If you’re just joining us, we’re trying to build a picture of Texas’ base offense from the power sets. Previously we’ve explored:
The Power O as a Base Play
Basic Defensive Responses
Strongside Outside Pressure
This installment takes us one step further by touching on the basics of the ground game on the weakside of the power sets. Let’s not dally, there’s plenty to consider here.
Counter Gap Weak
The Counter is probably the first running play that comes to mind when a coach thinks about complementing the Power play. The Counter’s intent is to bait the defense toward the strongside then outnumber them with pulling blockers on the weakside. Essentially, the Counter Gap Weak is the Power O in reverse with a healthy dose of misdirection to help the medicine go down. The offense is again using a heavy hand utilizing down blocks, seal blocks and pulling blockers to coordinate a powerful attack on the off-tackle gaps: this time on the weakside of the formation. Similar to Counter Trey, the version of Counter that Harsin prefers brings two extra blockers to the weakside. With 12/21 personnel Harsin will bring the backside guard and the H-Back. In 11 personnel he’ll pull the backside guard and tackle (Counter Trey). Depending on defensive alignment the pulling guard will either lead or trap giving the counter a lot of built in flexibility. Let’s check out the Counter Gap assignments against a 4-3 stack alignment.
Assignments to notice:
Playside Guard & Center - Once again a lot of the success of the play hinges on the effectiveness of these down blocks. Depending on alignment, these guys will combo a defensive linemen (and literally try abuse him right into the second level of defenders) to create a "deep" hole or they will have one-on-one assignments and they will try to push their defenders as far down the line as possible to create a wide hole. Under no circumstances can these two allow their assignments to penetrate because an early defender in the backfield will most likely spell doom for this play.
Playside Tackle - This is perhaps the trickiest assignment for the counter play. Similar to the Power play, the ability to seal out the defensive end is important to prevent a traffic jam in the B&C gaps. The tackle needs to get him locked up but not over reach and lose leverage. One of the important advantages here for the offense is that if the backside defensive end is crashing inside regularly, they can use the counter zone, bootleg passes, and reverses to great effect. The other thing the offense can do to help out is to alter their alignment on the counter play (as we will see shortly).
Backside Guard – The backside guard will pull and lead this play. Once he turns the corner, he’s looking for his assignment which will usually be who aligned in the Will Box pre-snap. The Will is usually an athletic SOB. This is the guard’s chance to let him know what he thinks about athletic defenders.
H-Back/Fullback – Follow the backside guard through the hole and attack the Mike Box. Absolutely can not get stuck in the hole. If the Mike has sniffed the play out, the H-back has to win the battle in the hole… the misdirection should be the H-back’s friend here.
Tailback – take counter steps toward the strongside of the play, then ride the pulling guard’s inside hip through the hole. As with almost all counter plays, the tailback should try to ride close to the line of scrimmage to help draw the linebackers toward the line and then get them caught up in the wash.
Texas didn’t run the Counter Gap Weak in the Spring Game. Despite that, it can be confirmed that some key members of football team have definitely been practicing the play:
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of little things that you can do with the counter to adjust it. In the clip above you see that the Steele Knights trap the playside defensive end and lead with the fullback (which is a great version of the counter if you are having trouble with the end). You may see us do that against a really wide 5 technique by the playside defensive end.
Try not to be scarred by what happens to #61 Joe Kellogg (not his finest effort) on this next clip. Instead pay attention to how Boise State sells this counter by dressing it up like an inside zone run. They are able to get a good influence on the defensive line (just as effective as down blocks).
Last year, in the games where Boise ran counter they usually ran against fronts with a wide 5 technique. Against those fronts, rather than trapping with the guard, they would adjust the play like this:
Here the H-back/Fullback will shift into a Playside Tight End to block down on the defensive end. The Backside Tight End will shift back from the line (becoming the H-back) and then pull with the guard and take on the linebackers. The effect here is that the counter becomes more of an outside run to the weakside or if there’s over pursuit it gives the play a good chance for a cut back lane since there are so many down blocks on the play.
Here’s a cut up of this version a couple times against Nevada.
