Monday, November 8, 2010

Auburn Gap Runs: Power

Malzahn’s offense is premised on a 2-back run and play-action team that will keep constant pressure on a defense and defensive coaches by;
  1. Running the offense at a 2 minute pace the entire game (physically and mentally wear them down)
  2. Balanced attack
  3. Heavy misdirection in the run and passing game
  4. Stretch the field vertically and horizontally
  5. Throw the book at defenses with specials, fire alarms, and various personnel packages. Plan to go into each game with 7-8 trick plays
  6. Present the option in 3 different ways (zone read, speed option, power g option)

While the 2010 Auburn offense appears to be achieving success through this aggressive ethos, it is the run game utilizing Newton, Dyer, McCalebb, and Fannin that remains at the forefront.
After covering the zone-read with bubble last year and with the Cam Newton destroying defensive fronts this season, it may be time to cover Auburn's gap run schemes (Power, Counter, Hand Sweep). What is interesting about this "spread" is how much nothing has really changed over the years. This series is nothing more than Wing-T from the gun, and you'll find more and more spread teams complimenting their zone runs with these concepts (La Tech, for one).

Gus Malzahn gained notoriety as a high school coach in Arkansas throwing the ball and attacking through tempo and extreme spread sets (see ninja). While joining forces with Rich Rodriguez protege, Herb Hand, the appreciation of the 2-back power run game was realized and perfected. In this post, we'll take a look at how Auburn's inside/outside zone is complimented by gap blocking via "Power", in its many forms.


The tenets of Auburn’s run game are simple; they want to appear multiple by changing formations, ball carriers, and backfield action, while keeping scheme and technique simple for the offensive line. By reducing the workload and specifity for the offensive line, it allows them to operate efficiently at a high-tempo.

One of the first plays Malzahn installs is Power. The play is rather simple and for the offensive line, the footwork and technique can remain consistent with their zone skill sets. The vital elements of this off-tackle play revolve around the playside tackle, the H-back, and the backside guard.

The H-back looks to make his first step to the midline of the defensive end (or EMOL), who he will kick/dig out of the C gap. He obviously wants to leverage this player quickly by striking the chest and pin the inside shoulder of the defender. This player doesn’t always align in the backfield. Malzahn will often bring a slot receiver or tight end into the formation late with motion.

The playside tackle will step down hard inside and follow a B-gap track. He is looking to work his track to the 2nd inside linebacker in the box. If it is an (base) odd front, the tackle will work toward the backside inside linebacker. If it is a stacked front, he will work to the MLB. If confronted with a 3 technique playside (defensive linemen in B gap), the tackle will look to make this DT an A gap player, washing him into the playside guard’s track (thereby creating a double-team). This method allows the tackle to have a better angle attacking the backside linebacker.

The backside guard on power will skip (or shuffle) pull by first taking a quick retreat step with his backside foot, then horizontally extend his playside foot (some would even teach the skip pull by placing the backside foot behind the playside foot for a quicker release), allowing him to keep his shoulders square to the LOS and prevent him from opening his hips away. The guard is looking to pull through B-gap (right off the hip of the playside guard), so this will be a short path, and work to the first linebacker inside the box.

As mentioned, the playside guard will step down and work an A-gap track and wash any shade head-up to shade of the center. The center will always block back on a nose / backside shade / backside 3 tech, aiming high to ensure the defender does not cross his face.

The backside tackle will hinge, by stepping hard inside to prevent backside B-gap penetration, retreat, and look to just get a hand on the shoulder of the backside end.

The running back will align 7 yards deep (just like he would in zone), with his inside foot on the outside foot of the playside guard. After meshing with the quarterback, he will hug the double team, right off the hip of the playside guard, attacking B-gap.

The slot receiver (or #2) will orbit (“Utah”) motion and get even with tailback. On the snap, he will reverse field and establish a pitch relationship with QB. Often times, this orbit motion will be extended across the formation to control the backside safety.

An effective way for defenses to combat power-heavy offenses (as I write about here in 2005) is to overload their overload, bringing strong side pressure into C gap ala a "MARS" stunt or "NCAA (fire zone) blitz".  This usually has an end long-sticking into B-gap and a linebacker blitzing into C-gap (or visa versa).  When anticipating outside pressure or a end crashing inside, the PST has the ability to make a "MOMO" call, which essentially means, "(I have a) Man On and a Man Outside".  This alerts the entire offensive line to slow down on their releases and allow the line to stunt, so they can pickup the exchanges.  With a "MOMO" call, it will alert everyone to be man-concious on their blocks; the PST will delay his track release, waiting on the end to crash into B-gap (where he will wash him inside).  That alert helps the H-back recognize that the end will not be on the edge once the ball is snapped, and won't be the defender needing to be kicked out.  The center will delay his backside block on the shade, anticipating the playside defensive tackle to cross his face, and likewise, wash him on his gap-track.


When you have an exceptional runner at quarterback (like Cam Newton) Power can be run with him as the ball carrier and/or a running back can be substituted as the ‘quarterback’ (ala Wildcat). The QB power is usually complimented with perimeter stressors like speed sweep / reverse.



While great anywhere on the field, the Power Option is Auburn’s go-to play in the red zone. It is becomes the fail safe answer to fundamentally sound defenses that look to spill the load block (H-back) with the wrong-arm. Since it becomes near impossible to kick out a C-gap defender who is cutting inside a blocker, with Power Option this defender will be logged (pinned inside) and the area of attack will be moved to the perimeter. The H-back will log the end and the backside guard will work around the log and pick up the scraping MLB (first backer in the box).

The only nuance of Power Option for the line (everything remains exactly the same), is the technique used by the backside guard. Because the H-back will not be kicking out the end, the guard will have a longer path to work to the backers. To account for this, Malzahn will have the guard use the ‘old-school’ shoulder throw with playside foot pivot as the first step. Opening the hips of the guard for this extended pull track (outside C gap) helps neutralize any penetration and gets the linemen to the destination faster.

The split end will attack the slot receiver’s (who is becoming the pitch man) cover defender and the pitch key will be the flat defender. This is a fantastic play inside the 10 yard line, as most defenses will be in some sort of man coverage.


Kevin said...

Ok, my question was kind of answered about the pulling technique of the guard. When it's the shorter pull, he does that skip and slide thing. My question is why wouldn't he want to get to the shorter pull "faster" too. Or is it a shoulder square to be ready quicker thing?

brophy said...

the answer is both.

The skip pull, though it sounds counter-productive, is actually a more efficient method of transition than the 'shoulder throw / open hips' we were all taught from youth ball. The inertia created by the cross-over step (much like 4D-FTP transitions) is a more fluid and stable alignment for the body. It also helps the puller keep a tighter path to that double-team. As you probably will see with teams that regularly 'shoulder-throw' (crank the lawnmower) pull will routinely set the path of the puller deeper than it needs to be, affecting timing of the back and the block on the backer.

Kevin said...

Is there a breakdown of the skip pull footwork/technique anywhere out there?

brophy said...

there isn't much too it, though.

Its on Huey by 'kw' (Ken Wilmsherr) quite a few years ago.

Just drop/crossover the backfield foot behind the playside foot. The natural progression of your inside foot will place you on a LOS parallel retreat

C.O. said...

Just wondering what adjustments there were and how the play changed (i.e. changed pitch key, changed paths of pulling o-lineman) on power option if that playside d-end doesnt crash, or wrong arm it, and H back cannot log him and now must kick him out. So basically, how does the play change. Maybe u explained and I missed it. Thanks for any insight, and AWESOME article Brophy,