The Many Faces of Auburn’s Buck Sweep

The Auburn Tigers hope to rebound in 2016 and become a contender for the SEC title. To do so they will need to continue their impressive ground game. Mark Schofield breaks down the many variations of Auburn’s buck sweep, one of their most successful rushing plays

Considered by many to be a national championship contender in the runup to the 2015 season, the Auburn Tigers failed to live up to their preseason hype. After getting past Louisville in the season opener, the preseason sixth ranked team in the country needed overtime to survive against Football Championship Subdivision stalwart Jacksonville State in their home opener in Week 2. Losses to Louisiana State and Mississippi State followed, and the TIgers limped to a 6-6 regular season record. Only a blowout victory over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl secured a winning season for Auburn.

One bright spot for the Tigers was the success of their rushing attack. For the seventh-straight season Auburn generated a rusher with over 1,000 yards on the year, as Peyton Barber gained 1,041 yards on 238 carries. The Tigers finished the season ranked 35th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense, averaging 196.4 yards per game on the ground.

One of the plays that propelled Auburn to these numbers is a staple of Gus Malzahn’s offense: The buck sweep. Both the basic version of the play – and the anticipated Malzahn variations – are very effective for this rushing attack.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Basic Buck

The buck sweep is a rushing play that has its elements in a power blocking scheme, but is designed to attack the edge of the defense. It is very effective for a variety of reasons. The first is that, for a team like Auburn that attacks the middle with a lot of inside zone and counter trey, the buck sweep allows the offense to attack the outside, looking to exploit either a numerical advantage or edge defenders who might be trying to cheat inside. In addition, the blocking scheme gives the ball-carrier a convoy of blockers up front as he tries to secure the edge.

Here is a basic schematic for the buck sweep:

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As you can see, the play calls for two offensive linemen to pull in front of the ball carrier, typically both guards. They pull to the outside while the center and playside tackle execute down blocks to their inside. The backside tackle is tasked with simply preventing any pursuit from the opposite side of the field.

Two other crucial blocks come from skill players. The playside receiver is tasked with executing a crack block on the nearest linebacker, and often the WR will cheat down his split to create an advantageous angle and reduce the distance he needs to cover to execute the block. In addition, the H-back will lead around the edge as well, and is usually tasked with blocking the playside DE.

Here Auburn runs their basic buck sweep to the left side without any window dressing. Using 20 personnel, the offense lines up with quarterback Jeremy Johnson (#6) in the shotgun with Barber (#25) to his right. H-back Chandler Cox (#27) aligns as an upback, behind the left tackle. Auburn has a single receiver to the right, and an inverted slot to the left. Notice the alignment of the slot receiver, Melvin Rey (#82)

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Rey cheats down his split, only a few feet from the LT. This gives him a good angle to execute his block to the inside. Running this play to the left, the blocking sets up as follows:

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On the backside, right tackle Avery Young (#56) executes a hinge block. Young knows that the guard next to him is pulling on the play, so the RT first steps into the B Gap and looks to prevent any immediate penetration. Then he opens his hips to the outside to force the defensive end to stay upfield, slowing any backside pursuit. The guards both pull on this play, with right guard Braden Smith (#71) following behind left guard Alex Kozan (#63). Kozan blocks the first threat on the edge, while the trailing guard Smith reads the block of his counterpart and takes the next obstacle. Both the center and the playside tackle execute down blocks. Center Austin Golson (#73) has a 1 technique nose tackle on his right shoulder, so that is his target on the play. LT Shon Coleman (#72) has a 3 technique DT inside of him and on the left shoulder of Kozan, and that defender is his responsibility. The playside DE is left unblocked, for Cox as the H-Back loops around the edge. Finally, Rey is tasked with blocking the playside linebacker.

Here is the play in motion:

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The 3 technique DT is able to generate penetration, occupying first Coleman and then Smith as the RG tries to pull around to the edge. But the rest of the blocks are solid, especially from Cox and Rey on the defensive end and linebacker respectively. Barber takes the handoff and heads outside, and the edge is sealed and Kozan has a full head of steam to pick up the safety crashing downfield. The RB dances around that block and races upfield for a gain of ten and a first down.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Buck With Dressing

Every Malzahn play has potentially dozens of variations. The buck sweep is no different.

