the split end and not just to the TE side out of certain formations. Click here for sample blocking assignments on this play versus some fronts and here for the second page of blocking assignments versus other fronts.

Here is a sequence of the outside zone stretch play in picture format. This one is run to the left and split end side of the formation in a game versus Texas in 1996.

49 Outside Example

Nebraska has a TE and Flanker to their right and twin receivers left. The QB checks the play at the line of scrimmage to the left. Here again you can see the initial stretch step by the offensive line to the left. The left tackle appears to be slow to move on the play.
Still the left tackle is able to get off on his block versus the defensive end for Texas. The left uncovered guard shows the pull and over take technique in these two frames.
The RB presses the play outside as designed. Already you can see one big crease opening on the play and the big pile up the cut off blocks created on the back side. Most outside zone plays stay outside and this one does as well. The WR’s make their blocks creating more running room to the outside as intended.
The RB cuts up inside the block of the WR and has a nice lane and a good head of steam now running downhill. Eventually the MLB for Texas tackles the running back on the play but still it went for a nice 10 yard gain.

Here are the two plays in a one minute video showing both sideline and end zone angle. I had to pick these examples out of game film. The majority of the outside zone run cut ups I found dealt with the option plays off of outside zone blocking. I’ll highlight several of those interesting plays in a later post. Then I’ll move onto some trap plays and counter style runs.

Outside Zone Run Play 41-49

5 comments to Nebraska Running Game – Part 4 (OZ)

  • John Butler

    I noticed on 49 Outside, the LG pulled around the OT to block the LBer. Is that an adjustment to the Covered & Uncovered principle? Please include more OZ video. Thank you.

  • admin

    It is probably their pin and pull move on the outside zone play that Tenopir mentions?? Unfortunately I just don’t have many clips of this play.

  • nexxogen

    I have a video of Milt Tenopir explaining the outside zone and the ‘rip reach, pull & overtake’ techniques. I also have the playbook from 1997. and I’ve spent a lot of time figuring something out. I noticed that the ‘covered/uncovered’ rule was not completely respected in that playbook. In fact, it can even be seen on this page in the ‘Diagram 27′ and some of the other diagrams. In that diagram T plays 3 technique which means RG is covered. By rule, he would have to execute ‘rip reach’ technique and go for the LB. But in the diagram you can see that he blocks T instead. The playbook is full of examples like this. After a lot of thinking about this I came up with a slightly different explanation which seemed to fit into most of the diagrams. It goes like this – every lineman is responsible for a gap and that would be his playside gap. In the diagram 27 that would be everyone’s right gap. Now, the O-lineman should not look whether he’s COVERED or not, but whether he’s got somebody IN HIS GAP or not! If there is somebody there, he should hook him. If not he should pull laterally and then go for the LB. Also, let’s say that in the diagram 27 there’s a man right ON the RT. In that case, he would be considered to be in RG’s gap and he would have him.

    What do you think about this type of explanation?

  • jsrg1874

    nexxogen,

    I like your explanation very well. That is EXACTLY how I think of the outside zone or what we would call the Wide Zone having learned the term from Alex Gibbs.

  • Greg Hansen

    I think the rules are consistent with one “on the fly” rule… if you get “hooked up, stay hooked up”. Which means that sometimes a lineman will plan on going to the second level, but the defense slants hard and you cannot get to the second level because the defender is cutting you off… in that case, you stay hooked up with that defender. the backside adjacent lineman what was planning on pulling and overtaking, would then go 2nd level. Could it be the case in the examples you mentioned?

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