After displaying their offensive prowess early in the season, Texas A&M has established that they mean business in the SEC. Mark Schofield examines the Aggies rushing schemes implemented that have made Texas A&M one of the best offenses in the nation.
Through six games of the 2016 season, the Texas A&M Aggies are undefeated and sit atop the SEC West alongside the Alabama Crimson Tide. Picked by many to be an afterthought in the West after Alabama, LSU and Mississippi, the Aggies have rolled to a perfect start with strong performances on both sides of the football. While most prognosticators expected their defense – led by the very talented Myles Garrett – to be a dominant force, their offense has performed well above expectations. Texas A&M right now is the top offense in the conference, averaging 521 yards per game. Quarterback Trevor Knight deserves a lot of credit for his individual play in the passing game, but the ground attack has also been stout. The Aggies are first in the conference – and eighth in the nation – in rushing average with 274.3 yards per contest. A healthy mix of power and zone schemes, as well as the contribution from a talented true freshman, are key reasons for their success.
In their victories against Arkansas and Auburn, both of their blocking schemes were on full display. Here against the Razorbacks, the Aggies face a 1st and 10 at the Arkansas 33-yard line. They line up with Knight (#8) in the shotgun with 10 offensive personnel. Three wide receivers are split to the right, and a single receiver aligns on the left. The Razorbacks use their 4-2-5 nickel defense again, this time showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
They use down blocks from the center, right tackle, and right guard. Center Erik McCoy (#64) blocks down on the nose tackle aligned in a 0 technique shaded to the center’s left shoulder. Right guard Connor Lanfear (#70) blocks down on the 1 technique defensive tackle, aligned on Lanfear’s left shoulder. Finally, right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor (#72) blocks down, but he heads to the second level and the backside linebacker. This accounts for three of the six players up front for the defense. The backside defensive end is left unblocked. But this blocking design allows both left guard Colton Prater (#76) and left tackle Avery Gennesy (#65) to pull. The guard handles the playside defensive tackle while the tackle aims for the playside LB.
It works to perfection.
Running back Trayveon Williams (#5) – a true freshman – takes the handoff heading to the right side. The down blocks collapse the interior of the Arkansas defense, and Prater is able to drive the playside DE to the outside and away from the hole. The playside LB recognizes the hole and crashes forward to fill the gap, but he’s met by the big LT with a full head of steam behind him:
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33 yards later, the Aggies had themselves a 14-point lead.
Texas A&M also uses zone blocking concepts in a few different ways. On this play against Auburn, the Aggies face a 2nd and 7 late in the third quarter, holding a 16-10 lead. They line up with 10 offensive personnel, and Williams stands to the right of Knight in the backfield. The Tigers have their base 4-2-5 defense on the field. Take a look at the splits from the offensive linemen up front:
These are fairly reduced splits, which often indicates a run to the outside. But here, they run an inside zone read play with Williams acting as the vertical stretch, with Knight potentially keeping the football and heading to the right edge acting as the horizontal stretch:
The splits influence the linebackers to slide to the outside a bit, which helps set up the play. Both Deshaun Davis (#57) and Darrell Williams (#49) adjust their alignments to the edges. Williams will be covering WR Christian Kirk (#3) out of the backfield. But offensively, this is a straight zone blocking scheme with the linemen sliding to the left. The Aggies do get a great double-team block on the 1 technique defensive tackle from Lanfear and Eluemunor, who both do a good job of getting hip-to-hip, shoulder-to-shoulder before the guard Lanfear vacates and looks for work on the second level:
With the linebackers vacating the middle, Williams has a huge hole to exploit, which he does for a nice 16-yard gain:
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The Aggies needed overtime to pull out their sixth victory on the season, over Tennessee, the Aggies faced a 2nd and 5 on the Volunteers’ 5-yard line. They lined up with 10 offensive personnel, with Knight in the shotgun and Williams standing to his left. The defense uses its 4-2-5 nickel defense and lines up in blitz posture, showing a Cover 0 scheme with all 11 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The offense uses another read option with Williams serving as the vertical stretch, and Knight potentially keeping the football toward the left edge as the horizontal stretch.
