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Tom Herman Offense Preview Part 1: Run Game


Ryan Bridges
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The news that Major Applewhite would be the new head coach at Houston threw a wrench in my work on this breakdown, but it turned out to be a bit of a blessing. I had watched eight Houston games and, after weeks of reading everywhere about Tom Herman's power run attack, I was very confused: There was a fair amount of Power Read, but I had seen Power-O less than a handful of times. But then I flipped on some 2012-14 Ohio State and, miraculously, there was Power-O (and a lot of other stuff more interesting than what Houston was doing). Texas is going to run a lot of Power-O in 2017, so it's useful to see it in action. 

 

The other benefit of watching Ohio State is that the talent is more similar to Texas'. Ohio State's wide receivers make plays that Houston's can't, but Texas' can. Greg Ward's athleticism also let UofH do some things that Ohio State didn't — or more likely, his athleticism relative to that of his teammates meant UofH asked him to do things that OSU didn't have to ask of J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones. Texas' situation will be closer to Ohio State's. All that to say, I expect Texas' offense to more closely resemble what Herman did at Ohio State than what he and Applewhite did at Houston. Even if I'm wrong, the core concepts are the same.

 

And there's one other perk of watching these old OSU games: I have All-22 videos of some of them. We'll stick to using those since they're superior to TV broadcast angles in every way.

 

Personnel and Alignment

 

Most of the offense will be run out of 11 personnel (1 back and 1 tight end), same as this year's Texas offense. Unlike Sterlin Gilbert's offense, however, there's also a fair amount of 21 personnel, typically with a tailback and a slot receiver type (Urban Meyer calls this player the H; think Percy Harvin and Curtis Samuel, or UofH's Demarcus Ayers and D'Eriq King). The H is a bigly player in this offense, as you'll see. Sometimes he'll start in the backfield, but more often he's motioned in before the snap. Tight ends (Y) will line up in-line, as H-backs or occasionally as offset fullbacks. Empty, 12 and 10 personnel are also prevalent.

 

It goes without saying that the days of crazy wide receiver splits are over. This offense will actually go in the opposite direction, frequently using "nasty" (tight) receiver splits for some passing concepts, which we'll get to in Part 2. Another interesting feature is the use of unbalanced sets, including Quads (four receivers to a side). 

 

The Plays

 

The Sterlin Gilbert preview had a handful of run plays in it; this one's going to triple that number. The base play is Inside Zone, but even that has several mutations (we'll look at Inside Zone Read, Zone Arc, Split Zone, Zone Bluff and Bash). There are off-tackle runs: Outside Zone, Pin & Pull, Buck Sweep, Speed Option... And there are between-the-tackle gap schemes like Power-O, Power Read, Counter H, Wham and Dart.

 

We'll look at the individual plays in a second, but just look at some of the variety Herman can hit the defense with from 11 personnel sets just based on whether the tailback and H-back are on the same side...

 

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... or opposite sides.

 

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Obviously, it gets more complicated when you add a second back to the mix with the threat of Jet Sweep, Lead Outside Zone, Triple Option and so on.

 

Inside Zone

 

This is the bread-and-butter play, a quick hitter that attacks the A gaps.

 

V1jnTTu.png

 

I assume people know what the play looks like, so I just highlighted that they will run it toward or away from the tight end. The same is true if the Y is lined up in an H-back role, but if he and the back are to the same side, it becomes Zone Arc, in which the H-back will arc around the read man to block someone on the second level.

 

mUqmcgj.png

 

This gives the quarterback a lead blocker if the defensive end crashes down and takes away the dive.

 

They can also run Midline Zone Read, where a defensive tackle is the unblocked read defender instead of the backside defensive end, but I didn't see that frequently enough to warrant its own gif.

 

Split Zone

 

Everything about this play is the same as Inside Zone Read — including the fact that the backside end is initially left unblocked — except that this time the H-back crosses the formation and kicks out the end, creating a seam for a cutback. 

 

1pACuq2.png

 

Somehow I don't have an example of this, but another variation of Split Zone is Zone Bluff, where the H-back will act like he's going to kick out the unblocked defender, only to wrap around him to block the next guy, just as he would in Zone Arc. The quarterback reads the end the same way: If he attacks the block, the QB keeps; if he stands pat, the QB gives.

 

And here's the first appearance of the H, this time played by #17 Jalin Marshall.

 

Y32T4yA.png

 

The blocking is the same, and shades of Zone Bluff are visible — the H-back doesn't immediately engage the outside linebacker, and if the OLB crashed inside, the H-back would bypass him for the next inside linebacker. The quarterback is reading the OLB as well. If he had crashed, the QB would have pulled and proceeded on with the option, with Marshall as the pitch man. 

 

Power-O

 

This one should be very familiar.

 

88JhMHL.png

 

Tight end kicks out, backside guard pulls and leads through the hole and the rest of the line blocks down.

 

Another option, instead of blocking the defensive end, is to read him and send the tight end to the second level. 

 

xeYaflh.png

 

This is Power Read. The quarterback becomes the "dive" player while the tailback or H (#10 Corey Brown) runs across his face in a sweep action.

 

Counter

 

Another familiar play is Counter, or specifically Counter H. The line blocks down except the backside guard pulls and kicks out the defensive end and the H-back (hence the "H" in the play's name) crosses the formation to lead block for the tailback. 

 

DEDBibT.png

 

Notice the backfield action. Most teams (including Houston and Texas last year) put the tailback on the side away from where the play is going. He takes a counter step before turning back and receiving the handoff. I'm not sure which way Herman will do it at Texas, though I seem to recall that he did it the same way it's done in this gif when he was at Iowa State. We'll see.

 

If the quarterback is a capable runner, he can carry it himself with either an H-back or even a tailback as his lead blocker. So yeah, maybe we'll see this one in a few years.

 

KbPPAUI.png

 

Outside Zone

 

Here's a new one. 

 

l63uJUe.png

 

The offensive line basically tries to hook the defense or, if it can't, tries to run them to the sideline. The tailback gets the handoff in a sort of sweep action. Theoretically the quarterback could read the backside defensive end or backside linebacker and decide to keep it if the defense overpursued. 

 

Now with the H carrying it and the tailback acting as a lead blocker:

 

P2V0mgq.png

 

The next one is "Jet Sweep," but it's the same idea except with the H receiving the handoff while in motion and not starting in the backfield. Notice how wide the tailback is, a clue that an outside run is coming. He's lined up wide so he can get out front quickly as a blocker.

 

cAZydrW.png

 

If he's capable, the quarterback can also run it himself:

 

WGyY2dh.png

 

A related play Herman will dial up from time to time is Pin & Pull. It's the same backfield action but the offensive line is no longer zone blocking.

 

oK5cndX.png

 

If a lineman has a defender lined up on him, he blocks him; if not, he pulls. In this example, the left tackle and center are uncovered, so they're the pullers. Flip the back to the other side and the quarterback could just as easily keep it himself, though I don't expect Shane Buechele to be doing much of that either.

 

Dart

 

These next two plays aren't run frequently enough to warrant their own sections, I just think they're cool. Notice at the beginning of this play how much it looks like basic Inside Zone. 

 

eKRNY6s.png

 

The trick is that the backside tackle pulls and the tailback uses his counter steps to follow him. You can see the headache this causes for the playside linebacker, who thinks he's seeing Inside Zone, overpursues and then gets trapped inside by the pulling tackle.

 

Bash

 

Finally, this is a combination of Inside Zone Read (the blocking) and Power Read (the backfield action and read).

 

cn3zhI8.png

 

I've also seen this called Switch Read (because the quarterback and tailback switch their Inside Zone Read responsibilities), but Bash is Meyer's terminology. The way this offense toys with defensive ends is great and may be worth exploring later.

 

There you have it. We'll get to the passing game soon, hopefully this weekend. 

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Ryan  another great job and big thanks for the amount of work and time this took .  It looks like the QB will be required to run the ball much more in this offense and this is why I am not sure that Buechele will be the starter next year and one person has mentioned that Heard might get another shot at QB with Herman. 

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Gotta be able to throw the ball to be considered a dual threat.

Could you expand on this comment, Daniel? Are you referring to his shoulder injury? Personally, I didn't see too many throws from Shane that I didn't think Heard could make. Plus Heard is electric when it come to running.  What's your honest thoughts on this? 

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Could you expand on this comment, Daniel? Are you referring to his shoulder injury? Personally, I didn't see too many throws from Shane that I didn't think Heard could make. Plus Heard is electric when it come to running. What's your honest thoughts on this?

My concern was the rainy game two seasons ago in which Heard was pulled because he couldn't grip the ball well enough to throw down field. Otherwise enjoyed watching him play. Maybe the Peyton Manning glove would come in handy😎
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I can't answer for Daniel, but *proceeds to answer for Daniel* ... 

 

Heard's issues I think come down to decision-making and accuracy. Even if different, hopefully better, coaching could lead to quicker, better decisions, can he consistently connect in the quick game? Recall his struggles even accurately throwing screens in 2015.

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Could you expand on this comment, Daniel? Are you referring to his shoulder injury? Personally, I didn't see too many throws from Shane that I didn't think Heard could make. Plus Heard is electric when it come to running. What's your honest thoughts on this?

Heard didn't process things at the speed Buechele did and that's even with Shane being a true freshman. Gilbert's offense didn't ask the QB to make a ton of throws, because of its simple nature and I think it's telling that even in a simplified offense that the coaches opted to move Heard to WR.

 

Heard's athleticism is definite plus, but I think his upside is much higher at WR or in an offensive weapon role rather than quarterback. I may be wrong, but Heard is going to have to show me a lot before I'm willing to buy in to him as a QB at this level.

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I can't answer for Daniel, but *proceeds to answer for Daniel* ...

 

Heard's issues I think come down to decision-making and accuracy. Even if different, hopefully better, coaching could lead to quicker, better decisions, can he consistently connect in the quick game? Recall his struggles even accurately throwing screens in 2015.

This. All of this as well. Among other things, I'm huge situational football and that was something that Heard never seemed to grasp as the year progressed. Like his awareness of where he is on the football field and knowing the down and distance. Stuff like that is crucial and it was infuriating that he didn't progress in that area as he logged more minutes and reps.

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