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Boise State running game breakdown (Building A Better Fan Week)

Boise State's run game is a handful for opposing teams and a revelation for playbook aficionados. Simplicity cloaked in complication is the name of the game when the Broncos hit the ground, and I'd like to show you how.

After the jump, join me for a breakdown of Boise State's running game with play diagrams, strategy discussion, and plenty of room for feedback. Love sausages but always wondered where they came from? Then this is the perfect post for you.

This feature is part of OBNUG's Building A Better Fan Week. Want to become a better Bronco fan? Well you're in luck. The rest of this week, OBNUG will be featuring a series of fan-related advice and coaching designed to make you a better fan and, therefore, a better person. You're welcome, society.

About Boise State's running game

This will blow your mind if you let it: The Boise State running game is essentially five plays long. That's it. Five plays. Kind of like a Tecmo Bowl playbook.

Where things get tricky and complicated and downright confusing for opposing defenses is in the myriad formations, shifts, and schemes that the Broncos use to run these plays. Five base plays becomes hundreds when you factor in the various permutations of the Bronco offense.

And once you add the different formations, you start getting matchups and alignments in your favor. It is a perfect scheme for an offense because it puts a premium on simplicity while letting the formation and alignment do all the heavy lifting.

The following are the five plays most common to Boise State's ground game, as deduced from several DVR'ed Bronco games from the past season.

Play No. 1: The Zone block

Zone blocking is the most banal form of offensive line play. You simply move forward and block whoever comes into your path. No one pulls, no one reaches, no one fumbles the center-QB exchange. It's just basic, fundamental, smashmouth football.

Boise State runs this type of blocking a lot out of its singleback set on early downs, especially early in the game. A lot of dive plays and between-the-tackles running takes place with this type of blocking. Running backs have more freedom to choose the hole that opens rather than hit a specific spot, and there is less risk of lost yardage with a defender slipping through behind a pull or on a crash.


Play No. 2: The Trap block

The trap block is another standard football block - the caveman to the zone block's Neanderthal Man. It is designed for quick hitters up the middle. A guard pulls behind the center and blindsides a defensive tackle who thinks he's in the backfield untouched. The DT never knows what hits him, and the center (and sometimes the offside guard) blocks down to clean up the pulling guard's leftovers.


God designed this play with Kevin Sapien in mind, although Sapien's neck had other ideas. You see the Broncos turn to this play a lot in short yardage situations, especially near the goalline.

Play No. 3: The Double Pull

As a former high school center, I can honestly say that I am a little jealous that this play wasn't in my high school playbook (my high school playbook consisted of pre-forward-pass running formations and whatever was working for Rashaan Salaam at the time).

Thomas Byrd gets to stretch his legs on this blocking scheme along with either one of his guard buddies. Both the center and the playside guard pull out and around on this play with the guard typically cleaning up the playside linebacker and the center going hunting for tiny secondary players.


This play works effectively from the shotgun formation since that gives the big uglies a little more time to get their rears in gear and out around the end.

Play No. 4: The Pulling Guard

I hesitated to even add this to the list since it is basically a Double Pull with a fullback replacing one of the pullers. Or is the Double Pull essentially this play except with a pulling center? Whoa, I just blew my own mind.


The main thing to focus on is the backside guard pulling into the hole as the lead blocker followed closely by the fullback and then the running back. Pity the middle linebacker. He is DODPA (Dead On Dan Paul Arrival).

Play No. 5: The Reach block

This is the inconvenient version of the Zone block. Rather than hit the man in their general vicinity, blockers have to get in front of the guy to their left or right. Typically this is accomplished with a purposeful, quick first step and superb body positioning, but I was able to do it in high school with a well-timed "Look! It's D.J. Tanner from Full House!" (I played in a very prudish league.)

In the diagram below, the reachers are the four interior line blockers to the play side (the backside tackle gets the play off).


Plays like the one above work great for speed sweeps and outside running plays, and it helps to have a fullback in the backfield to chip or help on the playside defensive end. If that guy doesn't get blocked, your play is going nowhere. Same is true if Tyler Shoemaker is running this speed sweep.

Formations may change, but blocking is forever

Take those five plays and add them to the Technicolor Formation Dreamcoat of Bryan Harsin, and you have a giant mess of options. Remember the Wild Avery? It's nothing new to the offensive line.


How about that one where Chris Potter is quarterback? Yawn. Seen it.


Running plays, no matter the formation, can work with the same base set of blocking assignments with just a few tweaks here and there. It is perfect and beautiful and I wish I would have thought of it. Oh well, I still have my heated road idea.

Shift much?

The Broncos also dabble in shifting formations and constant motion, and there is most definitely a point to it all. Boise State shifts and motions to create matchup problems and exploit alignment advantages. Here is a standard Bronco formation and blocking scheme against a standard defense.


And now the shift:


Notice how much more natural the blocks are for the linemen? Plus, the formation shifts throws poorly disciplined defenses into paranoid confusion.

Now add in motion.


Easier blocks turn into severe matchup problems for the defense. An extra blocker on the playside, a defense in disarray, and there is a Doug Martin TD run waiting to happen.

Impress your significant other* by knowing these standard blocking schemes

Next time you are watching a football game (which honestly cannot be soon enough for me), keep your eyes out for some nifty little combo blocks on the line. Boise State employs most of these at one time or another, and almost every team has some form of them.

TAG (Tackle Around Guard)


GAT (Guard Around Tackle)


TED (Tackle Around End)


*Note: Significant other may or may not be impressed.

Your turn

What do you think of the Bronco running game's simplicity? Noticed any other blocking schemes in Bronco games? Got some offensive line advice to share? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.