Oregon’s zone read of the defensive tackle

During last night’s Oregon victory over Oregon State, the announcers mentioned that Chip Kelly’s squad will vary their zone read by reading defenders besides the backside defensive end — namely, the defensive tackle or “three technique” player.

In the “normal” zone read, the line zone blocks one way while the quarterback reads the backside defender:


There are a variety of counters to this, including the infamous “scrape exchange,” and in response offenses have added third options and bubbles and all manner of other ideas to the outside. But Oregon, along with several other spread teams, have also responded by moving inside, by reading the defensive tackle instead of the defensive end. See the diagram below:


This does a couple things for you. One, it can confuse the “scrape exchange” response, where the defensive end crashes to force a “pull” read by the quarterback while the linebacker loops outside for him, because the defensive end gets blocked and the QB should have a big gap inside. And, second, it gives you flexibility in who you choose to block versus read. As the old saying goes, if you can’t block them, read them.

For example, when LSU had Glenn Dorsey, Urban Meyer and Florida often used this same tactic to read him instead of trying to block him. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if Florida did this against Alabama’s mountainous defensive tackle, Terrence Cody.)

So what does this look like in practice? Fortunately, Trojan Football Analysis has already broken it down, after the Ducks thrashed Pete Carroll’s USC defense with it. Below is some of the photo evidence, though you should go to TFA to read the whole thing.


Below is the same play from a sideline angle:



As you can see, it’s a simple adjustment as well as a simple one. And, for a further wrinkle, I had a reader tell me that Oregon will run the “power” play but read the playside defensive tackle. That will have to wait for another post, however.

  • cerebral

    thanks chris! (davepua from twitter)

  • Footballer10

    Chris, I havent had the chance to watch alot of Oregon football this year, but watched the entire game last night and came away in awe with the scheme of Oregon’s run game. I’ve been looking for youtube clips to break down, but can’t seem to find what I’m Looking for. Anyways, whats the scheme to the run play where QB turns his back to the line and hands the ball off to the RB as he crosses his face going downhill. I cant tell if Masoli is turning his head and reading the basckside DE or not. If not I’m guessing that this a way setup some type of bootleg. All in all just not real sure of whats trying to be accomplished, is it just a simple Zone Run(doubt it). Whats your thoughts and what are you seeing? Really, really wished I would of DVR’d this game as beeing on the East coast the opprtunity to watch Oregon is limited.

  • thehurt

    @Footballer10: That play threw me for a loop the first couple of times I watched it, but they have run it against SC, Stanford, UW, and now OSU that I’ve seen. They do run a play action off that, but only on rare occasions, and always after they’ve run it a few times. The couple of times I have seen the play action, it’s been very effective, usually with three levels to throw to (and of course, Masoli always has the option to run). Other than that, I’m pretty sure it’s a fairly straight-up zone run (outside zone, I believe). Without having the cutup in front of me, though, it’s hard to say.

    I’d love to see a couple of other analyses of that offense, though – it’s really impressive to see it when it’s working well.

  • pigskin11

    Isn’t it just midline from the gun?

    Also, why does Jesse Palmer call him Mazzoli? haha it is Masoli – he’s Samoan not Italian.

    We did some of the same stuff this year – we can run the read on any DL… makes it fun watching big tackles try to decide to jump the dive or stay on QB… either way he is wrong and his coach is pissed haha

  • BeastMode

    As a Cal fan, I can’t say it was the most fun getting steamrolled by Oregon’s offense, but I love watching them when they are rolling.

    Chris, did you happen to see Oregon’s variation on the zone read with the additional option pitch to the outside receiver? I haven’t had a chance to watch the game again, but it appeared they would run a standard outside zone read play, but the backside receiver would drop back into a pitch relationship with Masoli when he kept it. If Masoli got into trouble, he simply pitched it out to the receiver to great effect.

  • BeastMode: I did see that play. It’s a good one, though I’ve seen teams use this at least as far back as Northwestern in 2000. It’s just the zone-read witha pitch back with the slot subbed for him. A lot of teams use a bubble read with that that the QB can read (Malzahn at Auburn for one, though there are many others). I wrote about a similar concept here: http://smartfootball.com/run-game/the-zone-read-gun-triple-option-and-the-quadruple-option

  • bulldogoption

    I agree with pigskin11

    it looks similar to midline to me….the second best play in football

  • Co-ach

    We’ve been running the pitch option to the slot out of doubles for about 6 years at our school.

  • jgordon1

    They scored an early running TD (the first or second) by reading the 2I..in this instance the OG outside released…I think that if you have a qb as good as Masoli…I would direct the play to a shade as much possible..What will a shade do once the center releases away from him???.It should be a Masoli keep unless the shade slants back

  • Ian

    I’m a little fuzzy on the read for this particular example. Masoli is reading the 3-tech (because he’s unblocked), but it looks like the DT is playing to give Masoli a give read. The play worked because the DT got way too far upfield, but when does Masoli give? Only if the 3-tech holds his ground to take away that inside gap?

  • Josh

    Same read as midline but different play. They are still zoning it. I think what makes it even better is…when that 1 tech fights like hell to get over his read calls for him to jump cut behind the 1 tech if he is really fighting…problem being sometimes the 3 is there to shut it down if he isn’t cutoff properly. This makes the cutback a lot nicer with the 3 having to stay home.

