Tom Herman's Coaching Clinic Part II: The Gun Pap Play-Action

By Ross Fulton on May 27, 2014 at 1:15p

Last week we examined Tom Herman's April coaching clinic discussion of Ohio State's run/pass packaged plays. Today we turn to the next portion of his coaching clinic – the Buckeyes' play action passing game.

HERMAN'S HEAD: Run-Pass Combinationas | The QB Run Game

Specifically, Herman discussed Gun Pap – a six man play-action pass protection with a pulling guard.

Gun Pap

Making 'Em Bite with Faking

Given the effectiveness of Ohio State's inside run game, the importance of play action should come as no surprise. But it is critical to underscore why the play pass is such a crucial tool.

The rules of football provide the offense and defense certain advantages vis a vie each other. The offense has the advantage of knowing where the football is going. So forcing the defense to play slow because they still do not know where the football will end up following the snap provides the offense that much more of an advantage. 

Coaching legend Homer Smith long emphasized that an offense's most important weapon was faking. But not just any faking.

What makes a defender good is something to read. If he can say to himself something like, “As soon as that quarterback makes that half-assed fake, I’m going to find the tightend coming across and try to get an interception,” if he can read initially and react accurately, he can play over his head. Counters, not mirrored primary plays, keep defenders from reading and jumping on plays. 

Smith's sentiments regarding the efficacy of play action were echoed by another Hall of Fame Coach -- Bill Walsh.

The Play-Pass is the one fundamentally sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the basic principles of defense. I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense. By using the play-pass as an integral pant of your offense you are trying to take advantage of a defensive team that is very anxious very intense and very fired-up to play football. The play-pass is one of the best ways to cool all of that emotion and intensity down because the object of the play-pass is to get the defensive team to commit to a fake run and then throw behind them. Once you get the defensive team distracted and disoriented, they begin to think about options and, therefore, are susceptible to the running game. 

Selling Play Action with the Offensive Line

To Smith, the most effective play action mirrored the base run play. That is because, while fans may focus on the quarterback, linebackers and safeties read keys. And one of the most common keys is the offensive guards. The offensive line thus plays a crucial role in selling run action.

And one of the most effective ways to do so is with a pulling guard. As San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman statedif you really want play action, you better pull a guard.

Offenses utilizing a pulling guard with play action generally employ a six man gap protection. The front side linemen are all responsible for the gap away from the pulling guard. The guard then takes the end man on the line of scrimmage. Although the offense loses an eligible receiver (or two) with this blocking scheme, it ensures that each gap is covered across the line of scrimmage. And with play action, the goal is often to take shots downfield anyway, rather then have five man routes.

Putting Theory into Practice

This is precisely the framework that Urban Meyer and Herman utilize with Gun Pap. The quarterback fakes a tight zone handoff and half boots the other way. The backside guard pulls and serves as the lead blocker, while the remaining offensive linemen block away (and towards the run fake). The Buckeyes like utilizing deep crossing routes with the scheme.

 The Buckeyes likewise utilizing a pulling guard gap protection scheme to run play action off inverted veer. Up front, the line utilizes the exact same power blocking scheme. The quarterback carries out the fake like he is reading the front side defender, but then drops back. Instead of leaving that defender unblocked, the backside pulling guard logs him, creating the pocket. The Buckeyes frequently utilized a deep crossing route from the backside slot with this scheme also.

inverted veer play pass

To paraphrase another constant refrain from Walsh, the drop back passing game is for ball control, while play action is for gaining chunk yards down field. Given that the base of Ohio State's offense is the inside read game – and that defenses must account for Braxton Miller as a runner – play action passes such as these will also remain the Buckeyes' primary method to throw the football down field.    


Comments Show All Comments

GVerrilli92's picture

I believe this is the most critical aspect of our offense. Or the second part of it.

Last year, with Carlos Hyde as the base it was pretty much sure yardage on the inside handoff. That was number 1, and some teams couldn't stop just that. Then Braxton realized that he could make the wrong read, keep it, and still gain 4 yards. It effectively ruled out the thought of the pass, because it was pointless. That combo became the offense's identity and was one of those "well it's working" situations. It turned out deviating from that plan cost us in the end. But I digress.. 

This year the offense should really start to look like what Herman and Meyer had in mind when they came here, pretty much out of necessity. There are a lot of young ball carriers that have a crap ton of potential. The bottom line though is we need two stars to emerge for this pap to work, and it's probably more than half of our offense.

1. First and foremost, reestablish the type of base play and go-to RB. I think that could happen one of two, if not both ways. Rod Smith in-between the tackles or Eze off-tackle.

2. After and depending on the first, figure out the slip or restraint to the base. Best two options to step up this year will be Heurman and Mike Thomas (possibly Corey Smith) underneath - crossing and hitching.

And then Dontre probably has 2 or 3 packages at every position on the field. I know he's the H, but I think the coaches are gonna get multiple "H-type" players on the field at one time. This would move him around a lot.

When did we get all these skill players??

Preesh, Urb.

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.

+3 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

According to Urban THE starting point for his offense is down hill running in the B gaps, Regardless who the tailback is.

whobdis's picture

That playcall is a thing of beauty. There is at least 4 Hawkeyes biting on the playaction.  Herman really doesn't get much credit for stuff like this..instead we here about the 4th/1 play against MSU over and over again.


+2 HS
Ethos's picture


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

+2 HS
hetuck's picture

It helped for Wilson to be the faker. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

causeicouldntgo43's picture

As I recall we saw many teams run this type of play against the Buckeyes last year - hell even Devin F. Gardner did it to us several times with great success. It's payback time.

Hovenaut's picture

Bill Walsh may have perfected it, but Paul Brown implemented it.

+2 HS
Horvath22's picture

Great job, Ross. I really appreciate your contributions.

"As soon as that quarterback makes that HALF-ASSED fake...." Very few QB's sell the fake. Rex Kern set the standard for OSU QB's, and Corny Greene was pretty good. Blake Bortles Impressed me when we played them. Most QB's just go through the motion when supposedly selling a fake. Any sharp defender can see the difference, and probably picks it up on film.


Thanks again Ross, for the inside look that I would never get otherwise.

+1 HS
Zimmy07's picture

I don't know that I've ever noticed a team pulling a guard across the formation on a pass play before - I'm kind of stunned.

I actually taught d-linemen in youth football to try to chase right behind pulling guards if they could because they would lead them right to the running back.  Holy crap!  I guess, technically, doing that would have lead a lineman right in front of the QB - but I never expected a team to run a play like this.