Predicting Chip Kelly’s Run Game at UCLA: Part 1

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]With Chip Kelly now in Los Angeles as the head football coach of the UCLA, the Bruins seem like a perfect place to kick off scheme previews for the 2018-19 college football season. As I have the last two seasons, I’ll be focusing on the Pac-12 to get ready for the season, looking to build out a hub of scheme analysis for each of the teams out west.

Kicking things off with the UCLA Bruins, a team coming off a 6-7 season and a lot of turnover…

Josh Rosen, our QB1 in the ITP Draft Guide, is gone, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Head coach Jim Mora was fired following a loss to USC in mid November. Chip Kelly, formerly of the Oregon Ducks, the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers was hired just days after the final regular season game and is now tasked with retooling a program that has fallen behind their Pac-12 counterparts in USC, Stanford and Oregon in terms of on field performance.

One of the keys to Kelly’s success while a revolutionary head coach at Oregon, as well as his early NFL accomplishments, was a strong and productive running game. In 2009, Kelly’s first season as Oregon’s head coach, the Ducks finished 6th in the FBS in rush yards per game behind option teams like Navy and Georgia Tech with 231.7 rush yards per game. In 2010, they finished 4th in the country in rush yards per game with 286.2. In 2011, they were 5th with 299.2 rush yards per game, and in 2012 they were 3rd in the country with a whopping 315.2 rush yards per game. (All stats courtesy of teamrankings.com)

All of those years they were first in the Pac-12 in rush yards per game, and each year the Oregon rushing attack grew in output (while the passing game also developed, thanks in part to Marcus Mariota’s emergence in 2012). Now part of the reason for the massive per game rushing output is of course the number of rushing attempts each season. Kelly was well renowned for a lightning fast pace on offense to maximize the number of plays his team had. The Ducks’ ranks in terms of rushing attempts per game from 2009 to 2012 were as follows: 17th (42.1), 5th (48.4), 15th (44.9), 6th (52.7).

While the rushing attempts do some explaining as to the output of the Oregon rushing attack, it is not fully descriptive, or the focus of this piece. What I’m fascinated by is the efficiency on a per play basis of the Oregon rushing game, as they were top 5 in rush yards per attempt all four years under Kelly, while leading the FBS in his final two years.

Now this is all well and good, but the Oregon rushing attack’s production could have simply been a product of the athletes Oregon possessed, right? Lamichael James, Kenjon Barner, and Marcus Mariota were all outstanding athletes, especially in a collegiate offense predicated on speed and space.

However, looking at the success Kelly had running the football in the NFL should be indicative of his prowess in designing a strong run game. His first season as head coach in Philadelphia (2013), Kelly had the Eagles ranked first in the NFL in both total rush yards (2,566) and rush yards per attempt (5.1). In 2014, the Eagles ranked 9th in the NFL in rush yards and 14th in yards per attempt. Then, in 2015, the year Kelly got fired, the Eagles finished a disappointing 15th in the league in rush yards with an ugly 3.9 yard per attempt average.

In San Francisco, though, Kelly’s 2-14 49ers still finished 4th in the NFL in rush yards with over 2,000 before Kelly was fired following the season.

All this to say, then, that Chip Kelly likes to run the ball, and his teams do it well. While speed and pace is a key component of Kelly’s offense that he’ll likely bring with him to UCLA, his rushing scheme and game plan is of the utmost importance. This look back at what running schemes Kelly used in college and the pros will preview which schemes he feels most committed to, and what we’re likely to see him run at UCLA.  

Part one will focus on his zone running and pin pull schemes, while part two will focus on his split zone and power running schemes.

The Basis – Zone Running

For Kelly, the basis of the run game is a strong zone blocking scheme. I haven’t charted the offenses’ runs or anything, but in watching film of Kelly’s Oregon offense in 2011 and 2012, his Eagles offense in 2013 and 2015, and his 49ers offense in 2016, the basis of Kelly’s run game is absolutely the zone run. In general this took the form of inside zone runs predicated on angles and getting blockers to the second level.

At all his coaching destinations Kelly instituted zone blocking schemes as the building blocks of his run game. At Oregon he ran most of his offense out of shotgun, and to varying degrees that continued in the NFL, though there were more under center aspects with the Eagles.

This first example of a Kelly coached team running inside zone comes from the Ducks’ 2011 game against Stanford. The offense is in 11 personnel, with four receivers to the right side of the formation, and the running back Lamichael James (#21) to the QB’s right in the shotgun.

Oregon sets up a pre-snap RPO read for the QB Darron Thomas (#5). The innermost wide receiver will run a bubble screen, while the offensive line and running back will executed the team’s patented inside zone run away from the screen.

Thomas’ read will be a simple numbers game in the box to see where he should go with the ball. If the Stanford defense accounts for the run, he’ll throw the bubble, if they have less defenders than blockers in the box (as is the case on this play) he’ll hand to James. Since the overhang defender A.J. Tarpley (#17) is outside of the box, the offense has a 6 vs 5 advantage and should run the ball.

