In the preseason, we discussed the impact a dynamic runner such as Jalen Hurts could have on the Alabama running game. Needless to say coming off of a 140-yard effort at Ole Miss, we were able to see it in action last Saturday. Knowledgeable fan Ben Litvin, known in these parts as GumpinOnSaturdays, made special note of an explosive run at a critical moment in the game that is worth a second look.
For context, let’s take a look at an inside zone play from last season, and pay special attention to the H-Back, in this case #84 Hale Hentges. Alabama is in 11 personnel, pistol formation with Hentges lined up to the left. This is a very common set for RPOs, usually packaging a zone run with a quick pass. On this particular play, Coker is going to hand off to Derrick Henry.
As the ball is handed off, we see that the offensive line has taken a zone step to the left, leaving the back-side defensive end unblocked. Hentges has come across the formation and has him squarely in his sights:
The ball has been handed off, and we see Hentges engaging the end. He does a nice job along with the offensive line to help produce a healthy gain on first down, but exactly no one in the stadium is under any delusion that Jake Coker is keeping the football. Jake isn’t a running threat, so the back-side end can confidently sell out to stop Henry. This requires the Tide to use Hentges to seal him off:
Here it is in action. Great job by the line, especially Shank Taylor. That is 306-pound potential first round prospect Montravius Adams, wearing jersey #1, that he has blown several yards off the ball:
We will now fast forward to Hurts’s 40-yard run in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win in Oxford. By now, RB Damien Harris has run all over Ole Miss and has become the primary concern, especially understanding Nick Saban’s penchant for “taking the air out of it” with a fourth quarter lead. This is particularly true against a thin Rebel defense that has been on the field an inordinate amount of time on the day.
Once again, we are in the pistol, this time featuring true freshman #87 Miller Forristall at H-Back. Miller has earned significant time in his first season thanks to his excellent blocking, and we will see why on this play.
At the mesh point, you will see that the line has again taken a zone step, this time to the right, and has once again left the defensive end unblocked. Forristall is coming across the formation, but since this play is a true read option, he is going to bypass the end and head to the next level. Instead of blocking the end, Jalen is simply going to read him and either hand the ball to Harris or keep it based on where the end goes. In this case, the end slips inside to help on Harris, and Hurts correctly pulls the football to run it himself:
The end has now recognized that Hurts has the football, but with Jalen’s speed he is completely out of the play. Forristall has moved on to the safety, and makes an excellent block. Never fear though, Rebs. That outside linebacker just above the first “s” in Miss is in pursuit and ready to close that gap for a short gain...
...um, he’s got him, right?
Hey buddy, Les Miles called. Don’t eat all that new, fresh grass, OK?
Jalen is an outstanding runner. So often people talk about pure straight-line speed, but on this play he shows vision, instincts with regard to angles, fluidity in his hips and quick acceleration to blow past the linebacker. Ben, who is a solid Twitter follow as he routinely posts clips in this fashion, has the entire play in action for you:
Zone read. End slides inside so 2 pulls it. And the arc block from 87 springs the big play. Well schemed/executed pic.twitter.com/CgX6sBoIpy— Ben Litvin (@Ben_Litvin) September 22, 2016
Adding another gifted runner to the offense is always a bonus. As you can see, however, adding a read element to the inside zone completely changes the numbers up front and becomes a major headache for opposing defenses who already have to concern themselves with the skill talent littering the field. Expect to see much more of this as the season goes along.