Some of the wrinkles added to this design are more window dressing, or a built in run / pass option element. Others, as we will see, are much more creative. First we can look at how the Tigers can incorporate a bubble screen look on this play to the backside in order to give the quarterback the option of throwing the ball presnap. From their game against LSU, the offense faces a 2nd and 7 on their own 28-yard line. They line up with Johnson in the shotgun, with slot formation to the right and D’haquille Williams (#1) a single receiver to the left, using a short split from the LT. Barber stands to the right and slightly behind the quarterback, and Cox aligns as an upback to the left, again behind Coleman, the LT:

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The Tigers run the buck sweep to the left side:

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Here we get to see a few wrinkles. First, only one of the guards will pull on this play. On the left side, center Golson has a 1-technique NT on his left – or playside – shoulder. It would be a tough task for the C to execute a block on the 1-technique without any assistance, so Smith, the LG, will block down instead of pulling. To make up for this, Coleman heads upfield at the snap, to block the backside linebacker. In essence, Smith and Coleman switch responsibilities on the play. On the backside, the right tackle again executes a hinge block while right guard Kozan pulls around the edge in front of the play. Golson is now tasked with executing a down block on the backside 3 technique. Finally, Cox heads for the playside DE while Williams blocks to the inside, cracking on the playside LB.

The final wrinkle? The bubble screen action to the backside from the slot receiver. The outside WR blocks the man across from him, while the slot WR bubbles toward the outside.

Johnson has the option presnap of either throwing the bubble, or running the buck sweep. Seeing that LSU has six men in the box, he stays with the running play:

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The blocking sets up very well, and again Barber bends outside with the edge secured and a guard in front of him ready to block a DB crashing forward. Barber cuts inside the block from Kozan, and picks up a first down for the Tigers.

Another wrinkle Auburn throws into this play is using jet motion from the slot receiver toward the backside. This movement shows the defense a potential jet sweep to the other side of the field, and forces the second level defenders to at least think about a run to that side of the formation. From their game against LSU, Auburn faces a 2nd and 5 on their own 42-yard line. Johnson is in the shotgun with 20 personnel, with a single receiver to the left and a stack-slot look to the right. Barber is to the left of the quarterback and slightly behind him, while Cox aligns as an upback to the right:

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Look at the splits from the wide receivers. The receiver on the left has a normal split, aligned on the hashmarks. The WR to the right uses a reduced split, cheated down toward the RT.

You probably know where the ball is going:

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Auburn runs the buck sweep to the right side, but they throw in the jet motion before the snap. This is designed to hold the second level defenders for a moment, to let the blocking develop. The design works on this play:

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Ricardo Lewis (#5) comes in motion from right to left and Johnson fakes a handoff to him after the snap, before giving the football to Barber. On the backside, Coleman executes the hinge block, securing the B Gap on his right before peeling back to slow any pursuit from the defensive end. Golson, the center, has a 1 technique on his left, or backside, shoulder. This means that he can block down which allows Smith, the guard, to pull. On the playside, Kozan pulls to the edge while the right tackle executes the second down block, this time on the 3 technique. Rey takes advantage of his reduced split and blocks the backside linebacker, and the WR has to wait a bit to execute his block, as the LB is caught watching the jet motion / jet sweep threat. Cox handles the playside defensive end. Barber takes the football and presses the edge, following behind his two guards for another solid gain.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Buck Wild

Now we get to the fun stuff.

