Vols Film Study: Joshua Dobbs and the Zone Read

Vols Film Study: Joshua Dobbs and the Zone Read

The Tennessee offense is clicking on all cylinders right now. With a 63-37 win over the Missouri Tigers, the Vols have now scored over 40 points in three consecutive games, something they’ve not done since Peyton Manning was wearing the orange and white, in 1995.

The Vols’ current quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, is playing his best football as his time in Knoxville comes to a conclusion. Dobbs has totaled ten touchdowns over the past two weeks, including five against Missouri. His 190 rushing yards against the Tigers set a career high, and two of his five touchdowns came on the ground.

The rushing attack of the Vols has been the key element to their recent success. The Vols’ three-pronged attack of Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, and John Kelly has been unstoppable of late. The offensive line has been playing better recently, and the results have been outstanding.

Last week, the Vols rushed for 376 yards against Kentucky, easily a season-best. This Saturday, Tennessee ran for 386 total yards topping the previous week’s total with an exceptional averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

Against Kentucky, a big part of the Vols’ success was with the Outside Zone run scheme. We looked at that in our Vols Film Study last week. Alvin Kamara and John Kelly both excelled with the lateral runs, stretching the defense out, and then making good cuts to get the ball moving downhill.

Against Missouri, the Vols quickly got back to work with the Outside Zone. Facing a third-and-two situation on the first drive of the game, Mike DeBord dialed up the scheme that had so much success against the Wildcats.

The Vols aligned in 12 personnel. 12 personnel means that there is 1 running back (here, John Kelly) and 2 tight ends (Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom) in the game. This personnel package has been very popular recently for DeBord. Wolf and Croom are both very good downfield threats as receivers, and both have also shown to be very valuable as run blockers, both as in-line tight ends or as H-Backs. The two tight end package gives DeBord more ability to be versatile in calling plays.

Last week, we saw DeBord use both Croom and Wolf as wings to the same side of the formation in order to seal the edge.


This week, DeBord unveiled a new formation. Wolf lined up into the boundary as an in-line tight end, while Croom aligned as a wing to the opposite side. Both receivers aligned to the field.


From this formation, the Vols were able to run Outside Zone to the field. With Croom as a wing, Tennessee maintained their ability to seal the edge.

The real advantage of this formation, however, comes with Wolf on the backside. Keeping a tight end on the backside of the play allows the Vols to run the Zone Read with Wolf serving as a lead blocker for Dobbs.

Wolf would step outside, leaving the defensive end unblocked for Dobbs to read. Should the end crash and chase the back, Dobbs could pull the ball and follow Wolf’s lead block. If the end stayed home, the back would get the ball and follow his blocks.


Missouri saw the success that the Vols had against the Wildcats and wanted to make sure they could stop the Outside Zone. They had their defensive ends crash hard on the running back, forcing a keep read for Dobbs. Their free safety would then come down hard, ready to make the tackle.


On this early third down play, the defensive end crashed down hard to take away the Outside Zone, just as he was supposed to. That gave Dobbs a keep read.


Wolf was able to enforce his will on the corner, knocking him well outside. With the rest of the defenders chasing Kelly, Dobbs had plenty of open field. The free safety, Cam Hilton, came down and met Dobbs near the line of scrimmage. However, he stood no chance versus the Vols quarterback.

Dobbs was able to easily beat Hilton one-on-one in the open field. He out ran him to the sideline and turning it upfield for a 22 yard gain.

Mike DeBord saw how Missouri was playing this scheme, and he knew he could go back to this play. Dobbs versus a safety in open space will always favor the Vols.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Vols were in a similar situation. At their own 30 yard line, Tennessee faced third-and-one. DeBord went back to the exact same play.

Missouri defended it the exact same way. The defensive end crashed, giving Dobbs a keep read. The safety, this time Thomas Wilson, came down hard to fill the vacated gap.


Wilson never stood a chance. Wolf dominated his block, clearing the corner out of the play. Dobbs faked outside, then juked back in, leaving Wilson grasping for air. Dobbs then outran the entire Missouri defense, sprinting down the sideline for a career long 70 yard touchdown.

This play is a great example of Mike DeBord using formations and personnel to create favorable matchups, putting his players in a great position to succeed. The two tight end set gave the Vols a lead blocker in both directions. Wolf especially deserves credit for his blocking on the edge, leading the way for Dobbs.

The formation dictated that the Tigers would only have one defender in a position to defend Dobbs once the end crashed. This is a very favorable matchup for the Vols’ quarterback. Dobbs took advantage of the opportunities and set a career high for rushing yards in his final game in Neyland Stadium.

Editor’s Note:  Seth Price writes Vols Film Study weekly for FOX Sports Knoxville. You can see more of his work at Football Concepts. He is also the author of Fast and Furious:  Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteer’s Offense, which is available on Amazon.com.

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Seth Price loves studying and writing about football strategy. He is a contributing writer for FOX Sports Knoxville and the editor of the website Football Concepts. He is the author of Fast and Furious: Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers' Offense, which is available on Amazon.com.

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