The inside zone run, the bread and butter of the Oregon run game, is executed excellently by the offensive line and running back here. The strength of the offense is to the right, with TE Dave Paulson (#42) aligned in a 3 point stance outside the RT. Stanford is in an Under front on this play, meaning that the 3-technique DT is away from the TE, and the 1-technique DT is aligned to the offense’s strength.

The zone run will go to the left, with the offensive line drop stepping and moving to the left at the snap of the ball. The left tackle will simply kick out the play side defensive end. Paulson will get his hips inside of the OLB aligned over him to create a potential cutback lane for James. The left guard and center will double the 3-technique, with one of them looking to climb to the lone off ball linebacker in the box. Finally, the right guard will take the 1-technique while the RT will ensure Tarpley can’t make a play at the second level in pursuit.

These are not strict assignments play to play. Given the defense’s alignment pre-snap, however, this is how the zone run should and would be executed in this situation. Zone running is predicated less on individual man on man assignment, and much more about the fluidity and cohesion of the play as a whole, as blockers are tasked with blocking the man in their zone if there is one, and climbing to the second level if there isn’t.

The 1-technique ends up penetrating the A-gap on this play, so RG Mark Asper (#79) takes him where he wants to go and shuttles him upfield. This is the beauty of the zone run scheme. It allows backs and blockers to adjust to what the defense gives them and move the point of attack. Given the 1-tech’s penetration, and the Under front’s hole to the offensive strength, James makes an easy bend read on this play to cut back to the right. He weaves through back seven defenders to gain 15 yards and a first down on the play.

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This isn’t an overly complicated play or design, but it’s one that Kelly drilled and drilled throughout offseason practices to make sure it could form the basis of the Oregon rushing attack.

When Kelly was with the Eagles he ran even more inside zone than he did at Oregon, where he tended to mix in a bit more outside zone. For the Eagles, he had LeSean McCoy at running back early in his tenure there, and was able to scheme McCoy to the second level and allow the All-Pro running back to use his elite elusiveness to beat linebackers and defensive backs.

In this play from Kelly’s first season in Philadelphia (2013), LeSean McCoy makes a big gain on an inside zone run against Kansas City early in the second half. Lined up in 11 personnel, with a tight end to the left and McCoy to the left of QB Michael Vick (#7), the Eagles will run inside zone to the right side of the offense. The Chiefs are in an Over front with two down linemen, so the 3-technique is now to the strength of the offense rather than away from it (as in the Under front).

The Chiefs will run what appears to be a one gapping defense here, with 3-technique Mike DeVito (#70) slanting into the offense’s left B-gap and LB Derrick Johnson (#56) filling the offense’s left A-gap. On the offense’s right, 1-technique Dontari Poe (#92) will go straight ahead into the A-gap, LB Akeem Jordan (#55) will head to the B-gap, and Justin Houston (#50) will set the edge outside the RT.

Zone running is all about creating creases and lanes for the running back to attack. Back side defenders look to reach block and get their hips inside of the defender to prevent pursuit. However, if they can’t, they should drive the defender towards the play side to create an alley the running back can bend into.

Left tackle Jason Peters (#71) performs a textbook reach block on this play. He engages with DeVito in the chest, and then works to get his hips inside of the DT. He does an excellent job of doing so, and is able to seal off DeVito from having any sort of lane to pursue McCoy. It also prevents DeVito from adequately filling his one gap on defense, leaving a lane for the RB.

As Peters performs his reach block, left guard Evan Mathis (#69) checks to make sure Peters has DeVito handled before looking to climb to the second level. With Johnson crashing into the A-gap, Mathis simply takes him where he wants to go. With Johnson moving towards Mathis’s right side, Mathis seals him to create a lane between himself and Peters. He gets his hips to the left of Johnson and drives him to the offense’s right side.

This then leaves a lane for McCoy to make a bend read and get up field on the left side of the offense. He hops over the legs of Peters and runs through some arm tackles into green grass, rushing for a massive gain on the play.

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These two plays are just a few examples of a number of successful plays from Kelly run offense utilizing zone runs. Next, we’ll dive into the diversity they can build in their run game from the basis of their offense, the inside zone play.

Pin-Pull Sweep and Variants

One popular run scheme that is really an extension of zone running, with some power aspects to it, is the pin-pull sweep. It’s used throughout both the college and pro levels of football, as it allows for drive blocks and leveraging athleticism from offensive linemen to get them in space. I’ve written about Oregon State’s pin-pull sweep and how it’s slightly different from the more standard version of the play, yet still effective.

The running back has the same aiming point in a pin-pull sweep as they do on an outside zone play, the outside hip of the tight end, and the OL still utilizes reach blocks to their advantage. Linemen who have a defender to their inside or head up with them will drive or reach block them away from the playside, while uncovered offensive linemen will pull and lead block.

