Film Review: OSU Tight Zone Wham vs Oregon

 Against a 3-4 Okie front, one of the keys for any offense will be “how can we block the ILBs”. With a standard Tight Zone or Power O scheme, that can be difficult, particularly when the DL can handle double teams and the OLBs can funnel everything back into fast flowing interior defenders. But the Buckeyes found several ways to exploit the Oregon front, getting both outside and punching it right between the tackles. In this post, we are going to look at how Ohio State utilized Tight Zone with a Wham blocking tag to seal the Oregon front and get OL into the ILBs.

Wham Block
From an earlier piece about zone blocking tags

Great DTs are extremely difficult to handle with blocking alone. Sometimes, accounting for them simply with blockers is not enough, so instead of simply blocking them straight up, you can generally lure them into a trap. Trap blocking was one of the most successful schemes for a long time, but doesn’t necessarily fit directly into a zone scheme (though using short and long traps can be a nice gap/man counter to zone blocking). So to make up for this, you can use a Wham block to lure the DT into the backfield and then seal him away from the play with a hard hitting H-Back/FB. Often times in today’s game, particularly in a zone scheme, the DT is not feeling free release and immediately thinking “IT’S A TRAP!” but they are instead thinking that the OL messed up and he has a free run into the RB. This can be utilized as a designed cutback or a quick hitting straight forward run play, but more often than not it is a 3-technique (possibly a 2-Technique) or further outside that will be kicked out. This gets the OL immediately into the ILBs and doesn’t let them crash down, and generally puts a wide gap into the staggered defensive front for the offense to split and get into the third level. Note that initially it also looks like split zone, which is an added advantage for the offense, particularly when designing it to cut back.

However, I didn’t look at a classic Zone Read play with a Wham Block, which is what OSU ran. Many teams that utilize a Wham block within an under-center offense have a rule that you block the first defender to the backside that is in a 3-tech or wider (this rule dates back to the old short trap blocking rules), but OSU ran it to block the first down defender to the backside of the center.

Working Within the Buckeye Architecture
There are a few things that make this play great and make it work optimally.

First, the read, in my opinion, isn’t really a read at all. That doesn’t make it any less effective however, particularly against a defense that is well schooled in staying home against the zone read. Even a faux-read keeps the backside DE home, and that’s all OSU is attempting to do here: get one extra OL to the second level. The faux-read of the backside DE does that.

Second, this play works great in combination with another Ohio State staple from their previous few games: the split zone. Seeing the H-back cross the formation provides a natural cross flow, which tends to keep the backside ILB honest, as in split zone it is that backside gap that often times becomes exposed. That also gives credence to leaving the backside DE free, so when that guy sees the H-back coming his direction it isn’t at all unusual. The Wham block at its inception looks very similar to the Split block.

Third, that Wham block still keeps the DE sealed to the backside. Yes, if the backside DE doesn’t respect the faux-read then he can crash and make a play on the ball. But he won’t make a play on the ball without working back through wash and likely down the field a bit. He’ll need to fight through the block on the NT.

Fourth, the motion really sets things up here. Ohio State utilized motion very well in this game, and it caused Oregon to shift several times out of position to better set up OSU blocks. The Buckeyes utilized what is often termed an “H-Return” motion, in which the H-back motions across the formation, pivots, and then motions back toward the direction of his initial alignment. When the H-back initially motion to the RB side, the NT shifted from a 0-Technique to a 2i-Technique and didn’t get back (it’s hard to see from the NT position, the MIKE needs to help him out there), which gave the H-back a better angle and artificially widened the gap for the RB.


Zone Read Wham

Compare it to the initial look provided by the Split Zone

Split Zone

Picture Breakdown
Here's the initial lineup just as the H-back is beginning his motion.

Note here, as the H-back turns to come back, the NT has widened out. It isn't much, but it is a clear shade further outside.

After the ball is snapped, you see the two defender the three OL let through clean. These OL are all working into the 2nd level as you see the H-back aiming for the upfield shoulder NT.

Once the H-back gets into his block, you see the OL blocks cleanly sealing the rest of the defense to the right. This provides a very nice, easy read for Zeke to cut vertically, and he gets through clean and fast.

This forces the safety to shoot straight down, giving him a very difficult two-way threat as Zeke works directly vertical. The safety unable to breakdown and the second safety late coming down results in Eliot breaking through the third level and into the end zone.

What you see is a play that is designed well in its own right: it essentially traps a difficult to block NT, takes the backside DE out of the play, and allows the OL to get into the second level LBs to prevent them from shooting down and forming a wall at the point of attack. More than that though, it fits very well within many of the other things that OSU is attempting to do. This stresses the defense a lot. The intended hole for Wham and Split zone is the same (though the split zone provides a bit more of a cut back opportunity), but the numbers at the point of attack and the blocking angles all change very slightly. Those slight changes can lead to big results, as seen in the national championship game.