PFB+ Film Study: Breaking Down Oklahoma State’s Running Game vs. BSU

By @dustinragusa24

In Part 1, we took a look at the overall scheme and play calling from Oklahoma State's 21-20 win over Boise State. For today's post, I'm going to go into further detail on the Cowboy running game, covering what worked and what didn't work against the the Broncos. I'll also touch on the OSU passing attack, but I wanted to start things off by taking a look at several different groupings of statistics.

First, I have the breakdown of rushing attempts and yards by everyone who carried the ball on Saturday. Just to note, I am excluding the three kneels as the end of the game. Also, I'm removing both of the sacks, as these were actually passing plays:

  • Jaylen Warren: 32 attempts / 218 yards / 6.8 average / 2 TD / 1 Fumble Lost
  • Spencer Sanders: 13 attempts / 50 yards / 3.8 average / 1 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • LD Brown: 4 attempts / 2 yards / 0.5 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Dominic Richardson: 2 attempts / 4 yards / 2.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Brennan Presley: 1 attempts / -4 yards / -4.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

And, here is the breakdown by play type:

  • Zone (Inside, Outside, Split, Insert Iso, Zone Read): 41 attempts / 250 yards / 6.1 average / 2 TDs / 1 Fumble Lost
  • QB Runs Besides Zone/Power (Draw, Scramble and Sneak): 5 attempts / 24 yards / 4.8 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Power: 5 attempts / 0 yards / 0.0 average / 1 TD / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Swing: 1 attempt / -4 yards / -4.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

And for the final stat breakdown, let's take a look by personnel grouping:

  • 11 personnel: 29 attempts / 211 yards / 7.3 average / 2 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 12 personnel: 12 attempts / 53 yards / 4.4 average / 1 TD / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 20 personnel: 6 attempts / -12 yards / -2.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 10 personnel: 3 attempts / 13 yards / 4.3 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 13 personnel: 2 attempts / 5 yards / 2.5 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

One particular Zone running play I wanted to call out is Split Zone, the Cowboys ran this play eight times for 68 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) and scored one touchdown off of it. I'll touch on it more below, but this is something the Pokes ran quite often last season, However, we haven't seen it as much this year until this game.

Now, let's dive into the film review.

Outside and Split Zone

As a refresher, the terms Inside Zone and Outside Zone refer to blocking schemes that have the offensive linemen blocking specific gaps instead of a certain defender. If an O-lineman has a defender lined up in front of him, he blocks him. If he doesn’t, then he steps toward the play side and either helps double-team a defender or moves to the second level. The main difference between these two zone concepts is on Inside Zone, the running back is normally looking to run off the outside hip of the guard, as opposed to Outside Zone, where the offense is attack the perimeter of the defense.

In last week's film breakdown, I talked about how OSU struggled to add any creativity to their run game, and almost primarily ran to the strong side of the formation. Well, that was not the case against Boise State, as we saw Cowboy offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn heavily utilize motion and different formations to open up the running game.

And, we saw a little bit of all of this on Warren's 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, shown in the following clip.

Here we see another big Outside Zone run for Warren. The OSU offensive line was having a lot of success getting to the second level in their zone blocking scheme, and the video below shows a good example of it.

Now, Split zone is a variation of the zone blocking scheme where the extra blocker, the Cowboy back in OSU’s scheme, blocks across the formation, against the flow of the play. This play causes confusion for the defense, as the Cowboy back is blocking one way but the play is going another way, and it can also create a cut back lane for the ball carrier. Here’s a diagram of what this play normally looks like.

In the play below, you’ll see OSU utilize more pre-snap motion to get the Bronco defense moving, and then they get great blocking all around, including wide receiver Rashod Owens, to spring Warren for the big gain.

In the next clip, you’ll see quarterback Spencer Sanders keep it himself on Split Zone. This time the Cowboy back is aligned more in a fullback position than an H-back spot.

Designed QB Runs

Speaking of Sanders, Dunn dialed up several designed quarterback running plays. Some of these were the QB Draws we've seen already this season, along with a couple of QB sneaks in short yardage situations. However, there were some running concepts utilized in this game which we haven't seen Dunn call yet this year.

First, we have this designed QB Outside Zone shown in the following video. The play starts with Warren motioning from the backfield to a receiver position split wide. The Pokes are in 12 personnel, with a Cowboy back in the H-back spot and one split next to the right tackle. Sanders takes the snap, has a wall of blockers going with him to his right and winds up with a nice gain.

Along with the play above, Dunn also called QB Power several times in this game. This play has been a favorite of OSU's next opponent, Kansas State, over the years.

"QB power is simply "power-read" without any read. Instead, of freeing up space for the QB by allowing him to read an unblocked defender, if he's sharing the backfield with a running back, that back will become a lead blocker for him. QB power is an effective play for a team that wants to put more receivers on the field since it requires only an H-back or fullback and not a true RB." [Football Study Hall]

The specific QB Power run I wanted to point out in Sanders lone rushing TD shown in in the next clip.