This first play from Kelly’s time at Oregon shows one man he ran the pin-pull sweep (though there were multiple). In the Ducks’ 2011 game against Arizona State, Kelly ran the pin pull sweep a few times. This play from late in the first quarter is a good example of a pretty standard execution of a pin-pull sweep.

Lined up in 11 personnel with trips to the left (including a tight end), Oregon will run a pin-pull sweep to the left. Arizona State has an Under front here, meaning the 1-technique is to the strength of the offensive line and 3-technique is away. This means the center is uncovered, since there’s no one to his right side. And while the left guard technically has the 1-technique shaded to his inside, Oregon will have the left tackle down block or “pin” that DT, allowing the LG to pull and lead block. The tight end will look to reach block and pin the defensive end to prevent pursuit and create the interior wall of the running lane. The center and guard will pull and create the outside wall.

The pins on the play side all work well to prevent pursuit from the DE and DT, while the threat of a QB run creates hesitation for the backside DT and DE, effectively taking them out of the play. Center Hronnis Grasu (#55) gets out in front of RB Kenjon Barner (#24) and gets a good cut block on middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict (#7) to seal the inside part of a rush lane for Barner. Left guard Carson York (#77) is able to get just enough contact on LB Shelly Lyons to seal the edge for Barner.

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Kelly stuck with the pin-pull sweep in his pro days, using it often with the Eagles as a way to utilize the Eagles’ hyper-athletic center, Jason Kelce, out in space. Many teams will run a pin-pull sweep with both guards as the puller, but it’s not uncommon to involve the center in space either. Often time it simply depends on who is covered and who isn’t.

This example below of the Eagles running a pin-pull sweep against the Bears in 2013 shows both the well designed nature of the play, as well as the execution by the pulling offensive linemen. It’s the Eagles first offensive play of the day in a must-win game to stay in playoff contention.

The Eagles come out in an 11 personnel package, and send a WR in motion behind QB Nick Foles (#9) just before the snap as a potential pitch man on a speed option keep. That should keep the defense conflicted, especially at the linebacker and safety levels. Given Kelly’s recent return to the college game we should see similar motion and option plays off his base running attack, depending on who ends up winning the wide open QB competition in Los Angeles.

Back to this play, though, you can see the play design below. Kelly calls for both center Jason Kelce (#62) and right guard Todd Herremans (#79) to pull out front and lead block. The closer the blockers are to the play side, the quicker they can get into position, which is why it’s easier for the play to succeed if the center and right guard pull rather than, say, the right guard and left guard. However, with the two pullers next to each other, the “pin” block on the 1-technique to Kelce’s left must actually come from the left guard Evan Mathis (#69).

To execute this block he needs to fire laterally and reach block DT Kyle Moore (#96). This is such a well executed block to keep Moore from filling the hole left by Kelce that it’s really worth keeping an eye on.

One other thing to note is the aiming point. I mentioned earlier the aiming point for a pin-pull sweep is the same as it is on an outside zone run, with the running back aiming for a spot just outside the tight end. Look at RB LeSean McCoy (#25) as he receives the hand off here.

That’s the exact aiming point he uses on this play.

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The play is executed to perfection, with the pullers easily handling their assignments on the outside and the pinners doing a great job of clogging things up inside. McCoy makes his way easily down the sideline for a big 19 yard gain to get the offense going.

One last pin-pull play I’d like to quickly highlight comes from Kelly’s Oregon tenure as well. In their 2012 game against the USC Trojans, Oregon will run a pin-pull sweep with three pullers rather than the more common two. Here, late in the third quarter, they pull the left tackle, center, and right guard all to the right side, while the left guard, right tackle and tight end all pin block back to the left. On a second and ten play, it’s a pretty solid gain to get to a manageable third down distance, and serves as a nice change of pace from the more common variants of Kelly’s pin pull design.

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All this to say, Kelly has multiple looks and designs of the pin-pull sweep he can implement. He’s willing to adapt to the weekly matchup too, as this was almost exclusively used against USC. It’s a nice example of a coach having a core philosophy, but a flexible way to implement it.    

Conclusion

Kelly has always had a strong running game wherever he coached, and I’d strongly expect that to continue in his tenure at UCLA. This piece looked to break down some of Kelly’s bread and butter base running plays such as the inside zone run and pin-pull sweep, which should set the stage for reviewing his split zone and power run schemes that will be analyzed in part two of this series.

While losing QB Josh Rosen is obviously a massive blow to the team, they return their top two rushers from last year in Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi, which should help give whoever plays QB a ground game to lean on. Depending on the results of the QB competition, Kelly could certainly rely on option plays like he did with Marcus Mariota at Oregon, but he is absolutely able to build a run game through just the running backs as well, as this article hopefully shows.   

Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work here, including his look at Oregon’s curl-post passing concept, the Utah Utes’ use of the go/flat concept, and his study of what effect making a pre-draft visit has on being drafted.

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