Make sure you read my previous articles on the Flexbone Option before starting the “zone dive” as each article builds off the previous article’s concepts:
The zone dive is probably the most simple play in this offense. The idea is to hit between the tackles quick, and to overwhelm the defense with quick drive blocks off the line and the B-back simply picks a hole and goes.
The zone dive works best when the offense has a numbers advantage between the tackles, or when the playside linebacker is so QB or pitch conscious after the snap that he puts himself out of position to help tackle the B-back running right by his original position. The play also works well against what is called a “slow playing” defensive end. When a defender “slow plays,” he’s usually being read on an option play (like inside veer or midline). To slow play means to simply sit there and wait to see who gets the ball, then chase. This can sometimes give the QB cloudy reads. When a defender is just sitting there however, he has no forward momentum. That is when zone dive is called. The tackle or guard he is over, rather than going inside or around him like on veer or midline, is coming hard off the line to hit him in the teeth and make him pay for just sitting and waiting.
The entire offensive line simply takes a hard 45 degree angle step to the playside gap, and they drive block whatever shows in that gap. The play hits so quick that double teams often never occur on the playside. They can happen inside of the dive though, especially against nose guards.
Since the B-back is only 4.5 yards behind the line (a fullback), he doesn’t really have the room to maneuver big cutbacks or bounces like a tailback on inside zone, but he can either attack the B-gap like inside veer, slide outside into the alley, or cut it back over the center. His footwork is the exact same as inside veer, but off the snap and through the mesh with the QB, he is reading the block of the playside guard. If the guard drives his man out, the B-back cuts into the A-gap. If the guard washes his man down or drives his man back, the B-back hits the B-gap, or veers off the drive block.
The QB, A-backs, and receivers all do the same thing they do on inside veer, except the playside A-back is considered part of the offensive line on this play. He takes a slight inside step and blocks whatever shows (usually the playside linebacker), and tries to drive whoever shows off the ball or turn them outside. The QB of course hands the ball of to the B-back and doesn’t read anyone.
Play 1: This is a very well ran zone dive. The only problem is that the nose guard holds (more like chokes) the center, preventing him from getting to the middle linebacker, but the B-back breaks the tackle fortunately. Watch the awesome teamwork by the playside tackle and A-back on this play. The playside linebacker would normally flow outside of the box when running zone dive, but instead the linebacker cheats back inside. The A-back and tackle work together and see this. The A-back comes and picks up the D-end, allowing the playside tackle to slide inside and climb to the playside linebacker.
Play 2: If there is a defender heads up or inside shade of an offensive lineman, chances are that defender is going to pinch, so in that case, instead of a 45 degree angle step, the O-lineman just drives forward on that defender and either pushes them back or blocks them down.
Play 3: Here Georgia Tech is running zone dive on the goal-line with a tight end in the game. By having the tight end in the game, the offense can now block an extra linebacker if there are two linebackers between the tackles (six defenders against what would normally be five linemen). Outside of that, this play unfolds just like play 2.
Play 3 Booth: Here is the play on the goal-line from the booth. The two things to see from this angle are first, the triple team on the nose guard, and how the center and guards drive him back and chip the middle/backside linebacker just enough to keep him off the B-back. There is also a DB at the top of the screen who goes unblocked, but watch how the flow of the QB and pitch back pulls him away from the play.
That’s really all there is to the zone dive. It is very simple, but this play is often responsible for breaking long runs up the middle, and it is Paul Johnson’s go-to play when trying to get a fullback who has been kept in check back in the game. When defenses begin over-committing to the playside on plays like inside veer, midline, and zone dive, they start to make themselves vulnerable on the backside. The next article will focus on the play this offense uses to take advantage of that: The counter option.