Tom Herman's Coaching Clinic Part I: Run-Pass Combinations

By Ross Fulton on May 20, 2014 at 1:00p

As regular readers know, one of the biggest trends in college football is packaging a pass option with running plays. With a packaged play, the offense will execute a run play – except for one receiver designated to run a pattern.

HERMAN'S HEAD: Gun Pap Play-Action | The QB Run Game

Depending upon the defense's reaction, the quarterback has the option to pull the football from the hand-off post-snap and deliver it to the wide receiver. 

Packaged Hitch

Packaged plays have become an increasingly big part of the Ohio State offense. And at a coaching clinic in April, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman provided details as to how the Buckeyes package plays, which we examine below.

It Starts at the Base

Herman and Urban Meyer begin by packaging routes with their two base inside tailback run plays -- tight zone and power. Tight zone, aka inside zone, is the basis of the Buckeye offense. 

The offensive linemen take aggressive half steps play side, seeking to create double teams upon the down linemen before working to the second level. The halfback aims for the frontside hip of the center, looking for the cutback to the backside A gap bubble. 

Inside Zone

Meyer and Herman can package one of several routes with tight zone. One basic combination is a bubble screen, either from doubles or trips. The quarterback reads the second level linebackers. If they aggressively play the run the quarterback has the freedom to pull the football and throw the bubble to the slot receiver. 

Bubble Screen

Smoke and Power

Ohio State's other base run play is power. Unlike tight zone, power uses gap blocking. The play side offensive linemen block down, while the backside guard pulls. The tight end kicks out the defensive end and the backside guard leads through the hole on the frontside linebacker.

power run

With power, the Buckeyes often package a smoke, aka flash screen. Unlike a bubble screen, the smoke screen goes to the outside wide receiver. The receiver takes a step upfield and then comes back to the football. The inside receiver(s) kick out the defensive backs, creating a seam. 

The quarterback reads the outside linebacker responsible for the slot receiver. If the linebacker overcommits to the run game the quarterback can pull and throw the screen. Flash screen is a versatile combination that can not only be combined with power but also to the backside of tight zone.

Flash screen

Hitch it Up

The final route that is often combined with tight zone and power is a quick hitch. With tight zone, the Buckeyes utilize a backside hitch.

With power, the hitch is run to the front side, allowing the quarterback to make the necessary read.


The quarterback reads through the outside linebacker to the cornerback. If the corner takes an immediate deep drop (to allow the safeties to aggressively play the run) or bites inside on the run action, the quarterback can throw the hitch.

Combining bubble, smoke and hitch routes with tight zone and power all serve the same purpose – preventing a defense from cheating second level defenders against the run game. And if the defense does cheat, then Meyer and Herman are happy to take easy yards resulting from the defense's structural unsoundness. As the Buckeye coaching staff looks to more complicated packaged plays, it is clear that run/pass options will only become a more important part of the Ohio State offense going forward.  


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acBuckeye's picture

Inquiring minds want to know where these plays were in the 4th quarter of our last two ball games.

+12 HS
yrro's picture

Well, most of those pass plays are hard to do against good press man on the outside. The counter to press man on the outside is deep routes -- which we almost connected with, but not quite, on several occasions in those games.

That said... I still have no idea why, with our scheme and players, we ever lined up Miller in an empty backfield.

+4 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

The reason we almost never seen it was because we didn't have 5 wr's or 4 wr's and a TE better then Carlos Hyde. He was a great blocker and great receiver out of the backfield. I would think an empty set would be pretty hard to defend in short yardage with 225lbs of Brax hitting the line with a Dime defense behind it. Wish 5 wide empty would have been the call in the B1G championship with a yard and a half separating a win or loss. Seems almost unstoppable and we will see plenty of it this year that I can promise,even if it is 4WR 1 TE.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+2 HS
BrooklynBuckeye's picture

I don't know, but not gonna make much of a difference is the WR can't catch the ball on a third down.

Hovenaut's picture

These are seriously helping me get through the off-season.

That Illinois clip is a thing of beauty.

+2 HS
osu07asu10's picture

Awesome work as always Ross! Thanks for making us more knowledgeable on the offense!

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The 0 is silent.

osu407's picture

I think using these more often will make the transition into a post-Hyde run game a little easier. Once a team gets burned by a fast receiver a few times they'll have to leave some room on the inside. 

Earle's picture

Great stuff Ross.  Any insight into how much the Buckeyes run/will run packaged plays off of power vs. inside zone?  It seems to me that packaging a pass with inside zone puts a lot on the QB, who presumably has to make the give/keep and run/pass reads nearly simultaneously.  At least in the power package you take one of those reads away.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

GoBucks713's picture
holy crap

Holy Crap am I going to miss this guy. I'm excited to see what is going to happen with EZE.

-The Aristocrats!

+4 HS
omahabeef1337's picture

I'm curious if we'll see more power read plays with Hyde gone since we'll have more speed at the running back position. (Maybe not this year though since Braxton being prone to injury.) I loved him, too, but we have to look for a silver lining, right?

omahabeef1337's picture

Ross: I know Malzahn (and I'm sure other coaches) combine zone read plays with a packaged route, giving the QB the option to hand off, pass, or keep.

