When Tre Madden tore a ligament in his knee and was sidelined for the season, USC found itself again with a lack of depth at the running back position. About four months later, sanctions were announced at Penn State which allowed USC to recruit star running back Silas Redd. This not only helped add depth to the running back position, but also gave us a tremendous talent with game experience.
Admittedly, I don’t know if I had ever seen a single play by Redd since I don’t follow Penn State football much. I started with the basics by looking at his stats. Last season, Redd ran for 1,241 yards on 244 carries (5.1 yards per carry) and averaged 95.5 yards per game. He has some pass catching experience with 9 receptions for 43 yards (4.8 yards per catch). Compare this to McNeal who ran for 1,005 yards on 145 carries (6.9 yards per carry), 83.8 yards per game, and 3 receptions for 19 yards (6.3 yards per catch). These are pretty good numbers which should only improve when he’s surrounded with the other weapons that USC’s offense holds. However, stats and numbers only tell part of the tale.
There were a number of questions that I had, but one stood out to me more than any other in terms of Silas Redd making an immediate contribution: How fast will Silas Redd be able to learn USC’s schemes and running plays? In such a short time, will he have enough command of the playbook to know where the cutback lanes are and what his options are without having to think about them in game?
Like I said earlier, I hadn’t seen much, if any, of Silas Redd at Penn State. This also means I didn’t have any game film of him to look at. That’s where YouTube comes in. I looked up Silas Redd’s highlight reels on YouTube, in particular this one. I then did a quick break down and diagram of the plays shown in his highlight video. Finally, I took the USC at Oregon game from last year and compared USC’s running plays to the ones I saw in Redd’s highlight reel and looked for similarities in the running schemes. Keep in mind that the plays will not look exactly the same. Many of these plays share concepts with each other, but aren’t 100% the “same play.” Also, defensive alignment would affect the specifics of who blocks who etc.
Please note that this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive study. It is just a feel for what Redd is used to doing schematically. It is also worth mentioning at this point that I am by no means an expert in blocking schemes. I try to soak up as much as possible from various sources such as SmartFootball, and I will try to link various articles to the concepts I point out to here. However, if you do notice mistakes or incorrect analysis by myself, I encourage you to leave a comment below for everyone’s learning benefit, including my own.
First, we will look at the Inside Zone play that was found in the highlight video. The inside zone is a blocking scheme where offensive linemen will block the zone in front of them first. If they are uncovered (nobody lined up directly in front of them), they will move towards the side the play is going to (the “playside”) and help with a double team before potentially moving up to the second level to block a linebacker. (see this SmartFootball article for further Inside/Outside Zone play explanation).
The run is designed for the strongside (right) B gap. The offensive linemen follow pretty typical zone blocking schemes. Uncovered linemen go into double teams to the play side and move on to any linebackers once the double team is established. The left tackle starts with trying to help on a double team and once that is established creates a backside wall to prevent the defensive end from coming in. The playside wide receiver goes after the safety rather than the usual block on the cornerback. Silas Redd hits the hole, follows the downfield blocks, then fights for yards after contact for a good gain.
Now let us look at a similar play that USC runs.
Here, Curtis McNeal is aiming for the weakside (left) A gap. Again, it is a straightforward zone blocking scheme where the offensive linemen block playside and once the center establishes the double team with the right guard, he moves on to pick up a linebacker. Robert Woods, as the playside Wide Receiver, moves up to block the safety instead of the cornerback, similar to what Penn State did. There is no backside seal block due to the way that Oregon lined up with strength and numbers to the strong side, which Matt Kalil handled pretty well (rewatch the play if you missed it).
Inside Zone with Fake Sweep
These plays are similar to the last pair of inside zone plays, except in these plays both teams incorporated a fake sweep run to freeze the linebackers. First let us take a look at Silas Redd’s runs.
The first play goes to the left side A gap. It appears to be designed to this gap rather than a cutback even though the handoff occurs on the right side. It appears to be a slide or half slide protection (see this SmartFootball article for more info on the Slide protection). The playside tackle and guard both block their respective defensive linemen. The center is the first player uncovered and is the “bubble.” From the bubble to the right tackle, all players “slide” away from the playside and block whoever comes into their view. Note the difference with a typical inside zone play since the backside blockers slide away from the play rather than moving towards the playside.
Here is the second play.
This is a similar dive play with a fake on the sweep, but instead uses inside zone blocking (this may just be a protection call on the line by the Center or the Quarterback). Uncovered offensive linemen move towards the playside for double teams and then move to the second level when they have control of the block. In this particular play, the backside defensive end is left unblocked by the offensive line and is instead chop blocked by the fullback coming across the formation.
Now time to look at USC’s corresponding plays.
