Stressing the Defense: Tom Herman Edition

By Ross Fulton on March 15, 2012 at 9:00a
Stressing a defense horizontally

Building upon my look at the bubble screen's use in the spread offense, I wanted to examine how Tom Herman's Iowa State Cyclone offense pressured the Oklahoma State Cowboy defense en route to an upset victory last year.  Brophy Blogspot had a fantastic post breaking down Herman's offensive game plan, which was exceedingly simple in deference to his freshman quarterback, yet was entirely predicated upon constraining the defense and protecting Iowa State's base play, namely the inside zone read.   

As Brophy states:

However, the game did provide a decent exercise in risk management for Iowa State.  Oklahoma State is one of the best teams in college football this year and truly outmatched the Cyclones in every area.  What aided Iowa State in the overtime victory wasn’t necessarily certain plays, but how their system allowed them to play within themselves and maintain their comfort zone . . .

the Cyclones were going to run zone and zone-read to establish their inside run game.  They protected this series through KEY (flash) and MICKEY (flash draw) on the perimeter.  The rationale is, a defense can either put 6 in the box to even up on the perimeter (put them in a better position against the flash screen) and be vulnerable to front side zone or a backside keep.  If a defense loads the box with 7 defenders to take away your zone and zone-read game, they open themselves up to an explosive play by a free receiver on the perimeter.

In other words, Iowa State wanted to first and foremost run the football inside with zone and zone-read.   Yet they needed to protect against a more athletic Oklahoma State team cheating defenders into the box to stop the Cyclones run game.  Enter the flash screen.


Like the bubble, the flash screen is a quick hitting wide receiver screen, this time going to the outside wide receiver.  (H/T: Trojan Football Analysis).


As with the bubble, the flash screen forces the defense to line up properly and not cheat down into the box against the inside run game, while also getting the ball to an athlete in space.  In addition, the play's tempo and point of attack stress the defense.  The inside zone game forces a defense to maintain interior gap responsibility and play slowly.  The flash screen, by contrast, is a quick hitting throw to the outside, changing the stimulus faced by the defense.  As Brophy states, it is the equivalent of an outside sweep that hits in half the time.  This inside-outside-inside attack puts stress on the defense horizontally, forcing a team to defend the whole field.  Herman then used a fake-flash screen inside draw, adding both an additional constraint and a third tempo. 

As one can see, the zone read and flash screen are incredibly basic and are 'cheap' for an offense to install.  Nonetheless, when combined properly, the plays can stress a defense, forcing it to play honest, defend the field horizontally, and grabble with different tempos.       

Herman on the Ohio State Offensive Philosophy

For those that did not see it, Herman had an informative interview with Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer discussing the Ohio State offensive philosophy under Urban Meyer and Herman going forward.  

We're going to be a [shot]gun, spread, run-oriented football team that has tremendous balance through the play-action pass.

We want to be no-huddle, we want to be up-tempo and use that to our advantage. And we want to be balanced. We want to run the football first to set up the throwing game

  Herman later added:

And we will huddle at times, too. I think that's important to deliver a mentality that we are a power, physical tough-running football team," Herman said. "From the gun, under center, it doesn't matter where are, that will be what our personality is going to be.

If you have the ability to go under center, there are a few things that open up to you, but I think you have to be creative in the way that you do it. Just lining up in the I-formation and running power -- there are too many people in the box and defenses are too good. When we are under center it might be a little more creative than days of old, but we will get under center.

For my in-depth discussion of Meyer's shotgun-based, run-first, inside run game that will include some elements under center, see here and here


Comments Show All Comments

Irricoir's picture

So are we pulling a *ichigan and calling the Cowboys Sooners now? Iowa State got beat by 20 against the real Sooners.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Maestro's picture

Believe me when I tell you that Sooners (however ill placed their anger would be) would in fact be very insulted by being called Cowboys.

vacuuming sucks

Ross Fulton's picture

Duh--that was pretty boneheaded on my part.  That is what I get for writing too early in the morning.  Thanks for the heads up--now fixed. 

