Defensing Auburn

DonFaurot Auburn and the Split-T Offense

One should consider the use of the offense utilized by Auburn to destroy the Missouri University football team in the Southeastern Conference Championship was given birth by Missouri’s legendary coach, Don Faurot. And, more than a bit chilling, the fact that the coach who now holds the “wins” record at MU (previously held by Don Faurot) was a victim of that same concept. (Let me begin by saying that I believe the current Missouri coach lacks the qualities to guide a national football powerhouse. Two qualities important for such a leader: #1 would be a student of the history of combat, and #2 adaptability, appear to be missing.)

MU Coach, Don Faurot created an offense (Split-T) which required defenses to make split second decisions. The Split-T, Winged T and it’s variations followed a formation known as the Single Wing. Unlike Faurot’s formation, the Single Wing was about over powering a specific section of the defense using double team blocking, an unbalanced line to achieve superior numbers with multiple hand-offs and reverses. The precursor of the Single Wing was the Flying Wedge, reaching sophistication at Harvard under Lorin Deland. Deland was not an athlete but, a chess player and military strategist. He studied Napoleon Bonaparte’s military strategies. One of which included sending a large mass of forces at the weakest defensive point. His efforts and the Flying Wedge changed football. The Wedge formations went away because of injuries, being outlawed by forcing more players on the line of scrimmage. The Wedge evolved into the Single Wing which became less effective than the T-Offenses. Under Bud Wilkinson and others, The Wing-T and Split-T variations won many national championships.

Let me step into the weeds on technical football. First, a team must have the talent to defend against any type of offense. Building a team to meet only one type of offense or even offensive player skill set seems to me to be narrow minded. In combat one must have multiple options both offensive and defensive. In football, a great defense is not self sufficient, the team requires an effective offense to hold the ball and score. Missouri’s quarterback lacks the ability to find receivers under pressure, and, repeatedly missed plays which eventually put the MU defense into physical deprivation and they broke. In my opinion, again a coaching problem, not a player problem. Player selection is a head coaching decision. And, strategy changes at critical points determine outcomes more often than not.

In Auburn, we have seen a mutant strain of an old offense devastate a respectable defense. While the coach says it’s based on the Single Wing, I believe most of the actual plays are more Wing/Split-T football and less mobile mass attack, of the Single Wing. And, in my opinion the defensive fault lies not with the players, but, the coaches. As a head coach, one must possess the ability to put all the pieces together, orchestrate the execution, and make adjustments. While there are offensive and defensive coordinators and coaches, the “head” coach must be able to guide each segment of the team’s management.

Deeper into the weeds we go. In the early 60’s teams who played against the T-offenses used 5 and 6 man lines to defense the variations of attack. A five man line would have four linebackers (players to support the line players and fill the gaps.) Six man lines put three linebackers behind the front (One Middle and Two Outside.) The concept behind the 5-4 and 6-3 is to spread the defensive front and add depth at the point of attack. Both the five and six man lines have players stationed outside the offensive line when the ball is snapped. Which then eliminates leverage by players stationed wide on offense such as Single Wing and Winged-T and Split-T.

This goes back to paragraph one and my belief in being a student in the history of combat. (Military leaders are, and, the CEO of a company should also be versed in the history of combat, after all business is about besting the opposition. It should be no different in athletics.) Arriving at a game without an understanding of the fluidity of combat is like leaving most of one’s arsenal at home. This, in my opinion, is what happened to MU against Auburn, the leader was clueless as to the history of defensing the variations of the Single Wing, Wing and Split T offenses.

Gary Danielson was the color commentator for CBS’s coverage of the SEC Championship between Auburn and MU. Danielson was a 2 year starter at Purdue University and played quarterback in the NFL for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns in the 70’s and 80’s. Danielson never backs away from the calling out the referees when they err, nor does he sidestep obvious miscues on the field. Beyond that, Danielson understands strategic football as well or better than most color analysts at the college or professional level. In last night’s game, he repeatedly pointed out Missouri’s lack of ability to cover outside the interior line (four down linemen). He noted that MU, finally put two linebackers up close to the line to support the four down lineman. This would be a 4-2-*. The asterisk being the unknown number or formation behind the first six. This helped slow down Auburn on a few series. But, again the line lacked width. Even Danielson missed the obvious- There were no outside linebackers to add width to the line. Nor, did he suggest MU force a mediocre passer to win the game by putting 7or 8 (in the box) close to the line of scrimmage. MU enjoyed an offensive advantage in the passing game and should have won an “air war.” I enjoy Gary Danielson’s analysis and hope he continues for years in the college game. Which is my preference in American football.

May I suggest that players entering the game beyond the early 60’s probably never saw a single wing from the player’s perspective. As an offensive and defensive end, I experienced both offensively and defensively. In my high school playing days, ends were primarily blockers and occasional pass catchers. I experienced first hand being attacked and chop blocked by wingbacks. And, the helpless feeling of being attacked from my weak side. I feel for the Mizzou defensive players who suffered that feeling last night and wondered why no one gave them help dissecting the action.

As an aside, I attended a game at Missouri as a senior and was offered a chance to meet then Freshman Coach Al Onofrio. (Dan Devine was Head Coach) My parents refused to let me play football in college, so I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Devine (who I consider to be a legend) while at Mizzou.

