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Film Room Friday: Joe Mixon perfectly executes the outside zone

As expected, Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon had a huge game against Texas Tech this past weekend. The Sooners beat the Red Raiders in a shoot out, 66-59, and Mixon was an offensive stud for Bob Stoops and company.

Of course, quarterback Baker Mayfield had himself an excellent game as well, throwing for 545 yards and seven touchdowns (no interceptions), but the average fan may not truly appreciate how tough it can be to rush for over 200 yards in any given college football game – even against a defense as bad as Texas Tech’s.

Rushing for over 250 yards? Well, that’s otherworldly.

Mixon put up 263 yards and two rushing touchdowns against the Red Raiders and he also chipped in through the air – to put it lightly – with 114 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

In all, Mixon finished the game with 377 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

Again, otherworldly is perhaps the best word to use when describing his performance, but let’s head on into the film room to see what exactly he did so good against the Red Raiders, especially as a rusher.

The Play

The Breakdown

Up 13-10 in the beginning of the second quarter, Oklahoma went to Mixon on a simple outside zone play on 1st-and-15. In reality, the Sooners were probably just hoping for a few yards from Mixon in order to get into a second-and-manageable situation, but in one play, the redshirt sophomore from Oakley, Calif., displayed everything you look for in a big-time running back.

He showed off vision, the ability to plant and cut, explosiveness, a broken tackle, and a strong finish.

The play was simple enough. Oklahoma came out in a shotgun look with the fullback offset to Mayfield’s right and Mixon behind him at around seven or eight yards.

The blocking Oklahoma used is outside zone right technique, which means all of the blockers, especially on the line, took a hard step on a 45-degree angle to their right and tried to get to the closest defender on that path. The key for the blockers was getting their helmets on the side of the zone play. Oklahoma’s fullback led off the right edge and Mixon followed him, using his block to set up his path:

outside-zone

The key to zone running schemes is that either the edge opens up or a cut back lane appears. Running backs are taught to stay on their outside path and get the edge until they are forced back inside or a lane appears. The cutback off the zone block is something the Denver Broncos turned into an art form with Terrell Davis back in the day. If you want to get really nerdy, check out the video below featuring Broncos’ assistant Alex Gibbs breaking down actual game tape:

Back to the Sooners, though.

As you can see in the frame below, Mixon took the zone path as far as he could until he realized that a cut-back lane had opened up. Notice how he planted his foot, which is a skill-set that, believe it or not, not every running back excels at. The plant allowed him to quickly change direction because he was able to power off it, something highlighted in the next few frames. Once he pushed off the foot, notice his long stride. He was able to cover a ton of ground quickly which allowed him to explode through the gap:

plant

stride

Mixon is explosive, and that’s an understatement. He was able to plant his foot, shoot through the cut back lane and simply blow by the defenders before some of them even realized what was happening. Of course, credit Oklahoma’s blockers for executing the zone scheme perfectly and holding up just long enough for Mixon to get into the second level:

blocks

From that point on it was simply just a foot race to get yardage for Mixon, though it was quite obvious that he was smelling the end zone all night. One of the deciding factors that separates good and great running backs is a hunger for the end zone, and at the end of the play in question, that’s exactly what Mixon displayed.

First, his power and speed allowed him to completely break a tackle. The Texas Tech defender did get ahold of him, but Mixon was incredibly hard to wrap up, so he ran through the tackle:

run

Finishing strong is key for running backs, especially when the goal line is in sight. Mixon obviously took that lesson to heart in practice, because he didn’t hesitate to use his momentum to dive into the end zone for the touchdown – a truly acrobatic and skillful performance:

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-57-39-am

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-57-45-am

Mixon is one of the most explosive running backs in college football and he proved that again against a woefully outmatched Texas Tech defense.

The above rushing touchdown was a perfect personification of all of his skills. Vision, footwork, speed, explosion, toughness and agility.

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