Football 101: Minnesota zones in

Updated: May 26, 2006, 10:18 AM ET
By Bob Davie | Special to ESPN.com
Over the past several years, Minnesota has done a better job of consistently running the football than any other team in the country. Most college football coaches would agree that even though the Gophers have had some talented players, no staff has done more with less than Minnesota's -- particularly in the running game.

Glenn Mason, who has been named Coach of the Year in the MAC, Big Eight and Big Ten, is committed totally to the running game. Much like with the Denver Broncos, it doesn't seem to really matter who lines up at tailback for the Gophers. They all have success.

Every team in the country has some kind of zone blocking scheme, but Minnesota's looks different because of its efficiency. This is a credit to the offensive staff led by coordinator Mitch Browning. No one does it better, which is why coaches from all over the country study Minnesota every spring to see what it does differently.

When you watch the tape, though, it is not what the Gophers do that makes them unique, it is how they do it. Minnesota has made a total commitment to the running game and zone blocking. Commitment is an easy word to say, but the tape clearly proves that the Gophers' identity is formed by their ability to run the football.

What is zone blocking?

Zone blocking in the running game is when two offensive linemen work in tandem to block an area as opposed to each having a predetermined specific man to block. The concept calls for two adjacent linemen to come off in unison and hip-to-hip to attack a down defensive lineman or area. Depending on the charge of that defensive lineman, one offensive lineman will stay engaged on the defender, while the other will come off for the linebacker. The initial double-team at the point of attack provides movement and allows the offensive linemen to be aggressive because they have help if the defender pinches inside.

It appears that the linemen have double-teamed the down linemen and allowed the linebackers to go free. However, all four eyes of the offensive guard and tackle are on the linebacker while they are engaged in the initial double-team on the down lineman.

If the down lineman stays outside, the offensive tackle will stay engaged and the offensive guard will come off the initial double-team and block the linebacker.

If the down lineman pinches inside, the offensive tackle will go to the linebacker and the offensive guard will stay engaged and take over the down lineman.

Inside zone blocking
inside zone
Launch play breakdown


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Bob Davie

College Football
Bob Davie, a veteran college football coach of 25 years, most recently as head coach at the University of Notre Dame, serves as an analyst on college football game telecasts and select studio shows.

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