  • Looking for Oregon video cut-ups, I have a handful posted over at ‘Spread Offense TV’, go to: http://www.spreadoffense.tv/search/?search_id=oregon

  • Dick


    I think Massoli does give the ball but the back cuts it back, which makes it confusing.

  • Chris,

    how do you get the screen shots???

  • donkeypunch22

    midline option and veer option are run plays that typically have the QB and the RB attack the same side of the formation, and more importantly the read is on the “front” side.

    zone read typically sends the RB and the QB to attack different sides of the formation, and the read is on the “back” side.

    So no, the midline option is not the same as zone read on the 3 technique. close, but not the same.

  • donkeypunch22

    by the way, you could stop the above zone read on the 3 technique by doing a “scrape exchange” with the mike backer and the 3 technique just like you would with the outside backer and the 5 technique. Just gotta recognize who the read is on and execute the exchange.

    and just to keep the read unpredictable, you should spark the mike through the back side A gap and have the 3 technique play the QB in the hole (back side B gap) from time to time. This keeps the backside gaurd on his toes trying to block the mike, and the QB read from getting comfortable.

  • newton

    There was a great example of this in the WV-Rutgers game. On its third play, WV blocked the DE and LB and optioned the DT for a huge gain.

  • ‘Newton’ – I saw that too… Jarrett Brown had a big gain on that play. They tried it again a few series later, and Rutgers adjusted nicely as the DT square shouldered in the hole and made the play on Brown at the LOS.

  • steve sharik


    See if this fits the bill:

  • bulldogoption

    When we ran midline from the gun, and when I’ve heard it discussed at clinics a few times, the back dives at the center to backside A gap….so the two plays are similar, IMO. Especially when you consider that zone read plays have the back press the A gap and look for the opening.

    Regardless, of what its called, its a nice play. Diving the back towards the backside A gap was the key to making midline work for us from the gun. It gave the QB the room/separation he needed to make the read.

    And then the other big difference would be in man vs. zone blocking.

  • Maddog football coach

    Looking to add midline to my pistol offense next season. Along with veer, zone read and shovel option, we work hard to make defensive fronts react to us rather than “pinning their ears back.”

  • jake

    good stuff…..i love the websites added in the comments. Does any high school coaches have video of themselves running the inverted gun veer?- if so i’d like to see

  • jake

    I have been thinking all morning about this play. And as i was sitting on the John, i remembered from the pictures that the DT stepped away from the play and the QB still pulled for Oregon. If he is really reading this, why would he make that read. Maybe they don’t read anything and just iso the DT in space and juke him. What do you think and why did he pull it?

  • mike

    I agree with Jake. I play qb at small d3 school where we run a lot of zone read and inside and outside veer from the gun, and we’ll run this play often with a lead or the TE looping inside for the mike, but Masoli either made the wrong read or he judged that the DT was trying to feather him so much to the outside he could beat him inside.

    Also the playside DT is unblocked as well… strange

  • AERose

    Seems a bit persnickety to say that Masoli made the wrong read on a 20 yard gainer.

  • jake

    I want to understand the read more but it would seem if the DT stepped away, that would certainly be a give. I think there is a chance that it is not a read at all and a one on one(Athlete vs. Fat Boy in a 5 yard box).

  • Kelly

    You should watch this video of the Ducks last year’s Civil War blowout of a very good Oregon State team (that beat USC)

    Be afraid. Be very afraid


  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ah55Yqw6jU

    Check out these Oregon Zone Read plays against Washington. On the goal line at 3:14, Midfield at 4:00 and at the goal line again at 4:17. Both goal line plays the unblocked lineman just turns and runs at #21 and Masoli just walks in. The Middle LB runs to the fake too.

    The unblocked DT at 4:00 breaks down and plays Masoli and correctly reads that the QB has the ball. But a 300lb guy who runs a 5.5 40 is not a match for a 200 lb guy who runs 4.5. Bad matchup for the defense. 25 yards before he is even touched.

  • Keith

    In the USC plays above the first play the defense is slanting wrongly in two directions I believe. Masoli sees the parting of the Red Sea and pulls it out for a big gain.

    On the 2nd play SC is slanting to the zone blocked side and Oregon OL is washing them over. The B gap defender really charges up field out of control maybe expecting Masoli to run outside like most zone read teams will. He burst right up the middle and the DT is slow to react-Big gain.

    Not the same play. Unless the Texas OKIE State game went from 14 minutes left in the 4th to final in the time it took to show the replay.

    USC would really sell out and got some stops guessing right a few times vs Oregon early in the game. As the game wore on they tired out and started to over commit and Masoli worked them and made them pay time and again.

  • Brent

    It looks like to me that they (Oregon) is still reading the EMOLS. He is the last man down. Is the last guy standing up a end or a linebacker. Because when we run this same play we read the last man in a stance.

  • Mr.Murder

    Cross the tackles. Ooops.

  • I still could not realize some of your thoughts immediately after reading this document. Saturday for me, awful day, simply because yesterday I worked all day. good luck

  • Coaching

    How would they run/block this play(read the 3tech) vs a 30-front? Or would they audible to another play?

  • angry

    How to stop the spread or read option:


  • ¬†Thanks so much this is really a great insight, by the way your website is really nice.

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