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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

In his first season as offensive coordinator for Texas A&M University, Noel Mazzone took the Aggies from 66th to 34th in the country in rushing yards, averaging over 211 yards per game. And nearly 50% of his entire offensive play menu was derived from 20 personnel groupings. The addition of an off-line tight end/back not only creates six-man blocking surfaces anywhere across the front, but also adds a viable pass catching threat in the RPO game. Coach Mazzone was one of six contributors to this report who “major” in 20 personnel groupings and are reaping the benefits of a more potent offense. Read the report.


By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


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Editor’s Note: This research report is comprised of three individual cases. You are now reading case three. Login to your Insiders account to access all three cases along with game film and diagrams (details are below).



Typically speaking, 20 Personnel groupings can account for blocking up to six defenders in the run game, seven if the quarterback is a runner. If the quarterback is taken out of the equation, the seventh defender must be read, or manipulated post-snap in the RPO game.  In this case, we will present our research on how our contributors are designing their 20 personnel RPOs to manipulate that defender.

Game Planning Methodologies in the RPO Game

Once the run game has been established, it opens up limitless possibilities in the realm of RPOs. In order for a defense to get an extra hat in the box to defend the run game, they need to make a choice, either to drop the weak (boundary safety) into the box or fit with the Sam (or strong side) linebacker (Diagram 50). Once that declaration has been made, either pre- or post-snap, the offense has the advantage to read his reactions and throw off of him. The offensive line will be responsible for blocking five and the quarterback is responsible for the sixth defender.


Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone facilitates the learning curve to his quarterback by identifying read players with separate jerseys. He will put red jerseys on the Will and Sam linebackers and yellow jersey on the Mike so the line knows whom they are responsible for and the QB handles the other defender. If the line sees a red jersey creeping into the play side of the run like he’s coming, it alerts them to make a spot call (which is a full zone call, explained in case two).  “To me, it’s like Legos,” said Coach Mazzone. “It doesn’t matter how you build it but your quarterback needs to know if the offensive line is blocking five-for-five or six-for-six. If it’s five-for-five, the QB has the sixth guy. We have to have something built in there for the sixth guy. If that guy fits the back, you pull and throw quick game off him. When you play fast, it doesn’t always fit the way you want it to. They don't always line up that way. The quarterback and line needs to know where the front side and the backside of the concept is.”

RPO Package vs. Strong and Weak Rotation

Coach Mazzone’s 20 personnel system is based on building 2x2 and 3x1 formations and out leveraging the defense. He gained a great deal of traction on his key screen components with fast motion from the backfield (this is detailed in case one of our special report). These formations can be distributed pre-snap as well in 20 personnel with the utilization of the Y. Most defenses will rotate strong against 3x1 formations, or “Train” in Coach Mazzone’s system, which is why he prefers to run the Zorro scheme with the Y coming across post-snap (Diagram 24). If I’m in a 3x1 set like train and they are a defensive team with a tendency who will spin the coverage strong with three buzz, now we want to build the 2x2 zone read with the Y coming across and by passing the defensive end,” he told us.


The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:


Post-Snap Glance RPO

One of the more common one-high post-snap RPOs in Coach Mazzone’s system has been the five-step glance, which is packaged to the X off the divide zone scheme and according to Coach Mazzone has been one of his top RPOs this season. It’s packaged with a pre-snap leverage bubble to the slot with a post-snap option that the quarterback will take when he sees a press corner out of one-high defensive structures. The post-snap read is the weak invert or drop safety (Diagram 56). “We will pre-snap look the Sam. If he gets split safety his first thought is if the Sam is splitting the difference between the F and my tackle, I'm throwing the key (bubble screen).”


The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:


If not there is no pre-snap leverage; the quarterback reads the weak safety for the glance. “If there is no free safety weak, and they have already spun to cover three and added a defender in the box, right now I am going to pull the all and throw the glance route to the X,” said Coach Mazzone.

In the clip below, the weak safety is the dropper and he’s already declared. The Sam is split out so the QB knows it’s split safeties. The coaching point is if the Sam is splitting the difference, throw the bubble route. If he is out-leveraging the slot, the quarterback will key the run fit defender weak (Diagram 57).


The clip below best illustrates this coaching point:


Continue to the full-length version of this report…

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  • Identifying the extra run fitter in 20 personnel groupings and game planning the RPO component to affect him.
  • Coach Mazzone’s communication tags in his RPO protection concepts from 20 personnel.
  • Our contributors 20 Personnel Gap run schemes and the companion RPOs that complement them.
  • Our contributors 20 Personnel Pin and Pull run schemes and the companion RPO’s that complement them.
  • Our contributors 20 Personnel Wide Zone run schemes and the companion RPOs.
  • Bonus: This research report includes game film from Coach Mazzone.

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The versatility of the 20 personnel run game allows for an off-line tight end or fullback to insert in any gap along the front or on the perimeter, play side or back side. It most certainly instigates an eight-man front, which catapults the quarterback run game to even the numbers.




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