Nebraska’s Outside Zone and Variants – South Alabama

Because inside zone targets the interior DL and LBs, defenses will start to overreact to it after a few times of being gashed in the middle.  Once Riley and Langsdorf see this happening, they mix it up with outside zone (“OZ”).  OZ is also known as the “stretch” play.  Unlike the vertically hitting inside zone play, OZ is about horizontal displacement: move the defensive line and linebackers toward the sideline and make them maintain their gap integrity.  Once a hole opens up in their front, stick your foot in the ground and get vertical.  This type of blocking isn’t new to Nebraska; Osborne and Tenopir frequently blocked their option runs with it, and of course Bill Callahan loved that god damn stretch play against USC.

Nebraska runs a couple of different versions of OZ depending on the game plan for the week and the fronts they see from the defense.  In this post, let’s look at two of them: (1) standard OZ; and (2) the Pin and Pull.

 Play 1 – Outside Zone

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs)

Formation: Ace H Wing (TE lined up opposite the H-Back in a wing position)

Although this is the UCLA game, I include it here because it’s a great example of the horizontal displacement on OZ.


Much like inside zone, you still get the double on the DL before working to the second level.  On this run, Lewis and Utter get a double on UCLA’s defensive end before Lewis works up to the LB.

There are two major differences between inside zone and outside zone.  First, on outside zone, the OL is trying to work horizontal to “reach” block the next playside defender rather than trying to immediately work vertical.  In this example, Utter is reach blocking the defensive end on a horizontal path; once Utter overtakes him, Lewis can then work up to the second level.  

Second, the RB is no longer heading to the playside B gap but instead working to the first defender outside the TE.  In this case, Ozigbo is targeting UCLA’s LOLB.  He is reading two defenders on this run: (1) the first man outside or head up on the TE (in this case the LOLB); and (2) the next defender that shows inside of him.  Depending on how the OL handles those two defenders, Ozigbo can either bounce (if the LOLB is sealed inside), bang (if the LOLB is reached/pushed to the sideline and the DE is sealed), or bend (if both the LOLB and DE are reached and horizontally displaced toward the sideline).

In this play, because Cethan Carter reaches the LOLB and Utter is able to reach the DE, both defenders get horizontally displaced out of their gaps and Ozigbo bends the ball back behind Carter and Utter.  This is the magic of the outside zone: it is difficult to maintain gap integrity with your closest defender while tracking the horizontal motion from the offensive line.  And when you lose it, this play can easily go to the house.  But that magic also has a cost.  Outside zone requires just as much synchronicity from the offensive line, and so it takes a ton of practice time to run it effectively.  If that synchronicity isn’t there, the play often ends up with LBs running free through gaps and a negative play behind the line of scrimmage.  Here, though, the OL does its job and Ozigbo gets a nice gain from it.


Play 2 – The Pin and Pull Variant

Personnel: 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs)

Formation: Pistol Pair F Wing

Pistol OZ

The Pin and Pull outside zone variation takes advantage of the natural blocking angles against a defense’s front, and it can also be used to handle a problem defensive lineman who you are struggling to reach block.  The “pin” comes from down blocking an interior defender; in this play, the Y and RG both down block (on the DE and NT, respectively).  The “pull” comes from the LT and C pulling around those down blocks to lead the outside zone play on the perimeter.  In this respect, the action is essentially the same as the fold block we looked at in the inside zone/jet sweep post.

The other unique part of this play is the FB, in this case Andy Janovich, lined up in a wing position outside of the TE (Y).  Janovich’s versatility (as Riley says, he’s just a “really good football player”) allowed Langsdorf to move him all over the field to take advantage of his strengths.  In this case, he gets matched up blocking a free safety on the perimeter, a matchup that Janovich will win 99% of the time.  He certainly does this time, as he kicks the FS out and allows Lewis and Reeves to pull up underneath him and lead the way for Terrell Newby.  

As with the standard outside zone, Newby has a three-way read: bounce, bang or bend.  In this case, with the EMOL kicked out and the next interior defender sealed, Newby bangs it for a first down.

Pin and Pull OZ.gif

Wrapping It Up

Much like its inside zone variants, Nebraska can run this as a zone read play from the shotgun as well, reading the backside DE or EMOL rather than cutting him loose.  Because outside zone was a core play in Tim Beck’s offense, Nebraska did a pretty good job of blocking this play throughout the year.  It also helps that Nick Gates and Alex Lewis, Nebraska’s two best starting offensive linemen, were the ones primarily tasked with handling the first defender in the RB’s outside zone decision tree.  With Gates coming back in 2016 after a strong redshirt freshman debut, look for Riley and Langsdorf to continue using the stretch play as a way to force defenses to account for the entire width of the field rather than simply sitting on the inside running plays.


2 thoughts on “Nebraska’s Outside Zone and Variants – South Alabama

  1. Larry M

    I’ve commonly heard the “pin and pull” variant referred to as Buck Sweep. Same play, different terminology. Good stuff.
    You should also look at the way the Minnesota Gophers used to run it back in the early-mid 2000’s when they had Laurence Maroney, Marion Barber and Greg Eslinger.

    1. Yep. With pin and pull, it’s a check off outside zone from the huddle, and the most likely pulling combo is C and playside OT. With Buck Sweep, you’re getting the two OGs pulling.

      There’s a cut up video of Minnesota out there that’s about 10 minutes long and nothing but Pin and Pull. Really good stuff.

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