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The Biggest Offensive Improvement You Probably Would Never Notice

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New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has re-energized the Air Raid at Kentucky.

Many of the principles are the same, but the wrinkles from West Virginia have brought changes in communication and scheme.  Some changes are obvious — more deep-balls, less action under center — but there’s a change in the run game the untrained eye misses.

In Neal Brown’s rushing attack, many of the formations looked like the one above.  The running back had lead blockers and a lot of space in front of him to let blocks develop.  The Oline’s assignment was usually to drive block, giving them a man and responsibility to push him down the field to create space.

Early in the season, Jojo Kemp and Co. had great lanes to get past the first line of defense (the Dline).  With one successful move against a guy at the second line of defense (linebackers), it’s off to the races for a big play.  The problems started when the SEC defensive lines came around.  Instead of moving the line of scrimmage forward, there was a stalemate.  Without the Dline receiving a push, the running backs rarely got to the second level of defense untouched, unless they Boomed ’em from the outside.

The root of the problem was relying on the offensive line to drive their man out of the way to make holes.  Drive-blocking is the most basic way to play in the trenches, essentially saying, “who’s going to win this fight?”

This year the run game is much more creative, using space, misdirection and zone blocking to gain an advantage.  Zone-blocking principles are more complex, but it’s not too much different than basketball.  A lineman steps one way to start the play, taking on the man in his path while staying vertical to create lanes.  Contrasted to drive-blocking (man coverage, if you will), you don’t have to push your man down the field, you just have to be in front of him.  The space from the running lanes allows for the running back to make a quick cut to choose the most open hole, leaving him one-on-one at the second level of defense to make a move before a busting a big play.

My favorite play they’ve ran opens holes big enough for me to run through.  With the offense in a spread shotgun formation, a screen is faked to the right, with the offensive line zone stepping to the right.  The right side offensive guard however, does not, pulling to the backside to be a lead blocker.  Boom takes the handoff to the opposite side with the defense still flowing away.  With one man to beat, it’s bound to be a big play.

Unfortunately  we missed a lot of that yesterday with Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton sidelined, but there’s much more in store for the future.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR