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Gus Malzahn's Version of Power Football Close to being Unleashed in Orlando

Power football continues to evolve, and here’s a further examination of how the Knights can make power football a part of the spread package, Gus Malzahn-style.

More information continues to trickle in. The players, blocking schemes, and a basic overall collection of data has reached a point that it's clear the Knights will run power football. It may not be the power football one would think of from years gone by, however.

While far from a concrete finished product, the Knights offensive attack appears to be headed in a diverse direction to operate power rushing attack. It’s fun to watch it develop as a member of the media, and here are the basics of what UCF fans need to know.

That first game against Boise State, on Sep. 2, will be a chance to usher in the Gus Malzahn Era of UCF Football, and it’s also a chance to seize a moment and present what power football can do within the spread offense. Here’s a beginner’s guide to better understanding what that means, beginning with the true definition of power football.

Power Football in its Purest Form

The I-Formation, two tight ends, a 225-pound tailback, and that pork-bellied fullback coming downhill, that’s college football circa 1985. It’s about winning inside the “box” between each tight end, and it’s what many college football fans think of when discussing true power football. While the I-Formation and the playing style changed, the idea of running the football in the box did not. To win big-time college football games, including a power running game is all but a must. Now, that type of football transformed into different formations, but with the same intent.

Spread Out the Defense, Run Downhill, Pass for Big Yardage

Even since the spread became popular in the last twenty years, most teams feature an inside zone play and/or gap play that help to create outside runs. Passing the football also becomes easier once an inside running game becomes established, the defense will need to commit more defenders to the box.

Quarterbacks often rack up big passing totals because college defenses need to commit too many resources to stop the run. If the quarterback can hit his mark, bam! That’s a downfield pass for big yardage. Here’s a video of what power looks like from an I-Formation and from a more modern offensive formation with the spread.

Again, this concept is similar to what a team like Auburn did with Bo Jackson and Florida did with Emmitt Smith circa the early-to-late 1980s. It was just done from a different formation back then compared to seeing three, four and five wide receivers trot onto the field in today’s college football. Otherwise, the concept is the same: suck in the defense with inside running power running plays, and then hit the big play through the passing attack. This overall theme leads to what UCF can do with formations and concepts to propel the rushing game, while also aiding the passing game (think more one-on-one passes to Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O’Keefe).

Inside Zone, Power and Run-Pass Option

Within Coach Malzahn’s scheme, the inside zone is a must. There will be some traditional man blocking concepts as well, and it just depends on the opponent as to what the Knights will likely run more during a game.

The bottom line is power. It’s a concept. It’s a mentality. Our offense will be more physical and execute better than your defense. This is where the chess match begins, piece by piece.

Once the inside running game creates conflict for a defense, such as not enough defenders in the box and/or not enough size in the box, that’s when the UCF offense will strike with big passing plays, oftentimes with a run-pass option (RPO).

Even when a running play is called, if the defense provides an opportunity to throw the ball, the Knights will take that opportunity. That’s been a part of Coach Malzahn’s offensive philosophy for roughly 20 years, if not longer.

UCF will be able to create space towards each sideline for speedy wide receivers and running backs to use their athleticism. Similarly, the quarterback can run and make plays outside the pocket once the power rushing attack comes to fruition. Now, which formations will be most likely for the Knights this season?

Multiple Packages will Lead the Way, with Talent and Coaching to Match

There is no one formation. That’s the one primary difference between what Coach Malzahn will operate at UCF and what then Auburn Head Coach Pat Dye operated at Auburn with Jackson dotting the I-Formation. Sure, Auburn ran some wishbone, but it was still very basic power football for the most part. With UCF, there could be 10 formations in one game, no question. It keeps a defense guessing, and allows for different players to slice up a defense.

Fans often hear phrases such as 11 personnel or 21 personnel are in the game. What that means, in basic terms, would be the first number goes with how many tight ends come into the game, and the second number represents the total running backs coming into the game.

UCF’s offensive skill talent is so diverse that even inside the five yard line, hypothetically, the UCF coaching staff could go with 30 personnel (three tight ends and no running backs), yet still be in a five wide formation. That means splitting out all the tight ends and no running back next to quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

Jaylon Robinson congratulated by quarterback Dillon Gabriel after scoring a second half touchdown versus East Carolina.

Dillon Gabriel and Jaylon Robinson, UCF

Now, that does not mean that a motion man like O’Keefe will not take a handoff from Gabriel, nor does it not mean that the Knights will steer away from using a motion man and run some type of option play or RPO. It’s a really diverse package with all the skill talent at Coach Malzahn’s disposal, just like several other formations. That’s the advantage of the spread offense with an innovative group of coaches running it; having that “Gabriel guy” play quarterback, yeah, that helps, too.

Seeing is Believing

Watching the Knights practice on Thursday was the final piece to the puzzle before writing this article. Needed to see a mix of running backs, the type of offensive plays the offensive line worked with, as well as how the UCF coaching staff operated. Just little things, really. It became quite clear that the Knights hold an opportunity to be as multiple with formations and schemes based off of power running as they desire, and they could also stick with what works and continue to run the same plays over and over if they are working.

The scheme, the talent, and the coaching are in place. It’s going to be fun to watch the Knights use old school power football, just with a modern spread offensive formation, Gus Malzahn-style.

You will find me on Twitter @fbscout_Florida and @UCF_FanNation

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