This would not be an article about a play from Malzahn without some really interesting variations that coach and fan alike can appreciate. The first is a buck sweep run out of an unbalanced formation. Against Mississippi, the Tigers face a 1st and 10 on their own 11-yard line. They line up with a jumbo 21 personnel package that uses Coleman as a tight end. Defensive tackle Tyler Carter (#98) checks into the game and takes Coleman’s spot at LT, while the big tackle flips to the right side and lines up as a TE, next to Young, the RT. QB Sean White (#13) is in the shotgun with Barber to his left and staggered a bit behind him, while Cox sets up behind Coleman on the right side. In addition, they put Rey in motion from left to right, with gives the Tigers this look before the play:

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Because of this formation, Auburn can only pull one blocker, the left guard. Carter executes a hinge block on the backside DE, while Golson executes a down block on the backside 3 technique defensive tackle. On the playside, guard Kozan has to block to the inside on the 1 technique nose tackle, while Young and Coleman execute a combination block on the 5 technique, Robert Nkemidche (#5). DE Marquis Haynes (#27) is left unblocked at the snap, for H-back Cox to handle. Rey, after coming in motion, executes his crack inside on the middle LB:

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After the snap, Barber takes the handoff and aims for the edge, avoiding the interior traffic that is created when the defense generates quick pressure inside. He hits the edge and cuts behind Smith, who is responding to the threat from C.J. Johnson (#10), the playside LB. Barber cuts inside of that block, and is cut down by safety Trae Elston (#7) after a minimal gain:

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The play only nets a few yards, but it is a nice example of a different way of running the buck sweep, using an unbalanced, jumbo formation.

While the Wildcat offense might be going the way of the Dodo, there are teams that utilize the concept from time to time to try to generate a bit of offense. Auburn is no exception. Last year the Tigers liked to use the buck sweep design as window dressing itself when using their Wildcat personnel, influencing the defenders to the edge to open up room for the Wildcat QB to keep the football and cut inside. Against Mississippi, the offense lines up with their Wildcat personnel in the game. Johnson checks in at QB and aligns to the right, and RB Kerryon Johnson (#21) readies to take the snap. As with the previous play, the Tigers use an unbalanced, jumbo package with Coleman lining up as a TE on the right and Carter taking his spot at LT. Cox sets as an upback to the right:

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Johnson comes in motion, and the Tigers show the defense the buck sweep, using the QB as the potential ball carrier:

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The blocking sets up the same as the buck sweep. On the backside, Coleman executes the hinge block, securing the gap to his inside before peeling to the outside on the DE. Young has a 5 technique to his outside, so he blocks out on him. Smith pulls from the RG spot arout to the left, while Golson blocks done on the 3 technique lined up over the right guard. Kozan, the left guard, handles the 3 technique DT across from him while Carter leaves the defensive end unblocked and heads immediately to the backside linebacker, leaving the DE for Cox.

Johnson reads the play, and sees the second-level defenders reacting to the potential buck sweep. So the RB takes the snap, fakes the handoff, and keeps the ball:

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The blocking is designed to run the football to the edge, but even without a designed hole, the execution up front and the fact that the LBs are influenced to the edge creates enough of a crease for Johnson to find yardage on the inside.

Finally, if your running back can throw the football, giving him a convoy of blockers to the edge helps set up the halfback pass play nicely:

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Auburn reserve quarterback Jason Smith (#4) checks into the game against Mississippi and aligns as a running back, next to White in the backfield. He gets the handoff from White and presses the edge, with buck sweep blocking up front. Only Smith looks to throw on this play, trying to hit a vertical route along the sideline. The pass falls incomplete, but it gives the defense yet one more thing to think about when facing the buck sweep.

If Auburn is to improve on their 2015 campaign, they will need consistent play at the quarterback position, something that vexed them a year ago. But one way to help that is by continuing their tradition of a strong running game, led in part by the buck sweep. That one play, and its many variations, might unlock a season to remember for the Tigers and their fanbase.

For more on the Auburn buck sweep, check out this piece.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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One thought on “The Many Faces of Auburn’s Buck Sweep

  1. Mark,
    This is great analysis thank you for this.
    “Buckwild” Looks like it may just be power. The EMLOS reacts to the down block so instead of kicking him out H just logs him. The motion variation is Inverted Veer or Q-Power still Gap scheme in design but only one puller like Malzahn’s power.

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