After writing about the history of the Wing-T and giving psychological tips for coaching, Chapter 3 is is where Tubby Raymond finally gets into the Wing-T itself. And because this chapter is packed with information that I think translates directly to Gus Malzahn’s offense, I’m devoting a whole article to it.
Before describing the Wing-T, Raymond tries to categorize it. In fact, he tries to categorize all offenses.
There are, however, four categories into which most offenses fall. They are: The Pro formations—two back-running formations with two wide receivers; the I Formation, which is sometimes a three-back running attack but more often two, and depends heavily on the tailback to carry the ball; the Wishbone or Full T, which are four-back attacks making a balance of running and passing difficult; and, finally, the single-back offense that has only the one set back and four receivers.
He goes on to say that he has avoided the Pro formation because of its over-dependence on the passing game, the I formation because of its lack of an outside running threat or fourth receiver, and the Wishbone because of its over-dependence on the running game. I assume he didn’t use single-back formations because of the run/pass imbalance as well.
More than a Formation
So what category does the Wing-T fall in? I’ll let Raymond break it down. Emphasis is mine.
It is best described as a four-back formation that originates as a running offense. However, the presence of the wing forces a defense to play at least three deep. In spite of its dependence on the running game, it is, paradoxically, initially dependent on the threat of a passing game. The passing, however, is action in nature with the quarterback keeping the ball with or away from the flow of attack. It may be best described as sequence football. This should not imply that every play is run in order, but that the offense is run in series where several points are threatened as the ball is snapped. Its sequential aspect is shown not only from the series pattern of the backs but, just as significantly, from its blocking.
So, technically, Raymond would categorize the Wing-T with the Wishbone and the T formation, but by moving one of the backs out from behind the line (the wingback), the formation gets a man that can be a threat to run or catch in every play, aiding in the run/pass balance of the offense it can run.
However, Raymond titled this section “More Than a Formation” for a reason. It’s not just the formation that makes the Wing-T work, but the way the individual plays flow and fit together.
This “sequence football” is done with “series,” or plays that look and feel similar, but can attack different parts of the field. Series can be categorized three distinct ways according to Raymond. The first type of series threatens different parts of the field while using the same backfield motion.
Notice how the quarterback, fullback (behind the QB), and the wingback all run exactly the same path in both plays, but the ball goes to different ball carriers going in different directions. Even the halfback (left of the fullback) takes his first step in the same direction before changing direction to take the handoff. And that’s just two runs up the middle.
Next, the same backfield motion is used to add a quarterback run with a pitch option and finally a pass play with two receivers to the left.
This is a clear example of something Malzahn picked up on. I’ve pointed out before how Inside Zone to the left and Power to the right look the same in the backfield, but a more obvious example might be the way Auburn uses the threat of a speed sweep or even an end-around on many of its basic plays. In fact, the threat of an inside and an outside run in one play is one of the ways Malzahn “spices up his running game.”
You can see how the ball could easily go to the running back or the Z receiver. If the formation was tweaked a bit, the quarterback could keep it and have a few receivers open after his bootleg. And nothing prevents using this same backfield motion with Inside Zone blocking up front for even more variety.
In fact, Raymond’s second type of series attacks different parts of the field with different backfield motions while using the same blocking scheme on the offensive line. His example is a series of plays that run out wide, off tackle, and up the middle but all use down blocks by most of the line and at least one guard pulling and blocking on the other side of the backfield.
This concept can be seen in Malzahn’s offense as well. One of Auburn’s base run plays, Counter, uses down blocks to build a wall of bodies away from the play and a pulling guard to kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage.
The Buck Sweep normally has two pulling guards, but against certain defensive alignments, only the backside guard pulls as the running back gets outside.
And, of course, there’s the play action pass that includes a pulling guard.
Three very different plays with very similar line blocking.
The third and final type of series is based on motion. Basically, the flow of a play can take multiple blockers to the point of attack or be used as a decoy while the ball carrier is headed somewhere else. This makes me think of those quick huddle plays Auburn uses where the line all blocks one way but the ball is quickly tossed to the back going the other direction.
Once a series is developed that looks the same each time but can threaten all parts of the field, the play caller needs to find defenders with “dual defensive assignments.”
