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Inside the Clemson Offense: Notes and Formations

A few notes on the HUNH offensive philosophy that don't quite fit with the run game or passing game, but are integral to understanding the system. We can contrast these with what we are more accustomed to within the usual "pro-style" system as well.

  • Spence regularly came to the press box with over 100 plays in the book to use on that weekend. When Dabo took the job, he mentioned this and alluded to the fact that Napier and himself were trimming it back to a more manageable level. I'm sure most of you noticed post-MD 2009 that we were primarily an I-formation/2-back team that hiked the ball under-center. In 2010 we veered away from that back into a little more of the Spence-spread. We probably trimmed the number of plays back to around 30 or so in a week but with perhaps 20 formations if you monitor shifting. The playbook went from War & Peace under Spence to a moderate dictionary under Napier. The Chad/Malzahn offense has roughly 10 formations total outside of goal-line situations. The number of plays probably tops out at around 30 in the whole book. I bet we could fit it in a small spiral bound notebook. Thats it. We spend time repping the same plays over and over and executing instead of adding complexity to the offense. No more once-per-game Wildcat snaps that look like they haven't been repped in practice, Dabo.
  • Because of the nature of this system, the play-caller isn't discussing the next play with the staff pre-snap, he's going to be 2 or 3 plays ahead in his thinking. If he wasn't, there would be no way to snap the ball within 5 seconds of the spot, which is Morris' goal. If Dat Boy tries calling plays himself he'll have to get a word in 2 or 3 plays ahead of time.
  • If it doesn't work, they'll cut the number of plays back, but they will not change the HUNH theme.
  • Statistically, you'll score one way or another every 12-15 snaps, so increasing the total number of snaps per game from 60 to 75-80 presents at least one more score per game.
  • Conditioning work has to be done M-Tues-Weds, wind sprints and all, after practice.
  • Morris prefers to not talk to the staff at all on the headset while the offense is on the field. This is because you cannot think well enough with 5 people in your ear to get ahead 2 or 3 plays. He talks to the staff more after the defense goes on the field.
  • The signaler will need to be as intimate with the game plan as the playcaller. The assistants signaling in plays on the color-coded cards have to know the system perfectly and Morris will only talk to them as needed to call the play. The signalers will be in the same place every time to his side.
  • To receive the signals, the offense will come to a doubles formation every single time, then adjust. The QB is always in shotgun outside of goal line situations.
  • This offense does not use a numbering system for the plays, just words. The standard terminology for a play like Power O out of the I-formation with strongside on the right would be something like "I Right 36 Power" where the "3" stands for the back's number and "6" stands for the hole (explained here in more detail), but this offense does not use that type of terminology. It would use a word like "Pirate" to mean the usual Power O, or "Tiger" to mean a trap. This is what Chip Kelly does at Oregon as well. Player positions do still retain numbers, however they are not the usual system.
  • On nearly every run play, the DE comes off unblocked, so everything runs off the success of the zone read and the discipline of the DE is paramount to stop this running game. Also,  on the backside there is often a bubble screen checkdown if the QB chooses to keep the ball.
  • On nearly every passing play, two receivers are going vertical. We spread out to create spacing and then guys are attacking all levels of the defense.
  • The biggest thing that stopped this offense at Tulsa was turnovers, and they have been running this for several years (Malzahn, Herb Hand, then Chad Morris). They were often quite careless with the ball. I worry about this for us.

Next we'll go into the base formations and positions in the offensive system.

I think the first thing to grow accustomed to within this system is that the running back that stands with the QB in the shotgun (which is all this offense is outside of goal line) is called the Fullback. If that doesn't make you realize that this system is just the Wing-T from the gun, I don't know what will. He is used like an H-back/TE a little more than a ballcarrier though.

The offense has another player called the Tailback who is used like a motioning WR, plus H-back, plus TE. Its a little backward, but think of it as simply a place to stand rather than a true position.

Andre Ellington would be used as both positions, but a guy like Diehl would be the FB in some sets or a dedicated blocker beside the QB on passing downs when the protection is needed.

Positions in the scheme, which you should think of as simply being places to stand for now:

  • The 2 - also called "Utah" - a WR who will constantly be moving around, mostly in the slot position to the left or outside on the right. He'll be aligned off the LOS usually, essentially a Flanker/Z position. The 2 will frequently get the ball on sweeps as well. The 2 is the primary running threat in the WR group.
  • The 3 - an inside receiver to the left, the Tailback. He'll be used like an H-back, a RB, and a slot WR all in one. In 2-back sets he's opposite the 4, on the other side of the QB. In stack sets he's behind the 4/FB, like an actual tailback. He will also frequently get the ball on sweep motion.
  • The 5 - the best receiver, with the best hands. This will be a guy that goes deep quite often. He aligns inside and on the right usually, on the LOS. He'll get bubble screens quite often as well. Expect the player at this position to be the feature WR in the offense.
  • The 9 - A true WR, aligned on the outside to the left normally. This would be like the Split End/X position.
  • The 4 - The fullback, aligned 1.5 yards behind the QB and with his inside foot in line with the QB's foot. The FB calls all protections in this offense and he has to be able to pick up a blitz because we will rarely block with more than 5. When he's not beside the QB, look for him to be near the OT or as the stack blocker (see below).
  • Splits between all the WRs and the linemen will be as wide as possible to create spacing issues for the defense and take as many defenders out of the box as possible.

Obviously we don't have enough multi-purpose guys to fit a few of these positions and I've left it pretty general, so at times you could see Diehl as the 3, but moved around like an H-back and blocking, and at other times you could see Mike Bellamy there getting the ball on a sweep. You could see Hopkins as the 5 most of the time, or even as the 9. One could see Watkins as the 2 or the 5. I don't want to get too far into how everyone will be used just yet, because it'll be apparent when we get into the running offense that several guys will be standing as different-numbered positions.

The base formation is spread doubles. Everything returns to this formation when the play is called in.


2-back Right moves the 3 into the backfield, with the Right side unchanged.


Trips, or 3 Right, moves the 3-man over in the slot. 3 Left moves the 2-back over to the left between the 9 and the 3.


3 left


3 Right

2-back Right Stack moves the 4-back behind the B-gap about 1.5 yards off the LOS, he's more of a lead blocker here. The 3 man is 1.5 yards behind the QB. This is like going to the I-formation within the shotgun. The left stack would flip the backs to the left, and bring the 2 over in the slot to the left side.


5 Right is a 3x2 Empty set, with the 4-back moved 4 yards outside the OT on the right. 5 Left shifts the 3-man over further to the left and the 4-man is brought over to the left side. Generally in empty sets, we'll motion into 2x2 looks.



There is also a Quads Right set where only the 9 remains on the left, and Quads left leaves only the 5 on the right. In addition, there are sets with more "normal" TE usage and alignments (e.g., taking out the 3 above and putting a TE on the LOS) and stack sets without a TB, along with the bunch set and Inverted wishbone.