Before the Auburn game, Clemson DC Brent Venables googled "how to stop the Wing T," saying he'd been tipped off that Auburn might use it. As a staffer at College and Mag, it's good to know Brent is a reader.
Venables probably misspoke. Everyone who has paid attention to Malzahn since Arkansas can see the influence the Wing T has on his offense. The formation Auburn ran that surprised everyone was not the Wing T but the much older Single Wing.
In 1907, Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner invented a new offense which would become known as the "Single Wing." The Single Wing and variations off of it dominated football before World War II. It looks unusual to modern eyes.
As you may notice, the quarterback doesn't line up behind the center. In fact, the quarterback is a blocking back who almost never touches the ball. The two primary ball handlers were the tailback and fullback, neither of whom lined up directly behind the center. The center would usually snap to either the tailback or fullback.
The line was usually heavy, using two ends and unbalanced. The entire formation is incredibly unbalanced with 3 1/2 players to one side of center and 7 1/2 to the strong side. The offense was designed for three things: (1) powerful sweeps to the strong side; (2) counters with the wingback to the weak side; (3) powers and isolation plays at the center of the line.
The Single Wing and variations off of it like the Notre Dame Box dominated college football from 1910 through the 30s. By World War II, the Single Wing had largely disappeared. The Split T era had begun. Single wing concepts eventually found their way into the wing-t and other misdirection based offenses as well as tailback dominated offenses like the I. General Robert Neyland at Tennessee was one of the last major college coaches to run the Single Wing, which he ran successfully until 1952.
Some film of Neyland's teams can be found here:
Today, we're going to focus on one particular series out of the Single Wing, the "Spinning Fullback" or "Spinner Series." The basic scheme is drawn below.
The ball is snapped to the fullback who spins with his back to the line of scrimmage. The tailback comes behind him. The fullback either gives to the tailback or continues his spin with the ball. If the tailback receives the handoff, he runs a sweep to the strong side. The wingback passes in front of the fullback as the spin completes. The fullback then either gives to the wingback or keeps. If the wingback gets the ball, he runs a counter to the weakside. If the fullback keeps, he dives off guard.
The quarterback acts as a lead blocker for each of the plays. At least one guard and sometimes two pull on the sweep and counter. The dive series use mostly wedge, cross, and trap blocking.
Auburn University had a book entirely dedicated to this series when I was in school. A friend of mine and I checked it out and ran the wing-t with a little league team. We won five games with a team that had been 0-10 for the previous three years. The next year, my friend won the league with that team. So when I saw this play Saturday night, I geeked out.
Here's the formation and personnel Auburn used.
Kerryon Johnson is the tailback. Chandler Cox is the fullback. Jalen Harris is the "quarterback." John Franklin III is the wingback. The formation has an unabalanced line and unbalanced backfield.
With the tight line and full backfield, Clemson brought their corners in and their safeties up. All eleven defenders are within ten yards of the line of scrimmage and they're almost all "in the box."
Here's a design of Auburn's first play in the single wing which came on the first play of Auburn's second drive.
Cox takes the snap and spins around away from the line of scrimmage. Kerryon Johnson and John Franklin III both pass by him while his back is turned. Johnson is showing sweep; JF3 is showing counter. Cox then turns back to the line of scrimmage and runs a power to the weak side of the line. Harris leads into the hole. Back side guard kicks out to the weak side.
You can see film of the play here.
Auburn next ran the play early in the third on a 2nd and 12 from our own three. This was probably ill-advised as this play takes a long time to develop while Cox's feet are firmly planted in the Auburn endzone. Also, Clemson has brought an extra defender to the line which seemed to gum up Auburn's blocking scheme.
This time, Auburn runs the power with Cox to the strong side. Harris kicks out the end defender while the backside guard leads Cox into the hole.
You can see film of this play here.
Later in the third, Auburn ran its first variation on this theme. Cox handed the ball off to Johnson on a sweep. Harris seals the hole to the inside, the backside guard kicks out the edge defender. Johnson cuts through the lane for a nice gain.
As a side note, the sweep to Kerryon is the play Auburn should have run out of this formation all night long. As noted above, Auburn's Single Wing is really unbalanced with seven players to strong side and four to the weak side. While it's hard to count using these side angles, Clemson didn't shift enough to strong side, having only six players strong and five weak. Auburn should have had them outnumbered at the point of attack all night long on that sweep.
You can see film of this play here.
While we only saw these three plays, it's easy to imagine some other things Auburn could do out of the package. Here's what JF3's counter would probably look like.
Franklin gets the ball. Harris leads Franklin around the edge and sets the alley by sealing off linebacker pursuit to the inside. Backside guard kicks out the trash. Franklin finds the seam.
Here's a potential run/pass option based on the old counter pass out of the I:
Again, Franklin take the ball from the spinning Cox. He runs flat to the line of scrimmage. Harris shows like he's going to lead Cox through the hole but instead slips through the line, gets five yards deep and turns playside. Strongside end/wide receiver runs a post on the backside. Kerryon continues on his sweep fake and runs a backside wheel. Cox finds a safe spot on the backside for a throwback option. First option is the post. Second is Harris. Third is tuck and run. Wheel and safety valve would be pre-snap called variations.
Finally, it's easy to imagine a direct snap to Kerryon with the old "student body" sweep.
Direct snap to Johnson and he follows a host of blockers. Hat on hat for every man on the line. Playside guard pulls and seals. Wingback kicks; quarterback seals. Backside guard pulls and kicks or looks upfield for the safety. Johnson hits the crease.
Against an undershifted defense, Clemson couldn't have gotten to the hole in time to prevent a gain of five yards or better unless someone in the front seven made a tremendous play.
There are a lot of variations and possibilities out of this formation. There are books upon books of plays and variations on the single wing available. We could mine them all.
If it was me though, I wouldn't take the "fullback" portion of the spinning fullback series name so literally. I would put the ball in the hands of someone with better running ability than Chandler Cox whether that's JF3, Kerryon Johnson, or Kamryn Pettway. Cox had a few carries Saturday and frankly, we've got more dangerous options. This could be a fun, interesting project to watch develop.
Next time, let's not do it inside our own five.