Running Of The Horns: 'Zone Read' Ignites Offense

Five years ago, when <B>Ricky Williams </B>terrorized defensives en route to a Heisman Trophy, Texas&#146; base play was the isolation keyed by a lead fullback. Last season, the bread and butter play was the hitch pass to SE <B>Roy Williams</B>. These days, Texas&#146; ground game is running circles around opponents thanks to one <B>Vince Young </B>and the basic play that has given the nation&#146;s ninth-best rushing offense (221.6 ypg) its new identity: the zone read.

"One of the problems I’ve had with the running game the past couple of years is that I couldn’t find out what our best run was by watching us," head coach Mack Brown said. "You’ve got to be known for something, and right now the ‘zone read’ play is our best run."

Basically, the quarterback makes his ball handling decisions by "reading" the movements of the unblocked defensive end. If the DE remains on the corner to contain the QB, Young can hand the ball to the RB. If the DE keys off the RB, Young can tuck it in and then it’s off the races.

In short, Young reads it and (the defense) weeps. With the rapid emergence of the freshman phenom, Texas coaches have substituted the old two-back set with the QB lined up directly behind center to the kind of one-back shotgun attack that ran roughshod over Nebraska’s league-leading defense.

"The (coaches) are doing a great job of trying to fit the offense to the personnel," Brown said. "The thing that got us off-based a little is that Vince has come so far since spring. We didn’t think he’d be this far along. He has shocked us."

Coaches will continue to add wrinkles to the zone read just as they did to the iso plays during Ricky’s senior season. In 1998, for example, draws and play action passes stemmed from basic isolation plays. Now, Texas coaches will build the offense off of the zone read: ranging from naked bootlegs to counters to the 22-yard completion over the middle to Roy after Cornhusker linebackers crowded the line to try to help contain either Benson between the tackles or Young around the corners.

"The game that we’re playing now is, early in the game, to see how everybody will try to stop the zone read," Brown said. "Then, what you do mentally, is progress from that point forward. Coaches did a great job (against Nebraska) when it became a lateral game with Cedric on the zone read and Vince outside, our coaches lined us up in the I (formation) and we started hammering them in the fourth quarter. We made it a north-south game in the fourth quarter whereas it had been a lateral game for three quarters. That was a simple adjustment but a great adjustment by our coaches."

All in all, it’s quite a departure from last season’s anemic 135 rushing ypg that ranked just No. 74 nationally. At the current pace, the 2003 rushing offense will eclipse even that of Ricky’s senior year (204.2 ypg).

"I’m more exited about our offense right now than I have been since our first year," Brown said.

Still, Brown wants Young to continue to improve in his passing game. That way the offense can be (all together now!) "two-dimensional" when Texas faces nationally-ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

"I want to see us improve our passing game for this weekend," Brown said. "We’ve been throwing the ball really well, but 13-of-27 for three interceptions is not good enough for us. Vince needs to come on and improve in the passing game, there’s no doubt about that, because he’s hard to sack. They covered the screen Saturday so he runs for 17. And he did it like a stroll in the park. He does some things like Roy’s been doing them for years around here. He just makes it look so easy that we take it for granted."


Texas’ last home game of the season against Texas Tech is set for 6 p.m. (CST), Nov. 15, for a Fox Sports Net national telecast. It will be Texas’ second consecutive Fox Sports Net broadcast as the Oklahoma State game Saturday is also set for a televised 6 p.m. kick. The Texas A&M game at College Station is slated for 2:30 p.m. (CST) on ABC.

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