Irricoir's picture

No problem partner. I read what I posted and I sounded kind of like an ass, which was not my intent. Hope you accept my appologies. I am not good at sarcasm.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Irricoir sarcasm:

With a stern face, Irricoir snarls, "I'm gonna beat you down and then tie up your scrawny limbs, into a human pretzel."

Before Irricoir has a chance to determine if his companion gets the "joke," said companion bolts from the scene . . .   

Ross Fulton's picture

Not a problem at all.  I am glad you pointed that out.  That is just an early morning brain freeze on my part. 

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Looks like we may be seeing this type of play quite a bit, since as you mentioned, its easy to install and compliments the inside zone read - which we know will be a staple. Who would you see lining up in trips at this point? Hall, Brown, and Smith? Simple, consistent, and well executed beats complicated and mostly executed every time. Thanks for helping us to see what to look for in the Spring game and Fall......


Ross Fulton's picture

Yea, you can run the play from either twins or trips.  I think that list is a good start, I also would not be surprised to see Stoney flexed out...

Maestro's picture

My biggest concern is Miller's erratic arm.  Especially on quick throws.  Hopefully he can perfect this throw before the season.

vacuuming sucks

argyle182021's picture

I've got a feeling they'll practice that throw ad nauseam.

DJ Byrnes's picture

Osu employing a qb coach this year will also help.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

Denny's picture

I don't know what a 'qb coach' is and assume that it is some sort of unicorn.


Ross Fulton's picture

Yes, last year when OSU tried to run WR screens the execution was horrible.  I think it was partly a) inexperience, and b) I highly doubt those type of plays were repeatedly repped as part of the offense.  The latter, at least, will certainly change next year.

Enzo's picture

What is this "scheming" against an opposing teams strengths? I'm not familiar with concept.

Buckeye in Athens's picture

At :42 in the video it looks like a wide receiver or TE motions across to deliver a pretty crucial block. Or put in a speedster in that position and you could run the shovel sweep out of a similar set. Might be pretty awesome to see two quick hitting outside constraint plays.

cbusbuckeye's picture

Does it bother anyone else when watching that video that for the receiver to gain meaningful yardage he had to either a) make someone miss in space or b) have perfectly executed blocks? This wasn't a great defense either, I am really skeptical that Meyer and Co. will be able to consistently pull these types of plays off against elite defenses. Any thoughts? I've always been more for a power game than the spread, to me this seems like a high risk play...incompletion or getting stuffed at the line seem likely.

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Meyer's offense is a "power game" and will employ big backs running between the tackles. This, and similar types of outside constraint plays allow the inside game to be at its best. The spread, which is just a philosophy rather than a set of plays, is not incompatible with an inside, power run game. Never fear! 

cbusbuckeye's picture

Thanks for being reassuring! I guess I got a little worried when I saw all of those screens. Don't get me wrong, in the right situation it is a great play (see stoneburner, Nebraska), I just hope we don't lose the ability to run straight at the defense when we need too!

Buckeye in Athens's picture

Oh yeah, absolutely! That's how Meyer was able to convince Bri'onte to sign here. 

cplunk's picture

These screens are for exactly that purpose- to make the defense spread and open up the ability to run straight at the defense. It doesn't even matter if these screens gain yardage; even when they gain nothing they force the defenders to position themselves in a way that helps inside running on future plays.


TNBuckeye1421's picture

If you can get 8 yards out of a screen pass you have been successful. Ill take 8 of these and march right down the field. Elite players will turn these plays into larger gains. I would not be worried about moving the ball. We know that it works against B1G Defenses it smacked the Silver Bullets around for 4 quarters in 2007...

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

What is this screen play you speak of?  We here in the Buckeye Nation aren't familiar with that play? 

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Ethos's picture

I am told it involves some kind of passing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Pish Posh I say.  Much better to send all the receivers on 40+ yard routes so your o-line has to hold the D back for 60 seconds.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

On 3rd and 13 no less!!!

With the addition of this screen pass thing, and the absence of False Start Shugarts - we may be able to matriculate the ball down the field this year a bit more consistently!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

NCBuck1's picture

So from what I gather here, (sarcasm switched on here) we will run Dave, Dave and then this play? Excellent!