The “Split Zone” play has been a staple of Ohio State’s run game for quite some time. The concept of this play is pretty simple – it’s a zone run scheme with an offset tight end coming back across the formation to block the backside defensive end.
See an example of Ohio State running Split Zone below:
As you can see, Split Zone is a true zone run play. However, there is no read element because of the tight end coming across the formation to block the backside defensive end. It’s a pure handoff all the way; the quarterback isn’t reading any defenders.
Despite this, offenses can build off of the Split Zone play by running a play known as “Zone Bluff” – a play that looks like Split Zone even though it is actually a read option.
On Zone Bluff, the quarterback is reading the backside defensive end just as he would on a typical Zone Read play. The offset tight end will still come across the formation, but he will instead leave the backside defensive end unblocked and become a lead blocker for the quarterback in the event that the quarterback keeps the ball.
See an example of Ohio State running Zone Bluff below:
As you can see above, C.J. Stroud is reading the backside defensive end, and Cade Stover leaves the backside defensive end unblocked to become a lead blocker in case Stroud keeps the ball. Because the backside defensive end crashed down to tackle the dive, Stroud kept the ball and had Stover as a lead blocker for him.
As I said, this play is a read option, so the quarterback will still hand the ball off if the backside defensive end stays outside for the quarterback rather than crashing down to tackle the dive. See an example of this below:
The Zone Bluff play can be a very good addition to have as a wrinkle for any offense that runs a lot of Split Zone, such as Ohio State. The initial action looks exactly like Split Zone before the tight end leaves the backside defensive end unblocked, which can leave the defense guessing as to which play the offense is actually running at first sight.