Bumped. -BN Eds.
In our first year in the pistol, pretty much everyone knew where we were going when we motioned a receiver across the formation (fly motion). We almost always faked a jet sweep to him and ran veer away from motion, and as the season went on, defenses realized that they could just load up to stop Franklin/Coleman up the middle or Prince/Brehaut to the outside. By itself, pistol veer is a fine concept, but you can't run it every play without throwing in some kind of constraint that prevents the defense knowing exactly where you're going to attack each time. We got better at this over time by mixing in some playaction, but that first year was painful when our opponents realized that they only really had to defend two players on the field.
You've got to be able to protect the base concepts. If you spend a lot of time practicing pistol reads, footwork, the mesh with the running back, and feature it in the offense, you want to be able to run it as much as possible. When you run your base concept, whether it's pistol veer, zone key/snag, or the old power O from I-backs, you need to have adjustments that allow you to put the ball in other players' hands and/or attack other areas of the field off of the same look. With the pistol veer this can include handing the ball off on the jet sweep or some kind of shovel pass to the F-back, or simple playaction, reverses, HB/WR passes, naked bootlegs, counters, whatever. If the defense wants to sell out to take away your base stuff, you've got to go attack the areas that they concede. You might get a big play, but more importantly, you let them know that they need to play you honest, and you can get back to running your base stuff.
This is where the offense starts to get fun. So far I've gone over philosophy, the zone/bubble series, and snag/quick passing game. That's the basis of the short offense - you can attack inside with the run, and when the defense gives up the flats in order to crash down on the inside run, you can hit the edge quickly with the key screen to widen them back out, and when they widen too far and overplay the swing route, you can hit the short pass, snag (there's a downfield passing game that I'll get to later, but this post ties the last two together). These three concepts protect each other as they distribute the ball to different players and attack different areas of the field, but Mazzone goes even further with a few other wrinkles. Below, I'll show a few examples of how Mazzone protects his base concepts by attacking other areas of the field off of the same look in order to prevent the defense from cheating.
I didn't see much traditional zone read from ASU (although this is hard to tell without knowing what Osweiler's reads and instructions are on each play), and even fewer QB keepers. ASU only seemed to use it as a constraint to slow down the defensive end on their zone key series. They sometimes don't block the defensive end, because unless he crashes down, he isn't able to reach the running back or the bubble. However, whenever ASU's backs started to get hit in the backfield by the DE, Mazzone would read this player, usually resulting in Osweiler running between the DE and the flat defender for a good gain. They did this a lot against us, as our DEs crashed inside vs down blocks most of the time. Again, it's about making each defender stay at home. If they haven't run at him all day, and the DE gets impatient and leaves to chase the RB, then Mazzone tags a call to attack the voided area with the QB.
This is nothing new for us, it's basically the pistol veer we've been running the past two seasons, but within the framework of something bigger.
This one is obvious...if you can't run because the defense is loading up the box, run playaction or throw over top. With the immediate threat to the outside from key screens, the QB can get clear reads for vertical routes as safeties widen and corners hesitate in the flat with the quick screen threat. When safeties start to jump the bubble routes, deep middle and seam are open, and when cornerbacks come up quickly to attack the flats, corner and fade routes are open. If you want to flood underneath zones with defenders, you'll probably only have 2 deep defenders left, which makes you weak against the vertical passing game.
I'll have more on the downfield passing game a little later, but below is one example that plays off the same bubble screen motion ASU liked to use. It has a deep crossing patterns in the same direction as the bubble. The defense widens with the bubble and/or bites on the inside run fake, which opens up space for the crossing route or the deep fade. This is an Air Raid staple, Y Cross, off playaction. As you can see, it's a look that you can easily run zone key or snag off of.
Mazzone also took occasional shots downfield at receivers that were singled up with man coverage on the backside - if the defense rotated coverage to the motion to stop the swing routes, they sometimes left a guy on the other side in man coverage. I'll also get into this more later.
Above is a variant of zone key - it's the same action as regular zone/bubble combo, but the HB takes more of an outside path, and everyone blocks down except two linemen that pull. Against a defense that overpursues towards the motion man and the dive, the defense gets trapped inside and the RB can get to the edge. In the cutups below, ASU scored their first TD against USC off this adjustment - watch how the LB and especially the FS (#7) step up inside and get sealed off on the long TD run.
Key opens up lock - once the Zone Key game is rolling and the defense is aggressively jumping the quick screens to the outside, you can run Lock. The diagram is pretty self-explanatory. Fake the quick screen (Key) in the flat and run vertical. If the defense isn't fooled, the QB just hits the flat or just takes off.
These are just a few of the noticeable adjustments Mazzone can use to switch up the base stuff. However, there are probably also plenty of minor changes that you don't notice over the course of a game, such as switching up a blocking assignment against a particular front, tweaking alignment of receivers a few yards inside or outside, or tagging in a new route here and there. It's not so much about tricking the defense, but more about taking advantage of them if they want to jump your base offense, showing them that you have that ability to attack elsewhere as a change-up to the base stuff so you can get back to doing what you do.