Click here for the video of the plays. Both plays appear to be the same play, so their breakdown will be combined. The running back’s first play is in the normal cardinal and the second is in black.
Both plays show inside zone blocking as uncovered offensive linemen move playside to establish the double team then move to the second level. This is similar to the second play described above for Penn State. Also like Penn State’s play, the fullback comes to the backside and blocks for the cutback route. On the first USC play, McNeal goes through the designed inside gap. However, on the second play, McNeal takes the cutback route and tries to follow the block of the fullback.
Isolation plays (or “Iso”) are run with a fullback lead blocker and try to isolate a linebacker against the fullback. I have a couple of isolation plays with fullback lead blockers from both Penn State and USC.
The defense blitzes their linebackers on this play, which the offensive line does not pick up very well as there are multiple defenders penetrating the line of scrimmage. Fairly straightforward blocking by the line and the fullback picks up the most dangerous defender.
Now for the second play.
Here, the defense either blitzes their three linebackers or they all just react quickly to the run. The right tackle seals off the backside and the uncovered center goes out to take out a linebacker. The fullback takes on one of the two remaining linebackers, but the defense actually has the advantage in numbers here (8 players in the box playing the run against 7 blockers). Redd gets a good spin to turn what should have been a loss of one to a gain of 10.
Now for USC’s plays.
Barkley brings in help from the backside wide receiver as the defense lines up with nine in the box. The extra receiver makes it nine blockers against ten defenders (the corner moves in with the wide receiver’s motion). The offensive line does inside zone blocking with both the backside receiver and the tight end seal the backside of the running play. The playside wide receiver goes in to block a player in the second level. The running back follows his lead blocker, but the gap closes up soon after the fullback makes it through, forcing the running back to cut a bit and try to force his way through a different hole for a short gain and a first down.
Now for the second play.
This play is similar in that the two backside players, both tight ends, create a seal block to protect the back end. Once the linebacker starts to move laterally in, this forces the inside tight end to pursue for the block. The rest of the line blocks toward the play side with the uncovered linemen moving to the second level. The weak side linebacker gets isolated on a block with the fullback and Marc Tyler makes for the hole but is taken down by a defensive end who dives while still engaged in a block.
Toss plays are good at getting the play quickly to the outside as you remove the time it takes for the quarterback to get to the running back for a handoff. These examples of toss plays have lead blockers for the running back, but it is always the case for this type of play.
The first toss play had the offensive line all flowing towards the play side and maintaining their blocks and double teams. The playside wide receiver crashes inside and seals off the closest linebacker. Silas Redd follows his fullback lead blocker who takes out the cornerback. This creates a one on one between Silas Redd and the safety. Redd does a little juke and the safety is on the ground, making way for a huge gain.
The second toss play is very similar in that Redd has a fullback lead blocker and the playside wide receiver is going to crash in on the linebacker. However, the offensive line doesn’t hold their double teams this time, instead opting to go after some linebackers instead. The fullback lead blocker goes after the most dangerous player (who in this case is the safety instead of the corner from the last play).
Now for USC’s toss play example.
This particular USC toss play is slightly different than the two Penn State examples. USC is in an Ace formation, rather than an I-formation. This means that there is no fullback lead blocker. Instead, USC pulls the right tackle to lead block for McNeal. Unfortunately, the lead blocker overruns and misses his assigned block. Similarly to Penn State’s second toss play, USC has the center go to the second level to block a linebacker and has the playside wide receiver looking to block the linebacker. The rest of the linemen flow playside, similar to Penn State’s plays.
One important aspect of being a running back is being the checkdown outlet for a quarterback. When the quarterback is in a scrape, it is the running back who often has to bail out the quarterback by giving consistent positive yardage.
There isn’t much to discuss schematically for these plays (and you can’t see much of the other action anyways), so I won’t make play diagrams for these plays. The running back simply wheels out and should be ready to catch the pass on the run. Often they will either be wide open with a large cushion by the defense or will have simply one defender to beat.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started researching this post. I wasn’t sure if I would see completely different looks and blocking schemes. I wasn’t sure if I would see a different running style from Redd. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that the first 10 USC runs I picked closely resembled a corresponding Penn State run. This is even with a limited sample size for both teams. Due to time constraints, I was only able to diagram a limited number of plays. It should, however, be noted that Penn State also showed other similar running concepts that USC often employs, such as the Power, fake FB-dive RB-toss, and the outside zone. This bodes well in that the offensive schemes are similar between both teams and should be easy for Redd to pick up quickly.
All in all, I was impressed watching Redd’s running. Granted this is a highlight reel, and is comprised of his best and most memorable runs. However, I see good vision and good cutback speed in him. I expect to see good things from Redd, and I expect him to feel right at home with our playbook.