By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
The initial inverted run concept was credited to Auburn University head coach Gus Malzahn and the success he accrued with former quarterback Cam Newton with his power read scheme. The concept took the SEC, and the nation, by storm as the Tigers rode the concept both literally and figurately to a 14-0 record and national championship in 2010—a season that saw Newton rush for over 1,400 yards. This concept was the catalysts for many coaches to start researching other ways to get quarterbacks designed runs. Flash forward eight football seasons later, coaches are still researching ways to get one of their top athletes, the quarterback, a significant amount of touches in the run game.
By definition an inverted run concept is a dual option read for the quarterback that combines an outside run element on a horizontal plain (such as a slot on jet sweep or in Auburn’s case an A back across the quarterback’s face) and an inside run element on a vertical plain (mainly a gap scheme) with the quarterback. In this case, we present our research on how coaches are designing these schemes with quarterback touches in mind.
It’s a process that is progressing each off-season in football meeting rooms across the country, where college coaches are tailoring their offense around the new model of quarterbacks they are recruiting. It’s the process that former Campbell University (NC) offensive coordinator Dave Marsh researched with his young athletic quarterback. He’s now doing the same thing at his new post at Texas Southern University. They may be slightly behind the curve compared to high school coaches who have already been using that blueprint of getting the ball in their quarterbacks’ hands for decades to win games.
“Any of our runs we can invert,” he told us. “We just change different mesh points for the backfield but have similar blocks for the line. Our wrap read and fold read are examples. You can invert it and read an end or second level defender. Or, you can have a quicker read like toss from the same side so it’s not coming from across the quarterback. If you have a true downhill running back, you may not want the inverted runs from across the quarterback. You want to get him perimeter touches on the same side of the quarterback. You want him wider and to be in the toss phase to take one step in direction of toss and he goes. If you have a true downhill A back that can make vertical cuts, then he could come from the same side of the quarterback. In our offense, we have three main inverted runs: base runs with the running back as the primary ball carrier, invert runs from a flat mesh and toss runs with the quarterback either throwing it to him outside or tossing it to him. We will do all three of these things from our QB run menu.”
With this inventory in mind, the process revolves around designing these concepts to fit the skill set of your quarterback. All of our sources for this study have a wide variety of quarterback run concepts but they can’t use them all during the course of the game, that would be too many touches and risk potential injury to the most important player in the offense. So, in this study we do the research for coaches by providing them with rationale as to why our sources use selective concepts for the quarterback run game. In this particular case, we present our research on dual option reads for the quarterback. Regardless of the particular scheme, these dual read concepts are effective in the following ways:
- They are simple in design—coaches already have these blocking concepts in their offensive menu.
- They cultivate quick decisions by the quarterback. It’s a “if the read defender does this, I do that,” mentality.
- They combat loaded boxes—with the quarterback as a viable run threat, an offense may never be outnumbered. He has to make one defender miss for a big play.
The Significance of Flash Motion
What hasn’t changed in eight years is the defensive movement triggered by offenses showing flash motion in front of the quarterback. Regardless of whether the quarterback is reading anyone the manipulation of second level defenders is quite astounding, and coaches don’t need SEC level talent to attain this. Each of our contributors to this study detailed examples where using flash motion on run actions in front of box defenders open up seams in the tackle box leading to big gains for quarterback runs. This comes at a price, however. In order to keep defenses honest (at least at the collegiate level) the quarterback will need to get the ball to that motion man at certain times.
At the high school level, sometimes it’s not even necessary to give the outside element of the dual read to get sixteen year-olds to trigger. The pre-snap movement may be all that is needed. “Linebackers at our level are so heavily influenced by the running back all the time, they are like ball hawks to where he goes,” said Catholic High School (LA) run game coordinator Sanders Davis. “There are times we fake mesh with running back and run the QB and there aren’t even linebackers in the box. If we run quarterback power, we may have the pulling guard getting up to a near safety.”
So, when you have “dudes” running those perimeter elements as Ferris State University (MI) does those linebackers really flow out of there, leaving opening the quarterback on pulls. The Bulldogs relied on these dual read schemes to produce the Division 2 player of the year Harlon Hill winner Jayru Campbell who rushed for over 1,400 yards in 2018. As Ferris State University offensive line coach Sam Parker told us, “There is no better mesh than a jet sweep in football. It’s consistent, you can block a lot of different fronts up and they play action because it opens up in the pass game is insane.”
At Campbell University (NC) this past season, offensive coordinator Dave Marsh always used motion as a weapon. “We will use all of our invert series from our 11 personnel Empty formation,” he said. “If a defense is a heavy rotation or bump teams, we will have called quarterback power, quarterback iso or quarterback counter. In the example below from Ferris State, watch how both linebackers flow with jet motion, opening up a major cavity inside the box for the quarterback run.