With the defense crowding the box with seven defenders, the offensive line does a great job of giving Williams a crease. They flow to the right, and RT Eluemunor allows the defensive end to go inside of him to handle safety Micah Abernathy (#22), who blitzes off the edge. That leaves Lanfear to handle Corey Vereen (#50), the DE slicing inside. McCoy handles one defensive tackle, while Prater handles the other. On the edge, Gennesy needs to seal off the DE from pursuit. He first steps to his right, but as the DE cuts to the outside of the tackle, Gennesy opens his hips away from the flow of the play to get enough on the defender, and keep Williams clean:
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On the replay angle, you can see the effort up front, particularly the quick reaction from Gennessy. You can also see how the QB / RB mesh works to free the linebacker, who is late to react when Williams takes the handoff and charges toward him.
That touchdown put the Aggies up 28-7, but Tennessee was able to crawl back into this game and force overtime. In the second extra session Texas A&M was finally able to salt the game away.
The Aggies have also used split zone blocking designs this season with a great deal of success. Later in the game against Auburn, the Aggies take over possession with 7:13 remaining in the contest and holding a 12-point lead. They line up for the first play of the drive on their own 11-yard line, and they have Knight in the backfield with Williams and 10 offensive personnel on the field. WR Ricky Seals-Jones (#9) aligns in a wing formation to the left. Auburn’s 4-2-5 defense needs a stop, and shows two-high coverage in the secondary:
The Aggies run the split zone here, with the linemen working to the left and Seals-Jones cutting across the flow to handle the backside defensive end:
This play gives a look at two good combination blocks at the point of attack. Again, Lanfear and Eluemunor apply a combination block on the defensive tackle, and once the guard is able to secure the defender, the tackle Eluemunor works to the second level to seal off the backside LB. Playside, McCoy and left guard Prater double-team the DT, and once they establish control the guard leaves and attacks the playside LB. LT Gennesy handles the playside defensive end on a solo block.
These men open up a crease for Williams to exploit:
But from there, the rest is all the freshman:
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The RB picks up a downfield block from WR Speedy Noil (#2), and takes this the distance. A key aspect to this play is the move that Williams puts on the strong safety Tray Matthews (#28), juking to the inside and then back outside, causing the defender to stumble and fall to the turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The skycam provides a great view of the blocking coming together, and the effort from the running back:
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Here’s another example of how they use the split zone design, from their game against Arkansas. On their opening drive the Aggies line up with 10 personnel on the field and Knight in the shotgun. Running back Keith Ford (#7) stands to the right of the quarterback, and Seals-Jones is in a wing to the left. They also use a stack-slot look to the left side of the formation, with a single receiver split to the right:
This time, Lanfear and Eluemunor get a combination block on the defensive tackle and once the guard has leverage established, Eluemunor disengages and attacks the backside linebacker. Playside, McCoy and Prater double-team the 1 technique DT, but once they have the defender handled it’s the center who works to the second level to handle the playside LB:
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Ford cuts outside of the strong block from McCoy and races into the secondary with a big gain. From this angle we see two great double-team blocks, with the linemen getting hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder to establish control over the DTs, before the center and right tackle work to the second level. We also see the timing, as McCoy comes off the DT and blocks the playside LB just as Ford cuts into the hole and outside the block:
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Off to a great start offensively, the Aggies hope to continue their success as the tough part of their schedule hits. After dispatching undefeated Tennessee, A&M now prepares for the No. 1 team in the nation – Alabama. The SEC West is on the line as the Aggies hit the road to take on the Crimson Tide. You can be sure to see these run game schemes as Kevin Sumlin’s team looks to continue its great start in the SEC.
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.
All film courtesy of ESPN.