Ask the Coach - Gators' Running Game

In our first segment of "Ask the Coach", Mike Stoeber searched the message boards to find questions that he could lend his expertise and answer. This week he took on the task of answering a question from GatorBogey about the Gator's running game. The Gators' staple running play is the Inside Zone, and Stoeber tries to define it for you here.

Once again I want to introduce Mike Stoeber and his qualifications...he is a long time friend of mine and as qualified of a person as you will find in teaching football to the general public. Mr. Stoeber used to teach football as a course at the University of Florida. He was the Director of Football Operations under Ron Zook and before that Stoeber really sank his teeth into game planning and learning tendencies of Gator opponents as the Game Analysis Coordinator under Steve Spurrier and his staff. He worked for many years on the staff with current Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

Stoeber was my boss throughout my 10 years on the staff at Florida and is currently still working in the field of analyzing plays and dissecting coaches video. He works for a large company that works with teams in analyzing opponents and developing game plans. His current client list includes over 50 NFL and collegiate teams. Both teams that met in the Super Bowl last year are current client's of Stoeber and he also does work for seven SEC teams.

I guarantee when reading this you will learn something new and will not find a more qualified person to share his knowledge on the game of football on the Internet.

Our friend GatorBogey had several questions on offensive line play, but Stoeber thought he could kill a few of them here without going over board.


Great questions GatorBogey. However, offensive line play is one of the most complex aspects of football. There are entire multi-day conferences for coaching professionals to discuss nothing but OL schemes and techniques. As such, I could write articles for the next year and still have a lot to cover in terms of answering all of your questions.

It is my belief that the running game will be the biggest factor in the game versus LSU. In addition to LSU having the eighth best rushing defense in the country, UF's offensive success is tied greatly into their success on getting into third down and short plays. UF is 64 percent successful on third down attempts of three yards or less (16-25), but only 28 percent successful on 3rd down attempts of seven yards or more (9-32). In UF's four wins, they were 46 percent or better on third down conversions. In the Ole Miss game they were 9 percent (including 0-of-8 on attempts of seven-plus yards). In order to get a better third down situations, you need to have success on first and second down. In order to have success, you need to run the ball effectively.

UF running plays are quite varied. However, their basic play is the inside zone. This is the first play that the offense learns each spring and if you can combine all of the variations, it is the most popular play call of the Gator offense.

The inside zone is designed to get a vertical push of the linemen, creating seams for the tailback to hit the hole running "downhill". The center is the "quarterback" of the offensive line. It is his job to identify the "0" player. This is the player who is either lined up on him or the first player to the call side. This action sets the blocking responsibility for every one else as the guards block the 1's, the tackles block the 2's, and TE (if present) blocks the 3s. The backside No. 3 is the QB read player. If this read player chases the RB quickly, it is the QB's job to pull the ball and run where No. 3 was aligned.

If you notice the yellow bubbles, this refers to the initial double team by the offensive linemen. There are various terms to this combo technique, such as "tag" means combination block with the tackle and guard. When a combo black happens, both players push towards the defender, aiming for their jersey number to stop their penetration. The play side player then works upfield towards the second level defender while the other OL maintains the block on the defensive lineman. It is then the job of the running back to read the center's block ("run off his butt").

It is this OL teamwork that is important to this play. It is critical for players to have a good feel for one another to get good "fits" and clean releases to the 2nd level player. If the play side player hits too far over on the defender, he can get tied up and not get released to the second level defender. This would leave a linebacker unblocked for the play. If the play side player does not get enough of the DL, the defender could split the double team and get good penetration. This is simplifying the reads and blocks of the OL as there are variations and exceptions, but as you can see, offensive line play is very much dependent on teamwork and player coordination.


Watch the OL movement. If the OL can contain the DL's penetration and then get to the second level defender, you will see a lot of big runs. If this is the case, LSU will then need to bring additional defenders into the box, creating holes in their pass defense. Also look for UF to run variations to this base play throughout the game as well, such as

1. motioning a WR to the backfield and running a speed option to the backside

2. faking the hand off and throwing a quick bubble screen (made famous by the Patriots)

3. motioning a lead blocker to lead the running back.

In this case, the two offensive linemen at the point of attack would maintain their double team with the lead blocker becoming responsible for the second level player.

For UF, the key will be to mix this base inside zone play in with the variations above as well as play action pass off of this action to keep the defense on their heels. If the offensive linemen are successful and the coaches do a good job of play mixing, you will see the results on the scoreboard.

If you want to "Ask the Coach" anything about what is happening in the games, just send an email to and I will pass it on. Unfortunately due to time constraints, we won't be able to answer everything, but we will answer as many as possible and you can be assured you are getting legitimate answers from someone that knows his stuff.

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