The zone read is a play that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defense. The Syracuse Orange use it as part of their offense, and had to face it on Friday night against Louisville. Coming up this Saturday, the South Florida Bulls will be running it once again.
Essentially, it is an option play. The quarterback puts the ball into the belly of his running back and reads the defensive end. If the end stays at home on the outside, the quarterback is supposed to allow the back to take the ball for a between the tackles run. If the end tries to crash inside, the quarterback pulls the ball and keeps it himself, running to the outside open area.
Against the Cardinals, the Orange really struggled defending the zone read. Why? We reviewed the film and noticed some trends.
Louisville had the most success out of the zone read when the quarterback kept the ball. On several occasions, this was due to the Syracuse defensive ends collapsing inside rather than maintaining their outside containment. When Lamar Jackson read that defensive end properly, he pulled the ball away from the back, kept it, and ran to the area vacated by the Orange defender for big gains.
Let's take a look at one example from the first quarter of Friday night's game.
At the beginning of the play, Jackson (QB) starts the zone read by acting like he is handing the ball to his running back Brandon Radcliff. Notice Syracuse defensive end De'Jon Wilson (circled) reading the play. Syracuse is actually doing a nice job in the middle, getting some penetration with their interior linemen.
Now you see where the problem occurs. Wilson crashes inside, attempting to read that Radcliff has been given the ball. This leaves a huge opening to the outside, and Jackson reads this properly. Had Wilson stayed to the outside, even with a blocker pulling in that direction, Jackson keeping the ball would have been a much more difficult task. He likely gives it to Radcliff in that scenario, where Syracuse appeared to have it well defended.
With Wilson caught inside, Jackson races to the area he vacated and has a wide open field in front of him. Jackson would walk untouched into the corner of the end zone to put Louisville up 28-7.
How can Syracuse fix this given that they'll see plenty of zone read from Quinton Flowers and the South Florida Bulls? It's about being more comfortable in the system, maintaining discipline and keeping outside containment. That way, you force the opposition to give to the back and make the plays between the tackles.