Over the past couple of weeks in our ‘Inside the Tennessee Playbook’ series we have taken a deep dive into two of the Vols’ base run plays, Texas and Ohio. These two plays were both zone-scheme running plays with Texas being run toward the strong-side of the formation and Ohio being run toward the open, or weak, side of the formation. If you missed either of these articles you can catch up with them right here:
In this week’s installment of ‘Inside the Tennessee Playbook’ we will transition away from the zone-blocked plays above and discuss a man-blocked play, Blast. A man-blocked play is exactly what it sounds like. Each offensive lineman is assigned a particular defensive man to block. Sometimes this assignment is straightforward, such as an offensive lineman simply blocking the defensive player directly across the line of scrimmage. Other times the assignment could be more ambiguous, like when an offensive lineman is pulling to lead for the running back. In this circumstance the offensive lineman might be assigned the ‘first threat’ that he encounters while pulling.
Blast is a sweep play run toward the strong-side of the formation. Remember, this will usually mean that it is run in the direction of the ‘Y’ tight end, which will most often be Dominick Wood-Anderson. On Blast the quarterback hands the ball to the running back as opposed to tossing the ball. This handoff can be executed in a couple of different ways, as we’ll see a little later, and presents multiple options off of this play.
The interesting blocking assignments are observed on the strong-side of the formation between the center, guard, tackle, and tight end. These blocking assignments are determined based on a defense’s pre-snap alignment. While the defense can align in a multitude of fronts it really boils down to whether the front is ‘Even’ or ‘Odd’, and whether the center is ‘Covered’ or ‘Uncovered’.
First, we’ll go through the individual assignments on the play assuming that the defense is aligned in an ‘Even’ front with the center ‘Uncovered’ — Diagram 1, below. We’re starting with this look because it is the same look encountered by the Tennessee offense when they ran Blast for the first time in the Orange & White Game. The defensive front is ‘Even’ because there are four defensive linemen, and the center is ‘Uncovered’ because the nose tackle is positioned in a 1-Technique — aligned on the center’s outside shoulder, and in this case to the weak-side.
To go through the blocking assignments it’s probably easiest to start on the outside of the line of scrimmage and work our way in. Against the ‘Even’ front the ‘Y’ tight end is simply responsible for the defensive end across from him. This is a key block, and it’s one-on-one, so you can see why tight end is such an important position in the Chaney system. It takes a great blocker to handle SEC defensive ends in one-on-one situations. The next lineman inside is the offensive tackle, who will perform a down block on the defensive tackle and allow the guard to pull. The guard is looking for the first force player to the inside, which could be a linebacker or strong-safety depending upon how quickly these players provide run support. The center also pulls against this look, given that he is ‘Uncovered’, and he will be responsible for blocking what Coach Chaney calls “the first linebacker spot” to the strong-side. In other words, the center is looking to block the Mike linebacker flowing to the play in run support. The weak-side linemen are really just trying to cut off the defensive pursuit and prevent defensive players from running through the area vacated by the center and guard.
The first example we see of Blast from the Orange & White Game came from the second team offense at the start of the second half. Interestingly, it was called from the Pistol alignment, which offers a few advantages. For one, the quarterback has a slightly easier task with reading the defense pre-snap by being removed from the line of scrimmage. Secondly, it is probably an easier snap to handle, especially for the younger quarterbacks working with the second team offense who operated extensively out of the shotgun in high school. Last, in circumstances such as this defensive alignment which require the center to pull, it takes away the increased risk of the center and quarterback getting their feet tangled up.
What stands out to me most on this play is what a great job right tackle Nathan Niehaus does on his down block. He has a great angle on the defensive tackle and washes him completely out of the hole, even pushing him into the path of Will Ignont and disrupting Ignont’s run support. In a perfect situation, the ‘Y’ would have been able to get the defensive end turned to the inside, and this play would have hit to the outside. Unfortunately, the ‘Y’ was unable to get this leverage, and it caused some confusion for the pulling linemen. They were expecting to pull around the ‘Y’ to the outside, but because there wasn’t a great deal of movement the linemen pull too wide, basically running into the tight end. The guard inadvertently helps on the defensive end, rather than turning up for his assignment of the first force player to the inside, and the center has a poor angle to attack the Mike linebacker spot. As a result, the unblocked force defender — Jaylen McCollough — makes the tackle. Still, Jeremy Banks was able to pick up a nice gain on the play with tough running.
Later in the third quarter the first team offense had their chance to run Blast. If you look closely you’ll notice some significant differences from the previous example. The first difference is the offensive backfield position. The quarterback was moved back into the shotgun, which pushed the running back into an offset right position. Secondly, and more importantly, the defensive front has changed alignment. This time the nose tackle is head-up over the center. The defense is still in their ‘Nickel’ package, but they are presenting more of an ‘Odd’ front look here as opposed to the ‘Even’ front look, above. In this case the center cannot pull, as the nose tackle would just follow him right into the backfield. So, how did the offense adjust in order to still run the play? The guard and strong-side tackle became the pulling linemen. The offensive tackle took over the responsibility of blocking the first force defender to the inside, and the guard became the player pulling to the first linebacker spot. The ‘Y’ became responsible for the down block on the defensive tackle, and the center stayed in front of the nose tackle. In summary, the blocking scheme remained consistent, but the individual assignments were dependent upon the defense’s pre-snap position. Here is how it looked:
Like we saw in our Ohio examples, the offensive line was technically correct with their assignments. They all went to the correct spot, which is always the key to any successful play. If the players don’t at least go to the correct place the play does not have a chance. Obviously, the tight end and pulling linemen will need to execute better on the perimeter for this play to be successful during the regular season. Ty Chanlder’s speed helped the offense out quite a bit here, and prevented a third down and extra long situation.
If the offense can run Blast effectively it puts the defense into conflict. Defenders will begin to over pursue toward the run, which puts the offense in a great position to counter with play-action, roll out passes. These types of passes are critical in keeping Jarrett Guarantano upright and healthy this season. Moving Guarantano on a roll out, and selling run action, slows the defense down and prevents them from pinning their ears back on a rush. This should result in high percentage completions and fewer sacks this season, something the offense desperately needs. The Vols will need to avoid negative plays and make critical downs much more manageable than they did a season ago.
We certainly hope you’re enjoying our Inside the Tennessee Playbook series and that it is expanding your knowledge of the Vols’ offense. Please share the articles if you think other fans would be interested, too! Join us again next week for the final running play of our series: Truck.