An Analysis of Two Buck Allen Runs against Arizona

This post will look at two touchdown runs by Buck Allen in USC’s road win at Arizona.  The first run was a 34 yard run late in the 1st quarter while the second was a 48 yard run early in the 2nd quarter.  These were the first two touchdowns by USC in the game.

Allen’s 1st Touchdown Run

I really loved rewatching the first touchdown run by Allen.  This is because it was near flawless execution of one of my favorite plays in football: the power run.  First, here’s a link to the video:

Let’s look at the play diagram presnap.


USC lines up in the shotgun with the strong side to the right.  Arizona counters by lining up tight.  The corners are playing press coverage and Arizona puts five on the line with one linebacker playing right behind the linemen and the other linebacker at normal depth.  There is a single high safety.  USC motions the wide receiver on the boundary from the right to the left which brings the cornerback across the field as well.

Let’s look at what the defense does first.


The corners play all three receivers in man to man coverage (including the receiver in motion).  Arizona sends in a blitz with six pass rushers.  They try to overload the right side and get a good push up the middle between the center and the right guard.  The linebacker who doesn’t rush in is likely the perimeter force player who has the responsibility to force any runs back inside.

Now for the offense’s play call.


The receivers on the left fake as if they are blocking for a swing pass / wide receiver screen to the receiver in motion.  This keeps backside secondary players on the left side away from the play and also probably helps freeze the safety.

The more interesting things are happening up front in the blocking scheme.  The backside (left) linebacker who is on the line of scrimmage is left unblocked.  Instead, the left tackle goes in and blocks the left defensive end.  The center and right guard block the nose tackle which also bottles up the blitzing middle linebacker.

Now for the key blocks.  The right tackle is the seal block.  He gets the right defensive end and turns him towards the center of the field, effectively walling off any defenders from coming from the backside of the play.  The tight end takes on the right outside linebacker and is the “kick out” player.  He turns the outside linebacker and walls off the other side, creating an alley for the running back to go through.  The left guard pulls from the the backside and is the lead blocker for the running back.  This “pulling guard” will take on whoever is the greatest threat; in this case, it is the linebacker who we noted as the perimeter force player.

Let’s take a look at how this play unfolds.  Luckily, the TV broadcast showed this play from both the sideline standard TV angle as well as the angle from behind the offense, which gives us a great view for analysis.

Here is the pre-snap look for the play.  Not too much interesting going on yet.


This is the play at the snap.  The man in motion draws the cornerback across the formation (red arrows).  This further opens up the play side.


The snap of the ball is high.  Luckily this didn’t affect the timing of the play.  The left guard starts to pull across the formation (circled in the top screen).


The key blocks are starting to happen here.  The right tackle has turned his defender in and walled off the play (circled in red on the top).  His positioning is perfect as it makes it so that none of the interior defenders have a direct route to the alley.  The running alley is clearly seen in the bottom picture with the red lines outlining it.  The backside linebacker is unblocked and has the highest opportunity to blow up the play (yellow arrows).


The backside linebacker that was mentioned above takes a route for the quarterback.  He must have read play action or thought the high snap would disrupt the run’s timing.  This takes himself out of the play.  The pulling guard takes on the linebacker and everyone is still keeping on their blocks.  This means that the only player who can now make the play on the running back is the free safety.


Allen jukes and outruns the free safety, solidifying the touchdown.


Allen’s 2nd Touchdown Run

Now let’s look at the 2nd touchdown run by Allen.  This play is also a power run, but goes more towards the inside.  Here is a link to the video of the play:

First, let’s look at the presnap diagram.


This time, USC lines up in a Pistol formation with the strong side to the right.  The defense lines up with with eight men in the box.  USC motions the left receiver behind the Quarterback, similar to the other play that we looked at.  The defense responds by rolling almost the entire secondary.  The corner who was on the motion receiver moves back towards the safety.  The linebacker on the left moves closer into the box.  The right side linebacker moves up to the line of scrimmage.  The safety rolls down and right to defend the swing pass and the end around.  The right side corner goes from press to loose coverage.

Now let’s see the defensive play diagram.

The left corner continues to drop back as the deep coverage zone.  The safety rolls down to crash on the motion receiver while the right corner plays man to man on his receiver.  The defense blitzes five with the right linebacker going in.  The other linebackers roll to the right to cover the gaps and play fairly close in.

Let’s look at the offense’s response here.

On the right side, the receivers again fake a swing pass with the right receiver going in for a block on the safety.  Now for the front line blocking scheme.  The left tackle just stays on the defensive end who is trying to go wide.  The left tackle is perfectly happy to let this defender get to the backfield since it will take himself out of the play.  The left guard pulls and combos with the fullback as the “kick-out” block.  The center blocks the nose tackle across from him and keeps him backside.  The right guard and right tackle both combo on the defensive tackle to push him backwards.  This helps generate a huge running lane for Buck Allen.  After getting a good backward push on the defensive tackle, the right guard then moves on to block one of the linebackers.  The tight end picks up the blitzing linebacker and blocks him.

Now let’s look at how the play unfolds.  For most of the play there were two angles shown on the TV broadcast: one standard TV angle and one wide, zoomed-out angle.

Here is a look at the play presnap.


This is the play at the snap of the ball.  The motion of the receiver (yellow arrow) causes the defense to shift (red arrows).  The defense is fairly loaded with eight players in the box and showing blitz.


This is the play at the handoff and when things start to get really interesting.  On the top view, you can see the pulling guard (red circle).  You can also see the double team blocking (yellow circle) which helps drive the Arizona line backwards.  On the bottom view, you can see the threat of the swing pass (red arrow).  This draws the safety down (yellow arrow) and pulls him away from the play.


Here is the play shortly after the handoff.  There is a lot of interesting stuff here, so we’ll take multiple looks at this.  First thing to note is that the right guard has released his double team now that the defensive lineman has been driven back and is controlled by the right tackle (yellow circle).  Not only has the right tackle controlled the block, but he has also managed to turn the defensive lineman, which is key to creating the running lane.  The right guard is now at the second level blocking a linebacker (red circle).


The next thing I wanted to point out is the center (red circle).  The center has driven the nose tackle a good two yards past the line of scrimmage and continues to drive him backward and imposing his will.  This is important because it puts the outside linebacker (yellow circle) out of position as he is now walled off from making a play (green line in the bottom image).


Going over to the right side now.  One of the middle linebackers has taken a really poor angle (red circle with arrow).  He takes the outside, possibly because he thinks this will be a perimeter run due to the fullback and pulling guard both going wide.  Had he taken the inside lane, this run probably gets stopped for a short gain of a few yards falling forward or even for no gain.  Instead, this linebacker gets walled off himself due to poor positioning (green line in the bottom image).


Buck Allen hits the hole hard.  The blocks are good and you can see the alley he has in the top image.  Now the only player in position to make any sort of stop is the corner who has rolled up top (red circle and arrow on bottom image).  The corner comes crashing down now.


However, the corner takes a poor angle.  He crashes inside (red arrow) which allows Buck Allen to simply sidestep him towards the outside (yellow arrow).  Had the corner played more of a contain or as a “force” player, he had help coming from the backside (two players circled in red on the bottom image).



These were two picture perfect examples of power running plays by USC and by Buck Allen.  Both show great blocking and execution to get to the second level players.  Both also show how Coach Sarkisian has melded concepts to spread the defense out horizontally by having the threat of the swing pass while also running the ball with power.


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