From a scheme standpoint, Tennessee’s offense is almost the same in 2015 with new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord as it was in 2014 under Mike Bajakian. Tennessee was especially vanilla with playcalling in their 59-30 win over Bowling Green, just using their base run concepts and few downfield passes. One change to the playbook stood out however. The Vols now have a new run play: the pin and pull sweep. This is not a new play for most college football fans, especially those familiar with the Chip Kelly/Mark Helfrich Oregon Ducks/Philadelphia Eagles offense, but it was a look Tennessee had never shown before.
The Vols two base running plays (inside zone and counter) are designed to hammer the football inside. Since the Vols phased the outside zone play out of the offense when quarterback Josh Dobbs took over halfway through the 2014 season, the only remaining perimeter running play was the inverted veer/power read. Even that play was dependant on the quarterback’s read. Often the quarterback ends up keeping the ball and running up the middle, rather than handing off on the sweep around the edge.
The pin and pull sweep is now the Vols’ answer when they want to run outside. The debut of the new play saw outstanding results, as Tennessee was able to score their first two touchdowns of the season on the play, and had three total scores in the game.
The blocking scheme is pretty simple. On the playside, covered linemen (offensive linemen with a defender across from them) “pin.” This means they block down on the lineman across from them. Uncovered linemen (offensive linemen with no defender across from them) “pull” around the edge and pick up the linebackers. The backside linemen reach block as if it were outside zone.
This results in down blocks on the defensive linemen with two linemen pulling to the second level to block a linebacker, and the backside being sealed off by the reach blocks. Here is an example.
Which linemen pull and which pin will vary depending on how the defense lines up. The Vols’ playside tackle, playside guard, center, and backside guard all pulled at some point against Bowling Green.
The running back is to get outside. This is not really a play for him to cut back, but he is to follow his pullers to the perimeter.
The Vols scored their first touchdown of the season the very first time DeBord called for this concept. Here, tight end Ethan Wolf has to reach block instead of pin because the defensive end lines up in a wide-9 alignment. This is a key adjustment. If the edge defender can not be pinned, then the blocker must find another way to block him. Left tackle Kyler Kerbyson “pins” here and blocks down on the defensive tackle. Left guard Marcus Jackson and center Coleman Thomas are responsible to pull to the second level.
Here, Wolf gets a good enough block on the end to give running back Jalen Hurd room around the edge. Kerbyson did an outstanding job of controlling the tackle, Thomas took out the safety with a beautiful cut block.
and the backside linemen didn’t allow any pursuit. Robertson went low and got his defender on the ground, but the linebacker was able to get a hand on Hurd. It would not be enough however, and Hurd powered through to give the Volunteers their first 6 points of the 2015 season.
For the Vols next score, they lined up in an unbalanced formation with right tackle Brett Kendrick moving over to the left side and Wolf lining up next to right guard Dylan Wiesman. This time, Kendrick, Kerbyson, and Thomas “pin” while Robertson and Wiesman “pull.”
Thomas and Kerbyson do an excellent job with their down blocks, but Kendrick is beat inside.
Even though Wiesman is responsible for the safety, he makes a good play to pick up the unblocked man in the backfield. Running back Alvin Kamara now has plenty of room, and is one on one in the open field with the safety. He uses his speed to get to the edge and into the end zone for his first touchdown as a Vol.
On the Volunteers third and final touchdown on this play, the blocking up front was just as good. This time, tight end Alex Ellis and Wiesman are responsible for the down blocks. Thomas and Kendrick are the pullers. Wiesman and Ellis control their defenders on the down blocks and the backside blocking is good as well.
Thomas gets outside and makes another outstanding cut block. Kendrick misses his block on the edge, but the unblocked defender just bounces off Hurd’s 242 pound frame, as the back ran in for a score.
It is easy to see why this play is going to be a big part of the Volunteers’ offense. In DeBord’s debut, he went to the pin and pull sweep 21 times, for a total of 130 yards (6.1 yards per play). That’s not even including a 13 yard touchdown the Vols scored on the play that was called back because of a penalty (see below).
With Tennessee having such a powerful inside rushing attack built around Hurd and Dobbs on inside zone and counter, defenses are often susceptible on the edge. The pin and pull is a great solution. As we saw, even when the blocking isn’t perfect, Tennessee is in good shape because their outstanding backs, Hurd and Kamara, are so hard to take down once they get to the open field on the edge.
The Vols “scored” one more touchdown off this play, but it was called back for a penalty. I still want to touch on it. Tennessee likes to use packaged plays with a run on one side of the field and a quick pass opposite. Here, receiver Von Pearson is used on a bubble screen on the backside of a pin and pull sweep. Quarterback Josh Dobbs recognizes that the Vols have a 3-on-2 numbers advantage on the edge. The Falcons actually put 8 in the box to stop the run against the three receiver set. Dobbs throws the bubble, and Pearson quickly carries the ball into the end zone. However, the play was called back after receiver Johnathon Johnson was called for holding. This still goes to show how the Vols can attack a defense that is too aggressive in defending the pin and pull.