Inside Game: You can't be nothing nice in an alley

One of my favorite acquaintances who I met while coaching was T.C. Wright. You probably remember T.C.’s brother Toby, an All-Pro safety for the Rams. T.C. and all three of his brothers played in the league. T.C. was 5 foot nothing, a hundred and nothing. But, he was a tough son-of-a-gun.

He made it in the league as a kick returner for the Giants after his tailback career at San Diego State was sidetracked after a thigh bruise made him give way to his backup Marshall Faulk. When I coached with T.C., he used to talk to our players about being tough. His favorite line to our players, was that they "couldn’t be nothing nice in an alley."

Sometimes, metaphors meet reality. Such was the case in Dallas this past Saturday. T.C. was speaking of the dangers when walking through the proverbial dark alley. But, the word "alley" is also football jargon for a lane created by the offense for the back to run through. The location of the alley changes from set to set and from varying defensive responses. Normally, the alley runs from about where the OT lines up to 5 -10 yards outside of that point. But you can slide that alley out much farther towards the sidelines.

The alley is created in as many ways as you can possibly imagine. Often, the alley is created by a cross action of multiple blockers. The inside boundary of the alley is sometimes created by blockers from the outside coming down and hitting the outside shoulders of certain defenders. Likewise, the outside boundary of the alley is created by blockers from the inside pulling, or getting to the outside by other means, so that they can contact the inside shoulder of the defenders setting up on the outside of the play. They WANT the defenders to be contain conscious. This blocking scheme acts like a "jaws of life" as it forces an opening in the defense that has blockers lining the insides of both sides of the alley. At that point, all the runner needs to do is "read butts." A good runner will help create the outside boundary of the alley by showing sweep and then at the last second cut up into the alley. Marcus Allen and Eric Dickerson come to mind.

First, a little history, then I’ll show you one way OU created an alley. The most drastic use of personnel that I can think of in creating an alley can be found in the old double-wing offense. The play, called 44, 66 or 88 power to the right, or 55, 77 or 99 power to the left can start in the tight formation. That’s all 11 offensive players tight around the quarterback — he looks like an egg in the nest. "Tight" is two tight ends with a wing on each side and a B back 1 and 1/2 yards directly behind the quarterback. At the snap, the playside OT and OG double on the DT, and hopefully the OT can combo off of that double team into the flow of linebackers. The TE and Wing let the DE go and block down on the outside backer and safety. The center blocks down on the other DT, which frees up the backside OG and OT to pull and, as close to the hips of the other down blocking linemen as possible, they turn up field and seal any flowing defenders who are left. This completes the inside boundary of the alley. The B back, or fullback kicks out the DE and the running back (the other wing) cuts up under the DE and the CB who is being blocked by the wing or pulling OT. This is the outside boundary to the alley. To add "SUPER power" to the play, the quarterback will pitch to the running back and turn 270 degrees and lead him through the alley picking up missed blocks, or sometimes the scheme will leave the cornerback for him. Super power is not as obsolete as you may think. If memory serves, I’ve seen it in the Texas High School Championships being run by Odessa Permian. Think about it; Super Power has two pulling linemen, a fullback and a quarterback leading the runner through an alley just outside of a double team block. That’s why it’s called power.

Now OU created the alley in different ways, and the Sooners also just ran a stretch sweep. With Texas playing its corners 10 yards off in a soft man or cover 3 alignment, they just blocked the corner with the receiver most of the time. Sometimes that receiver was really their fullback in a trips formation. He overpowered Tarell Brown or Aaron Ross. So, they didn’t have to use the receiver to crack down on a safety or backer and then kick out the corner with a guard or fullback. They may have done this had the Horns shown cover 2, which would have pulled the corner up and placed a safety right on top of the alley.

Here’s one play: This play can be found in the third quarter for a four-yard pick-up by AD, tackled by Brown. OU lined up in trips right, motioned the fullback back to I formation and started the play with a tight split end (#4) and their TE standing up just outside of the OT and back off the line — just like a wing back. At the snap, the OU RT was able to "reach" Crowder. That’s a serious no-no for a 6 or 9 technique end. By reach, I mean the OT was able to get outside of Crowder who then had to fight his way back out, while giving up ground. The Wing (TE in this case) and the tightly aligned split-end let Eric Hall go and came down and sealed both D.J. and Aaron Harris. This is the inside boundary of the alley. The fullback was able to kick out Hall, who was selling out to get to the outside anyway. AD saw his alley and ran right up it. Brown was left unblocked on this play, and after recovering from 10 yards off, stepped up into the alley and wasn’t anything nice as he dropped his shoulder into AD’s thigh and cut him down for a four yard gain. Not a bad play for either team. But, as we know, AD was able to have a lot of success on his outside runs. OU did a fantastic job of changing its formations and motions and blocked the alley in various ways. The Sooners also ran what we called a dog-leg. This is a play that looks like a dive over the guard, but is a designed bounce to the outside two steps after handoff. This really sucks in the LBs and ends.

Even though I’m still hurting from the game, I really appreciate the hustle of the Longhorn defense. Have you heard about Coach Robinson’s up-down punishments for plays that are "NOS" (Not Our Standard)? I’m going to pick a play each game that is up to our standards. My "OS" award could go to D.J. for the strip of White, but I wanted to find one that was a little less obvious. My OS goes out to Cedric Griffin. At the 9:02 point of the second quarter, he showed our standard. Do you remember the deep pass into the left side of the end zone that all the fans and announcers wanted a pass interference penalty on Phillip Geiggar? Did you see who else was in on that play? Griffin came from the right cornerback to the endzone on the left side of the field in time to make a play on the ball. WOW!!! His receiver ran a deep cross that was picked up by Michael Huff, and Ced just accelerated to the end zone when he saw the ball in the air. I have no doubt that he could become a great free safety before he leaves here if the coaches want that. Great hustle Ced!!

Tom McLaughlin has coached high school football in the Phoenix area, coaching OL, DL, LBs and serving as both a defensive coordinator and head coach. McLaughlin also contributes on the Inside Texas message boards under the handle of Hitwrapdrive. His "Inside the Game" column appears after games during football season on

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