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Chalk Talk: How One Play Improved OSU's Run Game

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowboys had arguably the most consistent showing on the ground against the Iowa State Cyclones this past Saturday. Running backs Chris Carson and Rennie Childs had 131 combined yards, and Carson in particular had his best performance in a conference game. In today's Chalk Talk, we will look at how the Cowboys improved the run game with one play -- the outside zone.

The outside zone is so successful because of its flexibility. As opposed to a play with a man blocking scheme, like an iso or a lead draw, an outside zone does not have a specified point of attack. If the defense is blocked properly, the back can either flow to the open hole or bounce outside. If, however, the defense over pursues the play, the back can make one cut and get upfield while the defense flows to the sideline.

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OSU running back Chris Carson has not excelled in the Cowboys' power scheme as of late, but under the scheme change, he has shown why he was a four star recruit in the first place. Carson has excellent patience, a skill that fits hand-in-hand with a zone blocking scheme. Additionally, he has the one-cut ability that is required in a zone runner.

If the hole opened up on the outside, he waited until he got to the opening and then he bursted toward the sideline.

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If there was an opening in the middle, he cut upfield and found the opening there.

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And if the defense flowed toward the ball, Carson cut back behind his blockers and ran to daylight.

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As paradoxical as it sounds, this one play gives the Cowboys more options in the run game. Also, don't let its moniker fool you, the outside zone isn't necissarily an outside run play -- it all depends on where the hole opens up. Luckily for the Cowboys, backs like Carson and Childs have the ability to identify the opening and burst through it.

The Cowboys also have ways to keep the defense from biting too hard on the zone action. They can run a play action pass with a zone blocking action:


They can capitalize on open route or screen attachments: 


Or they can even try a halfback (in this case, wide receiver) pass off of an outside zone:

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The Cowboys used the outside zone in their Walsh package as well, and to no surprise, J.W. Walsh proved as good as a runner as any.

Here, a swing route was paired with a quarterback outside zone. This wrinkle proved successful for OSU, as the Cowboys scored two touchdowns on this particular play.


If the weak side linebacker widened with the back's motion, Walsh kept it on the zone (notice the exceptional one-cut ability of Walsh)

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If the linebacker did not adjust to the motion, Walsh would throw to the swing screen.

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This week's Chalk Talk is an excellent example of how a team can take a scheme and build a large percentage of its offense around that one scheme. Hopefully this change will lead to a more fruitful run game. From how the offense performed on Saturday against the Cyclones, the Cowboy running backs (and even J.W. Walsh) have the potential to flourish in this new zone scheme.