Anyone who watched the University of Buffalo run the football this season saw a thing of beauty - a physical offensive line with two downhill backs over powering defenses at the first and second level. It only took me a series of studying UB’s cutups to discern what it hangs its hat on- the wide zone run scheme. I was amazed at the rhythm of the scheme, the technique of the line play and the patience of the back. Most importantly, I was impressed by the distortion it created at the first level. Clip after clip, I saw defensive fronts getting stretched then punctured. And when the season wrapped up, the numbers behind the concept were astronomical. The Bulls finished second in the country (behind Air Force) in rushing offense, averaging over 287 yards per game and the wide zone run accounted for 7.9 yards per carry. It registered at an 83.7% efficiency according to Pro Football Focus and over 25% of carries (29 out of 118 carries) resulted in explosive plays.
While many programs run the wide zone concept, I’m not sure that any programs run it more explosively. But this doesn’t happen by mistake; the offensive staff in Buffalo is intentional in its teaching of explosive play culture. And that explosivity is perhaps generated in one monumental coaching point- teaching the ball carrier to stay in-phase with the Center. In-phase is defined by being within a half-man of the Center’s block. I thought that was the significant difference in how they teach the play. While most programs talk about chasing the hip of the EMLOS, Buffalo keeps tempo with its Center. “If you’re behind on it that’s a problem and if you’re in front of it that’s a problem,” offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki told me. “We talk about shading him about half a man. And if the Center is running, the back better be running. The most explosive plays we’ve had are generated through the backside A gap to front side B gap. They usually don’t get way outside that.” When you see how it hits on the film below, it’s clear how many second level players misfit the play. “When the ball goes out the front door, the run fit is easier for the defense,” he said. “An interior entry point challenges the secondary and LB’s to fit the play correctly. We aim for that lateral distortion.”
Distinctions Between Vertical Leverage vs. Horizontal Leverage:
Before getting into the specifics of why this concept can generate explosivity in the A gap, it’s important to understand how to get the concept to hit in the play side A gap. It’s all about distortion and for offensive line coach Scott Fuchs it begins with teaching his players the difference between vertical and horizontal leverage.