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Inside the Clemson Offense: Wing-T Roots

After initial film study of Chad Morris' Tulsa offense and Gus Malzahn's efforts at Auburn, the simplicity is incredible.  Once you take away the breakneck speed in which the plays are called and the funny poster boards used to signal in the plays, you are left with basic Wing-T, some veer, traditional power, and common combination routes out of a direct snap gun formation.  This article kicks off our wing-t to Morris/Malzahn offensive comparison and explains how base plays work.  Keep in mind the Wing-T is at the heart of this offense and was the base driver for Malzahn's offensive philosophy and development.


Wing-T Basics:  The Wing-T is an offense with a base formation featuring a wing on the TE side. The wing was a RB moved out from the 3-back T-formation.  The philosophy revolves around improved leverage points created by rules based angle blocking, use of misdirection, deception through play fakes/motion, and the scheme's relative simplicity to learn.  Additionally, both wings, a TE and the split end are capable downfield receiving threats and the fullback is often used out of the backfield and in the flats in the passing game.  The use of play action through the "Waggle" also keeps opposing defenses more honest.  This is a versatile offensive set that creates creates chaos and allows an offensive coordinator to utilize variation and mismatches with base personnel.

The rushing portion of this offense thrives upon lots of motion, misdirection, and sleight of hand.  It is possible, and common, to have four potential ball carriers in the backfield at once.  Each back could conceivably move in a different direction and each could be involved in a play fake.  Needless to say, play recognition is difficult for a defender.

There are several variations of the Wing-T.  The style affectionately known as the Delaware Wing-T will be featured here.  You will probably also notice I use different nomenclature from the more "traditional" DWT play calls.  Don't be too taken aback by this (if you're more familiar with the 100 and 900 series play names) as the concepts are the same. 

The base formation can be seen below and includes two wings, a fullback, a tight end, and a split end.  This formation has the quarterback under center and the formation call name ("Left") refers to the side of the formation that contains the tight end.  This set is commonly referred to as "Doubles 900" by a lot of coaches.



It is also common to line one of the wings up in the backfield in a traditional "Halfback" role.  Below you see two of these formations, "Right Blue" and "Left Brown" (the "Blue" signifies the HB is on the left side of the FB, "Brown" signifies the HB is to the right of the FB).  Wing-T traditionalists know this as 100 or 900.



Additionally, we'll see a lot of motion out of the wing position in the running game, with the wing either becoming the primary runner or being utilized in a play fake.  There is potential for inside runs, outside runs, power carries, and speed rushes.  These items morphed into the "Spread" ideas common to the Malzhan/Morris offense that we will feature. 

There are several run play groupings or series for the Wing-T:  Sweep Series, Belly Series, and Power Series.  The Belly series, due to the formation, seems to have evolved in the Morris offense into a QB zone read sequence that we will discuss later.  Examples of the sweep and power are shown below.

"Spread" Formation(s):  Over time, Wing-T coaches realized that running hurry-up at the end of a half/game out of the standard Wing-T had a lot of disadvantages.  These coaches substituted a wide receiver for the tight end.  They often flexed both wings and put the QB in the backfield to take direct snaps and eventually utilized these strategies in base offensive looks.  Malzahn and Morris utilize more "Spread" looks with either a TE or wing (H-Back) in the formation from a direct snap and a flexed wing.



Below is an illustration of a basic lead sweep play, which you will notice involves motion into the backfield by the primary ball carrier.  The blocking scheme is very simple:  SE comes across the field, backside tackle scoops/reach, backside guard pulls, center blocks down, both the playside guard and tackle block head-up if covered or get to the backer if not.  TE blocks head up on the DE, and the wing blocks down, gap, backer (explained later on).


We'll now look at a couple power and speed variations of this play.  If you take this base play, pull both guards to the playside and use the fullback to seal for the backside guard, the result is the famous "Buck Sweep," shown below.


Up-front there is a scoop from the backside tackle.  As mentioned earlier, both guards pull.  The playside tackle, wing, and the tight end rule block "Down-Gap-Backer" (or "Gap-Down-Backer," depending on the line coach).  This is a basic concept with the three parts going as follows:

  • Down-Block: Angle block on the defender head up on the offensive lineman immediately inside
  • Gap: Protect the gap immediately inside
  • Backer: Seek a block at the second level

Simply, Down-Gap-Backer means the first responsibility is a down block.  If there is no down block to be made, protect your inside gap.  If there is no one shooting this gap, move on to the next level.  Gap-Down-Backer makes gap protection a higher priority than the down block.  In most plays from the wing-t, the majority of the playside linemen block DGB and the backside linemen will get a scoop/reach.


Auburn's version spreads the field yet uses the same core blocking scheme discussed with the base Wing-T above.  Both guards pull with the backside guard providing a field seal and the playside guard a boundary kickout.  SAM is attacked by the split end.  The alley here is between the two pulling guards outside the tackle.

Here is a version that Auburn has run over the past couple seasons (thanks offensive breakdown for the pic).


Another variation of the Spread Buck Sweep (thanks to War Eagle Reader) below.



Chad Morris likes to incorporate his wide receivers in the running game and runs them predominantly on the perimeter.  The Jet and Rocket sweep plays highlight this philosophy from the base Wing-T. 

For the "Rocket Sweep" (see below), the weakside wing motions deeper into the backfield and receives the ball on the toss.   Meanwhile, the strongside guard pulls and the fullback fills behind him.  The Rocket Sweep's cousin, the "Jet Sweep," motions the weakside wing across the formation, snapping the ball just before he gets to the QB.  The QB hands the ball off to the wing as he comes across the formation.  It is also popular to pull the strongside guard for the jet sweep in a similar fashion to what was shown with the rocket sweep.




Tulsa ran variations of this play.  Here you see what appears up-front to be a variation of the power play, as the backside guard turns up inside the tackle.  The motioned receiver was able to get to the perimeter and get big yards.

Here is the Jet Sweep out of the gun in the professional ranks.  Again, this is straight forward and currently run at ALL levels of football.

Power:  This is a common play used with many offenses.  We featured the Power O out of the I-formation a couple years ago here and show it from the Wing-T below.  Depending on the front, there will be a brief double on the DT by either the playside guard and tackle or the playside tackle and tight end.  If the playside DT splits the difference between the guard and tackle (over 40 front, for instance), the guard will get a reach and the OT will block DGB.  If the playside DT is head up on the tackle (50 balanced front), the guard will protect his gap then attack the next level and the tackle will block head up.  In either scenario, the TE is down, gap, backer, contributing to a double on the DT in a 50 front.  The center and backside tackle will reach/scoop and the backside guard will pull to seal the crease that will form just off-tackle.  The fullback will lead and get a kick out just outside of the tackle.


Power against the 5-2 and 4-3 below (thanks to Coach Metz for the images below):



Below is an example of the Power-O out of a Spread Gun look: 


A common wrinkle Morris showed this Spring used the backside guard to kick out the end instead of getting through the gap and to the LB.  We'll discuss these items further as we move through the Morris offense.