Does OSU do this? (I think they do, but just double checking.) Also, what is the order of reads in a situation where something like a IZ is packaged with route?

NuttyBuckeye's picture

Malzahn used the read option against Alabama where they hit the receiver about 10-15 yards downfield after pulling the ball from the back.  It went for a TD.  I would love to see more tosses out of this formation, provided the read is there.  Having the wideout throw a chip at the corner as if the play is a running play, then release downfield would be a nice wrinkle.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

omahabeef1337's picture

For those who are interested in learning more, read this:

About 2/3 of the way down, Brown explains the packaged play NuttyBuckeye is talking about.

NuttyBuckeye's picture

Wow!  Malzahn is an offensive genius...  I see why Auburn can score points.  Thanks, Omaha!

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

whobdis's picture

Anything to keep the LB's honest. Over the years it's been frustrating to watch teams cheat so much at the los and we do nothing to make them pay. I do like watching the replays..though I let one of them go for awhile and I had to watch Abrederis rip up our secondary.


otrain2416's picture

Honestly I don't see us running inbetween the tackles as much or as successfully this upcoming season unless Dunn or Smith establish themselves as a power back. I see us being way more successful running outside the tackles with Eze and Samuel. 

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

GVerrilli92's picture

MSU will take this away. We have to beat them straight-up.

If the defense has the athletes, they can go man and knock the offense off schedule. This is going to happen more times than not in this year's game, and Brax is going to have to hit a double-move or long route to win it. They've been our achilles tendon since Brax took over because they play the style of D that demands the QB hit his receivers in stride. They don't mind letting a receiver get behind them because they know that once the ball is in the air they are athletic enough to make up for lost ground and play the ball. The only way to combat that is to use long, and accurately hard-thrown passes. It's high-risk, high-reward for MSU, but they're placing they're favor in the odds that a college QB can't make the throws. 

I think Urban has seen MSU enough to know exactly how to handle them now.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

+1 HS
omahabeef1337's picture

You make it sound like these packaged plays aren't "straight up" football. It's just another way for the offense to win the numbers game by keeping additional defenders out of the box. Teams used to rely on the threat of a pass but are now finding ways (like those described here) to package the pass threat into the run play, making it easier for the offense to run the right play more often. Instead of hoping that a safety (for example) bites on play action, you can just run the ball if he didn't.

d5k's picture

I think the way MSU's defense attacks such plays through their design is the LB stays at home or at least close to home on the slot receiver and then 1 or both safeties come crashing down on the run.  They force you to take shots down field.  Coaches are so conservative in nature.  Eventually you will see packaged plays with a post/seam pattern where you are reading the safety.  It seems to me that MSU is begging you to do that.

Ross Fulton's picture

As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, playing press man coverage does take away some of the effectiveness of packaged plays, because a man defender should execute his man responsibilities no matter what the offense does. But that obviously opens up other opportunities -- you should have better numbers in the box to run against, and you can attack downfield. So the package play also becomes less necessary. 

GVerrilli92's picture

That's exactly what I'm saying, it's not straight up football.

It's a trick that relies on someone on the defense making a false/predictable step.

If everyone on D is not only jamming their option, but also running with them in man, we cannot design a way around this. Our players have to go out and win one on one match-ups. Either that or we bubble screen them to death and force them to make plays by switching.

What you're referring to is called play sequence, where a base play creates a defensive tendency affording the opportunity for a counter in the next play. I get the difference, but a packaged play only works if the defense bites on the tendency WITHIN THE PLAY that is currently happening, and is almost always a 100% bust guarantee if everyone stays at home. We can't run these plays against MSU. We have to use sequence between plays to beat them, not sequence within plays. They are almost as talented as us, they can run with us. So they don't have to play off the ball out of respect. We will throw an interception one out of every 6 times we try this against them because all they have to do is buzz an LB into the zone where the RB would go, force the throw outside, bracket that receiver, pick 6.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

Squirrel Master's picture

and don't forget that half of MSU's upperclassmen laden team is now gone, including Dennard and Lewis out of the DBs and some solid linebackers with Max Bullough. That is a lot to lose on a stingy defense, and they don't restock quite as easily as OSU does.

I think OSU will find ways against MSU, and at the same time I don't see Conner Cook chewing up the new buckeye defense like last year. With a stout defense, more opportunities for Braxton and this offense to play better too. more 3 and outs (and turnovers) by the silver bullets will mean more plays for Braxton to run.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
Nutinpa's picture

My only - yet significant nitpick, Squirrel:

I would argue that Sparty has "restocked" their Defense in recent years more effectively than the Buckeyes have. The stats and performance (or lack thereof) do not lie... regardless of recruitment rankings.

Zimmy07's picture

Man, was Carlos Hyde good.  In the play shown against Michigan, I can't believe the safety didn't make the tackle - I don't know what kind of head fake / hip shake voodoo Hyde pulled to turn #6's feet into lead, but it was amazing.

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

My God. Looking at some of those runs by El Guapo, I really think had he not missed the first three games, he could've won the Heisman. I hope somebody can step up.



+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

I am going to miss Carlos breaking some Hawkeye Ankles

+1 HS
GoBucks713's picture

El Guapo was doing the AIRBHG's work that day.

-The Aristocrats!

+1 HS