The Duo Play made its debut in the University of San Diego offense during spring practice in 2017. As a staff, we decided the best way for the play to succeed at USD was to combine gap and zone techniques for the play.
Duo fits well in our system for multiple reasons: simple rules, all-around versatility, and the physical mindset it manifests throughout every offensive position group. Duo gives us a great opportunity to impose our will on defenses with two and sometimes three double teams on the line of scrimmage (LOS). As an offense, we take pride in dominating first-level defenders from the start. This mindset allows for 3 or 4 yards early in the game to become 7 or 8 yards as those double teams begin to take their toll.
Our running backs love Duo! The thick, front-side double teams allow our backs time to press the LOS with patience, allowing them to see the big picture and make the appropriate read.
Duo allows the running backs freedom to make their read and cut off of a second-level defender as opposed to first-level defender in zone schemes. The ball has the ability to hit anywhere, forcing the defense to be gap sound. If the defense properly fits the run, the ball can still bounce, giving us a great one-on-one matchup versus a potentially uninterested defensive back.
Simplifying the base rules of Duo allows us to run the play from multiple personnel groupings and formations. Shifts and motion gain desired leverage and matchups at the point of attack. The simplicity allows us freedom to have several different body types execute the critical front-side blocks at the LOS. Defenses have to be ready to defend the Duo play versus any personnel grouping we have in the game.
The evolution into combining gap and zone principles has made it possible to keep two double teams front side while blocking most defensive fronts. Of course we prefer Duo to what we think is the premium look, but calling Duo rarely results in negative yards. In just shy of 100 attempts in the past three seasons, we’ve only had five plays go for negative yards.
We originally combine the front-side gap techniques and the back-side zone techniques for the purpose of having to practice against our defense. Our defense plays linebackers at about 3.5 yards and fill aggressively when reading run at them. Instead of coaching the backside guard to rock back into the shade and ricochet off the weak-side linebacker, we coached the center and guard to run a combo with tight zone footwork, allowing the guard to better handle weak-side run through. This allows us to rep the play versus our defense in training camp, but we must coach to develop the patience players need to stay on the double teams longer against teams with hanging second-level defenders. As shown in Diagram 1, we use different terminology for the front-side and back-side double teams.
Offensive Line Concepts In Duo
Our blocking schemes are determined by identification system. The center declares the “Mike Point” (MP).
Back Side — The center’s double team is responsible for the MP in Duo; the first linebacker in the box away from the call side. We use letters (A,B,C,D) to differentiate our zone combinations, as shown with the A combo in Diagram 1. Against a four-down, over front, the center and back side guard, using tight zone footwork, will violently double team the nose guard to the MP (the weak-side linebacker). They must be ready to come off quickly to collect the weak-side linebacker, pulling the trigger in a backside gap or scraping over the top. The back-side tackle will base block out on the defensive end with no inside help.
Front Side — Our goal is to be much thicker and vertical with our double-teams on the front side of the play. Against a four-down, over front, the front-side guard and tackle will blow up the defensive tackle (3 technique) with a double- team, taking him to their linebacker. This double-team will be a slightly more vertical angle than a normal double team in power because this double team is working to the true middle linebacker (+1 from the MP). As shown in Diagram 1, we tag “plug” in front of the front-side double teams to differentiate the more thick and vertical technique.
This double-team can use the gallop technique, or preferred gap footwork, to get shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to- hip displacing the front-side defensive linemen. The primary difference between the front-side and back-side double-team is that the front-side double-team only needs to come off if their linebacker hits the inside gap immediately. If their linebacker hangs or flows over the top, they should continue getting movement on the first level and the running back will make them right.
At USD, we prefer to run Duo with a four-man surface on the front side, not counting the center. You can run to a three- man surface, but must have a way to control the SLB. We have primarily used a big skill player as the third man in the surface with the ability to use any position player as the fourth man. We know there will always be an exception to the rule, but without defenses getting too exotic to stop this particular play, we can tell our players with confidence that these rules will handle 99 percent of the looks we could see in a game.
There are two overriding rules no matter the front:
- Third man in the surface (extra offensive lineman, tight end or fullback) — responsible for blocking defensive end by himself, or in a double-team.
- Fourth man in the surface (tight end, fullback, wide receiver) — responsible for blocking the SLB by himself or in a double team.
The blocks from our third and fourth players in the surface are the most critical to a successful play. Our teaching at USD has been slightly different with the third man’s technique while blocking the defensive end. When blocking a defensive end that is aligned inside of us (we call it a 6i), we’ve taught the third man to stay as square as possible through the block, working our eyes through the defensive end’s sternum to the inside jersey number. Another significant difference is our preference that the third man works for vertical movement instead of trying to kick the defensive end out. If we are playing a front that the defensive end aligns outside of the third man, we tell them to block the defensive end on the angle they find them.
Our receivers have completely bought into the team toughness it takes to successfully run the football. Shout out to former wide receivers coach Taylor Chapatte for getting that done, and to current wide receivers coach Chad Savage for continuing the tradition! Our wide receiver blocking rules have evolved as the receivers continually showed they could handle finding and blocking the force defender.
In 2017-2018 we generated a Duo base wide receiver blocking rule. The play-side wide receiver was responsible for blocking the jersey number of the play-side safety. We evolved last season to having the play-side wide receiver block the most dangerous man (MDM) between SAF and CB.
As Diagram 2 shows, the Z wide receiver can take any path needed to get to the force defender. This became more prevalent for us when we ran Duo out of condensed sets with defenses checking to an aggressive cloud technique on the play side. Now our wide receiver can block the cloud CB allowing us to run off of a deep-half, pass-first safety. At the end of the day, the overriding rule for the wide receiver stands: When in doubt, block the safety. We love our one- on-one matchup with our running back versus a cornerback in space.
Running Back Progression
Our running backs love Duo because it gives them freedom to take what the defense gives them without being crippled by rules. When running Duo, our running backs will use our normal gap footwork, whether under center or in the gun.
The running back’s read is the Mike linebacker; we will make our cut away from where he fits. If the Mike fills his gap immediately, the running back will work to get vertical in a gap wider than the Mike’s fit. If the Mike hangs, or flows over the top, the running back will find a crease and bang it in between the tackles. If all the gaps are filled properly, the ball can bounce giving us a one-on-one matchup with the non-force defender.
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Our premium look for Duo is a three-down front with a 4i technique on the front side. Diagram 3 shows the freedom for our third man in the surface to step down
to double team while clearing the C gap and climbing to second level with little to no resistance. The third man has a much more difficult job versus a four-down front where they are responsible for getting movement on the defensive end. We also love to run Duo from bunch and condensed alignments in order to give the running back even more space on the perimeter if the ball bounces.
This article was written by Tyler Sutton, Offensive Coordinator, University of San Diego