The Cowboys start out with their strength set to the field in a 12 personnel look with two tight ends and two receivers to that side. Off the snap, the line flows to the boundary, but the right guard, Hunter Woodard, pulls the opposite way. Most of the Boise State defense flows with the line towards the boundary, as Warren lead blocks for Sanders who is able to get into the endzone.

As mentioned earlier in the post, OSU also found some success on its QB Draw plays, like the one shown below, which we saw them go with against TU as well.

I know the third and long Draw play isn't a popular one, but I just wanted to call it out as the Cowboys again went with pre-snap motion. In addition, motioning Presley and throwing the out route to him is something the Pokes have shown multiple times this season, including in the game against BSU, except here they don't throw it and run the Draw. This is a great example of plays building off each other, something that I don't think Dunn had been doing a great job of this season until the Boise game.

Passing Attack

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the passing game this week since Sanders only threw the ball 13 times, but I did want to call out a couple of things.

First, let's take a look at what OSU was trying to do in the passing game against the Broncos. The six completions consisted of a quick hitch against zone coverage to Brown, a wide receiver screen to Presley, Sanders finding Owens in zone coverage, another deep out breaking route to Owens, the reverse to Richardson which was counted as a pass and the fade route to Cabbiness which sealed the game.

Of the seven incompletions, there were three I had marked as drops, two from Presley and one from Owens. In addition, on the deep out to Bryson Green, I think it was the right decision from Sanders, but Green needs to break his route off more sharply against that type of coverage. There were also a couple of play actions roll outs in which no one was open.

All of that to say, I thought Sanders played a solid game with what he was given. He was still inaccurate at times, but I think his decision making, in both the running game and passing game, was much better than the game against Tulsa. He made quick decisions and didn't hesitate. For instance, on this pass below to Owens, after Presley goes in motion, he knows he has zone coverage. Sanders then takes the snap and throws it to Owens in the coverage gap for a big gain.

Also, on the play to Cabbiness that basically won the game for the Pokes, Sanders knew he had one-on-one coverage and even though he had a walk on out there, he trusted himself to make the throw and give his guy a chance to hall it in.

As I mentioned in Part 1, the offensive line was alright in pass coverage, but the stunts BSU threw at them caused some confusion and led to Sanders being hurried and sacked. If they can clean this up, and block like they did in the running game, this offense could start to really get going.


Overall, I thought this was the best game plan from Dunn this year. Now, he could've been trying to keep things very vanilla in the first two games, so that would make sense that we saw more interesting concepts against the Broncos, but either way, I really liked what I saw from the ground game. Heading into Big 12 play, the Pokes will have to get the passing game going, and hopefully they get some of their injured receivers back because I don't think they will be able to go to the run game this heavily against the better teams in conference.

However, if the offensive line and Cowboys backs (who I haven't talked about much but did a solid job blocking in this one) can continue to block like they did against BSU, then I think Sanders and Warren will continue to have nice days on the ground, no matter who the opponent is.

I'm interested to see how this offense continues to progress against K-State this weekend.


I’m an apologist for our draw plays, but it seems when the defense is keying on the run game the second-level defenders crash too quickly for it to be a solid play on long downs. You can see that happen in the QB draw clip.

Also looks like Woodard’s pull on the power play got spoiled by our H-back getting blown up by the DE. I think he would have had the defender that Warren eventually blocks. Is this correct?


Yeah, for sure. It’s gonna be tough no matter what the defense is doing to gain 17 yards on a QB draw. Even with the wide receivers running vertical and sideline breaking routes to clear out the middle. Think they are trying to get some more space for the punt there and hope Spencer can make some magic happen.

The guard is going to lead through the hole and take the first defender he sees, but you’re right that end blew it up, so great job by Sanders to bust that outside.

Edit: meant “bust”.


I noticed we used a funny new motion where the motion man ran toward the tailback and kind of looped around him and ran back. Is this what you called the orbit motion? Seems like it never worked well when we ran it.

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I feel like orbit motion happens when we want the receiver to remain in his set spot but would like to see if the defense is in man/zone.


I believe orbit is where the receiver goes in motion and loops behind the QB/RB and then continues on that way and reverse orbit is when the receiver loops back to the direction they came from. I could be wrong though.

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I’m all for draws, but not multiple third-and-long draws. Especially when the first few don’t work.


Yeah, I would call that “Return” motion, where the receiver goes in motion but returns back to where he left from, although sometimes they ended up in a swing route/bubble screen route off the return.

Like @phil said, it’s really just some eye candy to get the defense moving and maybe get them to tip their hand on coverage. Just some additional misdirection. When you add that on top of some of the split zone and counter action, can really be confusing for a defense to know where the ball is going.

Edit: But, to answer the question, the original action is Orbit motion and then he’s “returning”.

Also, that’s just what I call it, I’m sure they call it something much more interesting than “return”.

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Warren is such a tough runner. We’ve had bigger, we’ve had faster, but I can’t recall one that has run harder than he did last weekend. It constantly took BSU 2-3 guys to bring him down and he’d fight for a few extra yards every time. Love his effort

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There were some serious shades of healthy Chris Carson on Saturday night.

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