Inside zone may be the most ubiquitous play in college football. If you look at the playbook of every college team, it is almost guaranteed inside zone is in there somewhere. Every single defense employed today starts out with how to stop inside zone. The popularity of the play is part simplicity and part logic. Basic geometry states the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The object of football is to score as many points as possible. Fastest way to score the most points is score touchdowns. Shortest distance between here and the end zone is a straight line. Inside zone is run in a straight line, therefore it is a logical play to have in the playbook. Inside zone offers options to double-team any and every stellar defensive lineman on the field so its simplicity against all front is also attractive.
While outside zone aims for horizontal displacement on the defense to stretch them out, inside zone aims for vertical displacement. If outside zone is the accordion stretched out to its furthers length, inside zone is the accordion brought together. Outside zone is sealing defenders inside so you can run outside, inside zone is sealing defenders outside so you can run inside. The running back has the same Bang/Bounce/Bend reads he has on outside zone except the goal is different; he looks to bang it inside at the outset of the play.
Typically when running inside zone you leave the backside end or EMLOS unblocked for the QB to read for the give/keep option. This is not that play. The tight end and all receivers are blocking, this is not an RPO, this is a called running play. Boundary receiver blocks playside linebacker. TE blocks playside end. LT and LG combo block to the middle linebacker. Center and RG combo block to the backside linebacker. RT blocks the weakside end. Field slot blocks safety and field receiver blocks cornerback. On this play, everyone blocks except the QB and the ballcarrier.
This is a power play without the gap element to it, just pure grind-it-out football. At the snap, the RB takes the handoff from the QB and looks to the strongside A-gap to bang it inside. If that is covered, he looks to bounce it outside to the weakside C-gap or bend it backside to the strongside. With the two double-team blocks inside, the first option to bang it inside is usually there.
Executing Inside Zone
In the first quarter of A&M’s game against South Carolina last season, the Aggies came out in 11 personnel. Jalen Wydermyer is aligned offset to the boundary and Jalen Preson is the boundary receiver. Ainias Smith is the field slot and Caleb Chapman is the field receiver. Isaiah Spiller is aligned to the left of Zach Calzada.
At the snap, Wydermyer blocks the strongside end and Preston makes an effort to block strong safety R.J. Roderick. LT Jahmir Johnson and LG Kenyon Green double the 3-tech and Green goes second level to block LB Brad Johnson. Green dominates Johnson. C Bryce Foster and RG Layden Robinson double-team the 3-tech and Robinson climbs to seal #30 Damani Staley outside. RT Reuben Fatheree blocks edge Jordan Burch. Ainias Smith blocks Carlins Platel and Caleb Chapman stalk blocks CB Cam Smith. Isaiah Spiller takes the handoff, takes his three read steps, and cuts right into the tunnel created by Johnson/Green and Foster/Robinson. Spiller isn’t touched by a defender until he is seven yards down the field. The result of the play is an 18 yard gain and a first down. The interior zone blocking is training film.
Facing An Odd Front
In the third quarter of the A&M-Ole Miss game last season, A&M came out on 2nd and 4 in 11 personnel. Wydermyer is aligned wing right, Preston is the boundary receiver and Ainias Smith is the field slot next to Demond Demas. Devon Achane is aligned to Calzada’s right. At the snap, Preston fights off coverage and tries to get vertical. Smith and Demas both run 5 yard outs, unlike the previous play, this is an RPO. Ole Miss has a 3-2 front and six in the box, so this is a pre-snap read to give on inside zone.
LT Johnson and LG Green double the weak DE and Johnson climbs and seals the apex defender outside. C Foster and RG Robinson double the 1-tech and Robinson climbs second level. Robinson engages and blocks the playside linebacker. TE Wydermyer engages the strongside end and while he doesn’t drive him backwards, he keeps him outside and does his job. Achane takes the handoff from Calada, flies through the Green/Robinson tunnel, and races down the sideline. Ole Miss is in Cover 1 pre-snap and Achane outruns the safety coming into the box, blowing up the pursuit angle. Achane bowls over Preston and CB Deane Leonard on his way into the end zone. Result of the play is a 24 yard TD run.
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