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Wednesday night, I Tweeted that there’s little better than watching a good angle blocking scheme in action. It’s like watching Joe Frazier walk right up to his opponent and deliver an uppercut that floors him. The adrenaline rush that comes from watching that kind of moment is similar to a runner and offensive line taking it to a defense.
Bernard Pierce and the Temple offensive line did just that in this year’s New Mexico Bowl. The Temple runner had a box score total to the tune of 25 carries, 100 yards, and 2 scores. Pierce is a no nonsense, down hill runner with just enough agility and burst to set up a block or a defender for a few extra yards.
Although nothing here is meant to provide a definitive evaluation of Pierce’s skill as a football player, I’m showing you two plays that I believe is salient analysis. As with the analysis I’ve been doing lately, all plays can be seen a little better if you click on the photo. Any laughter from the stills of Pierce in pass protection is meant to laugh with him, not at him.
The first play is a 12-yard run on a 3rd and 1 with 11:30 in the half. Temple comes to the line in a 23-personnel, I formation set. This is a short yardage, power running set and is generally used to set a tone with an opponent: We’re going to ram it down your throat and we dare you to stop us.
Temple reinforces this tone by running Power: an angle blocking scheme where a pulling guard leads the runner into a designated gap. Often times a fullback or wing back also leads the way. The runner’s job is to hit this gap with authority or make a cut, hesitation, or small press to give these pulling blocks time to set up. The Wyoming defense plays a 4-3 with nearly nine defenders in the box and Temple runs the power so Pierce is to get behind the pulling LG as the right side of the offensive line collapses its opponents inside.
Pierce follows the guard to the line of scrimmage and veers to the lineman’s outside shoulder a yard away from the line as two linebackers come over top unblocked.This is not the manpower advantage Temple hoped to achieve.
Angle blocking sounds like an unimaginative process for a runner compared to zone blocking where there are more options to to go. However some of the most creative work takes place within a highly defined set of boundaries, and Pierce illustrates this in short order. As seen in the photo above, the Temple runner is about to plant both feet into the ground and stop his momentum as the the first linebacker comes over top to make a play. The plant sets up a stop-start move that gives and takes away the back leg as the linebacker breaks down to attempt the tackle.
With one down and two to go, Pierce issues a stiff arm to the second linebacker pursuing from the inside.
As Pierce throws the stiff arm at the second LB, he makes a nice cut to the right hash to avoid the defensive back shooting for his legs.
Here’s a closer look at the sequence of give-and-take a leg, stiff arm and lateral cut that uses to beat three defenders in succession to reach the line of scrimmage.
Pierce crosses the line of scrimmage and the first down marker within a few steps and it becomes a foot race between him and the final linebacker approaching the numbers of the right flat.
Pierce lowers his inside shoulder into the LB who shoots for Pierce’s inside knee as the RB reaches the Wyoming 19.
Pierce’s pad level allows him to run through the contact to the Wyoming 14.
On this run Pierce displayed a lot of positive ways to use angles to set up a lane, elude, knock down, and work through contact against four moving targets.
Pierce’s job in this Temple offense is to run the ball. Pass protection and receiving are rarely even bit parts. The first time I’ve seen Pierce pass block in several dozen snaps is a 3rd and 13 with 6:43 in the game. The play begins in an 11-personnel, 2×1 receiver, shotgun set.
As the play develops after the snap, Pierce recognizes the blitz and approaches the line of scrimmage to square the oncoming defender. The Temple RB does a fine job with this initial part of the job.
As we’ve seen, he’s good at determining the proper angle to deliver or avoid contact. But Pierce doesn’t attack the defender. Instead, he waits for the defender to come to him. This is called “catching” the opponent rather than attacking him.
Pierce comes to a stand still and his pads aren’t low enough to deliver a punch. When the linebacker clears the gap, he meets Pierce with a lower pad level and a punch that you see from blocking sleds. Watch this sequence and note PIerce’s left leg is at the Wyoming 45.
The LB’s pad level and upper cut punch combined with his down hill momentum literally lifts the 6’1″, 218-pound Pierce off the ground.
I laugh every time I watch this play. I bet there was some laughter in film rooms at Temple and Wyoming.
Now I want you to stand and take six, even steps and note the distance you covered. That’s approximately how far the LB fork-lifted Pierce on this play.
It’s not often that you see an RB rag-dolled like this. Certainly the LB is strong, but the real factor is the angle each player took as they converged on each other. If Pierce gets lower and explodes upward, he destroys the LB. If he meets with equal force they probably cancel each other out. Instead, Pierce goes for a ride. Good thing he had his hardhat.
Next: I keep promising one set of players and delivering different ones. Wish I could tell you what was next, but I don’t even know – stay tuned.
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