Although Boise State definitely had the counter in their base package in 2010, it wasn’t prominently featured. However, I have a strong suspicion that we will see this play in a more important role for this year’s Texas offense because it makes a lot of sense with our projected personnel strengths. Both are guards are more than capable pullers and (as we saw earlier) Malcolm Brown has the speed and power that make this play especially dangerous. If we do feature the counter along with the power, our offense will be able to threaten to overwhelm the defense at either off tackle gap from the same alignment. I may go into greater detail down the line at some point but the real beauty here is on the second level of the defense. You can start to target the secondary run fits with your play calling and put the defensive backs in conflict. The counter can be particularly deadly against cover 3 because the backside wide receiver should be in good position to get downfield on the free safety and open up the long run. That leaves the deep corner as the unblocked defender in the open field with no angle on the play. And while we are thinking of cover 3, there’s a companion play on the weakside that is a great call against Cover 3 Sky (the two corners and free safety dropping deep).
It isn’t incorrect to think of this as a weakside power run, although in terms of assignments the offensive line has think of it differently. The kick tends to be a much more situation specific play call than the power. The blocking rules are very similar to the counter but this play hits the defense quicker than the counter by motioning the H-back/Fullback to the weakside right before the snap of the ball and taking away the counter steps from the tailback. As a result the pulling guard has got to haul ass on this play. Look out for the Weakside Kick when the offense is lined up on the hash with the strength of the formation to the field and the free safety is creeping toward the middle. That’s when this has a chance to be a home run because the defense is relying on the free safety to step up and stop this play if nobody can come off their block, but the free safety’s initial steps are going to take him toward the center of the field and with the vertical running lane created by the kick, the running back should get into the open field in a hurry. Here’s an example of one that got away from Boise State… perfect call with one critical blown assignment:
The pulling Guard thinks he’s supposed to trap the defensive end on this play because the H-back doesn’t stay on his kick out block. As a result they are both focused on the defensive end leaving the weakside linebacker unblocked. Watch the clip a few times and look at how wide open that run is if the weakside linebacker gets picked up like he should have.
Okay, so that’s two gap plays to look out for on the weakside. But just like the strong side runs, it’s a mix of gap and zone, of quick hitters and slow developers, that will produce the best results. Let’s take a look at a few of the other tools that we will have to work with on the weakside.
Strong Inside Zone
Just like its weak counterpart the Strong Inside Zone actually presents a significant threat to the weakside of the formation with the cutback run. As the blockers flow strong, the defenders flow strong to defend their gaps. But just as before, the offense is going to sneak the h-back to the backside of the play to open up the cutback lane. If done just right, the seas will part for the running back and he can run right up the seam.
Weak Outside Zone
This play isn’t a direct complement to the Power O, but it should be part of the conversation since it strengthens our weakside runs and threatens the defense when we align with a weak formation to the wide side of the field. I also just wanted to include this clip to help people see how different Boise’s Outside Zone execution is from the version that we’ve seen from Texas over the years. The linemen who are in good position to reach block a defender will get outside and then just plant themselves to create a log jam. If they can’t quite get the reach they will ride the defender to the outside. The other linemen will pull to create additional outside pressure on the defense. The reach blocks help create lanes for the pulling blockers to get to the second level and further clog up the defenders trying to flow to the outside. Compare this to Texas’ previous execution where our linemen would all flow together trying to create a uniform wall and waiting for the defenders to come to them. It’s the vast difference between what works on paper and what works in practice. This play doesn’t go for a huge gain but check out how ugly the offense line’s execution looks but how pretty it works at creating running lanes.
Finally, I wanted to talk a little about misdirection in the run game. We’ve seen the offense use counter steps from the running back to influence the defense. In addition, I suspect we are going to see a lot of horizontal pressure used to showcase Texas’ skill position speed and to help apply further pressure to the edge players and the linebackers. Harsin has shown love for some packages from the fly offense in the past as well (although from a different formations). In the Spring game we toyed with the Jet Sweep to the strongside. In our Power Sets the Jet Sweep can be paired with the Counter, the Power O or either flavor of Inside Zone. Again the intent is to put the defense in conflict. Here’s a couple looks at the Counter run off of jet action from Boise State’s game against New Mexico State last year. Pay particular attention to how the jet action affects the linebackers which buys time for the Counter's blockers to get into great position.
In the Spring game Texas ran the weak inside zone with jet action.
We also threw out the full reverse of off the Power O's action. We've got 4 QB's might as well get em blocking out in space.
Just a friendly reminder that when it comes to feint-riposte, Harsin isn’t afraid to stab for the heart.
There’s more to come, in time. We’ve built a skeleton of the ground game but we all know the deadliest complement to the Power play is the play action pass. In our next installment we’ll try to get a feel for how the passing game integrates into these power sets.