Raymond gives the example of a defensive end responsible for containing outside threats from getting outside the tackles while also not getting walled off as a runner gets through the line. A tough assignment for sure.
The blocking style is designed so that as a defensive man reacts to the blocking in his area to stop a particular threat, he will be placing himself in jeopardy for a companion play.
An example that quickly comes to mind is the way Auburn ran the Buck Sweep in the 2013 SEC Championship game. Missouri’s defensive end was reacting to Avery Young’s (56) down block by sqeezing down toward the middle of the play, assuming Jay Prosch (35) would be trying to block him out wide. By doing so, he placed himself “in jeopardy for a companion play.” By the time the end saw where the ball was really going (out wide), Prosch had the angle on him to keep him from making a play.
The latest offensive cheat/fad/innovation, does the same thing. RPO’s (run-pass options, packaged plays, whatever you want to call them) also attack defenders with dual assignments, but a base play and its constraint are contained in a single play call.
After breaking down the idea of sequence football, Raymond gives seven principles of the Wing-T that had remained constant through its years of evolution, at least up to the writing of this book.
1. The Wing-T is designed for consistency and strength and is ball control oriented.
2. The formations are characterized by a wing so that there is the threat of at least three deep receivers.
3. The quarterback threatens the flank either with action or away from it on every play providing either an additional threat to the attack flank or misdirection threatening the flank away from flow.
4. All three backs are close enough to the formation so that they can be used as blockers, ball carriers, or for deception.
5. The offense is designed in complete backfield series, each of which presents multiple threats to the defense on each play.
6. It has a balance of passing, which is predominantly play-action in nature.
7. The spread of receivers is accomplished by ends and is made to accommodate the running game as well as a mechanism to enhance the passing game.
Many of these fit Malzahn’s teams as well. The base formations always have three receivers, one of which is often in position to motion through the backfield like a wingback if needed. The quarterback is instructed to sell his fakes, even if he’s not a serious running threat. Each play presents multiple threats. Passing is play-action heavy. Receivers are expected to be a part of the running game as much as they are part of the passing game.
Only #1 and #4 haven’t fully carried over. Malzahn (says he) prefers the HUNH over ball control, and the H-back hasn’t been much of a contributor to the running game lately, though that might change this year.
After two short sections explaining the preference for the running game but the necessity of the passing game, Raymond gives a breakdown of the four back positions. The unique one, the wingback, most closely correlates to Malzahn’s flanker/slot receiver (labeled Z below).
Take a look Auburn’s base formations, particularly where the Z lines up in the 20 formation.
A wing is present in every formation for the following reasons:
a. It confronts the defensive secondary with an immediate threat of three deep receivers.
Well, there are certainly three receivers in those formations.
b. It widens the defensive front.
In the 20 formation, the Z can force a linebacker out of the box, especially if the bubble screen is working.
c. It presents an additional blocker at the line of scrimmage.
The Z is close enough to the box to block defenders inside and help the ball carrier get outside, though that happens more often with the Y in the Twins formation.
d. The motion of the wing balances the attack.
e. The motion of the wing creates misdirection.
And there’s no doubt that the Z is the motion man that runs through or behind the backfield in so many plays.
Raymond also details the roles of the fullback and halfback, but I found what he had to say about the quarterback more interesting.
Although the QB is under the center, as is the case with all modern offenses [hello 1980s!], his keeping the ball or faking away from the flow of attack presents the defense with an additional contain problem that minimizes pursuit and provides big play opportunities.
Raymond does not see the quarterback as an arm on passing plays and a spectator that hands the ball off on running plays. The quarterback is supposed to fully participate in the offense and his active inclusion is what makes the big plays possible. Was poor quarterback play partially to blame for the lack of explosive plays last year? I bet so.
Finally, Raymond sums up the philosophy of the Delaware Wing-T in single paragraph.
The Delaware Wing-T then, is a multiple formation, four-back running attack that depends heavily on play-action passing and misdirection, utilizing synchronized schemes both in the line-blocking and backfield action.
Count that Z-receiver as another back, which he legitimately is sometimes, and that quote describes Malzahn’s offense pretty well, doesn’t it?