Back to the weeds. As a defensive end, I had two responsibilities, either slide wide and stop any attack to the outside of the interior line or penetrate and knock down as many blockers as possible or tackle the ball carrier. Remember, the purpose of the Single Wing– overwhelm sections of the defense. A variation play of the T-Offense known as the sweep was the same concept. The Split-T/Wing-T could put a blocker inside or outside the “End” position, creating an overload on that defensive corner. The counter to that strategy was to put width and depth into play on the defensive side. The 5-4 was an answer. Passers in those days lacked the accuracy of today’s quarterbacks, which allowed teams to put more players closer to the line of scrimmage, or in the box. (Which would have been, in my opinion, effective against Auburn.) In Single Wing offenses, usually two players were passers, and all four were runners and blockers. In defense of my statement regarding Auburn not being based on the Single Wing. I see very few Single Wing similarities and more similarities with Split/Winged-T football. Had MU put linebackers outside and inside, Auburn would then be forced to play a passing game.

“It’s all about strategy.

As a player I hated the 6-3, because I spent most of the game hanging around the outside missing most of the action. Good Split/Winged-T teams understood the width strategy of the 6-3 and would attack inside the end. Their goal would be to push a blocking half back inside of the defensive tackle and slide the runner inside the end and outside linebacker, occupying the middle linebacker with interior linemen. Many plays I saw runners go inside of me. If that occurred the runner reached the second level and it was secondary players attempting to tackle elusive runners at speed. (Watch those ESPN clips. Notice the number of times the outside MU defense was attacked from the outside and held (no flags).

In the 5-4 defense I was given latitude to crash the backfield. From the wider angle I could beat the defensive end and be in the backfield as the play developed. My flank was covered by an outside linebacker. My penetration prevented many wide plays from developing. In some games, that strategy forced teams to run straight-on into two interior lineman and two inside linebackers. Being ADD, I loved the 5-4 and hated the 6-3 defense. And, I loved sacking quarterbacks and stopping halfbacks in the backfield. (Being a strategist, I see the advantages of attacking the enemy before they have completely begun execution of their plan.)

The era was a difficult one for small town coaches. They lacked the talent and depth to field competitive teams against more complex offenses. (We had 20 players on our team and players played both offense and defense.) But, like all combat, the best strategist usually wins. Even undermanned teams can win more often, if the coaching staff has an edge as strategists.

Last night we saw a team with average talent turn a talent laden team into a twisted mess. At times the MU defensive players were running into each other. Other times, the sure tackling Tigers missed easy ones. Tackling, like football and all combat is about aggression. To be aggressive one must be confident. Confidence is personal. But, in team endeavors, confidence starts at the top. Not only must the leader be confident, and competent, he must be able to support those below him to excel.

As someone once told me,

‘children learn more from the way you live than what you say.’

I suggest that holds true for leaders. And, the old adage,

‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ could not be truer.

That leads us back to my original premise, Gary Pinkel is not capable of being the leader of a national powerhouse athletic program. If you doubt me, just watch ESPN clips this week and do some research on his personal life. And, I find it shameful that he exceeded Don Faurot’s MU wins record, then loses to a team which utilized many of the concepts which Faurot designed to overwhelm defenses. The Auburn coach may credit his system to a book on the Single Wing, but, if one studies his offense, in my opinion, he’s just modified the Wing-T/Split-T concepts. And, many of his formations, were, in my opinion, bordering on illegal. You need to research that one on your own. But, a clue would be the number of players on the line of scrimmage, and eligible receivers. Shame on Gary Pinkel for being too lazy to memorize the history of his own institution’s football legacy.

Auburn and the Split-T Offense

One should consider the use of the offense utilized by Auburn to destroy the Missouri University football team in the Southeastern Conference Championship was given birth by Missouri’s legendary coach, Don Faurot. And, more than a bit chilling, the fact that the coach who now holds the “wins” record at MU (previously held by Don Faurot) was a victim of that same concept. (Let me begin by saying that I believe the current Missouri coach lacks the qualities to guide a national football powerhouse. Two qualities important for such a leader: #1 would be a student of the history of combat, and #2 adaptability, appear to be missing.)

MU Coach, Don Faurot created an offense (Split-T) which required defenses to make split second decisions. The Split-T, Winged T and it’s variations followed a formation known as the Single Wing. Unlike Faurot’s formation, the Single Wing was about over powering a specific section of the defense using double team blocking, an unbalanced line to achieve superior numbers with multiple hand-offs and reverses. The precursor of the Single Wing was the Flying Wedge, reaching sophistication at Harvard under Lorin Deland. Deland was not an athlete but, a chess player and military strategist. He studied Napoleon Bonaparte’s military strategies. One of which included sending a large mass of forces at the weakest defensive point. His efforts and the Flying Wedge changed football. The Wedge formations went away because of injuries, being outlawed by forcing more players on the line of scrimmage. The Wedge evolved into the Single Wing which became less effective than the T-Offenses. Under Bud Wilkinson and others, The Wing-T and Split-T variations won many national championships.

Let me step into the weeds on technical football. First, a team must have the talent to defend against any type of offense. Building a team to meet only one type of offense or even offensive player skill set seems to me to be narrow minded. In combat one must have multiple options both offensive and defensive. In football, a great defense is not self sufficient, the team requires an effective offense to hold the ball and score. Missouri’s quarterback lacks the ability to find receivers under pressure, and, repeatedly missed plays which eventually put the MU defense into physical deprivation and they broke. In my opinion, again a coaching problem, not a player problem. Player selection is a head coaching decision. And, strategy changes at critical points determine outcomes more often than not.

In Auburn, we have seen a mutant strain of an old offense devastate a respectable defense. While the coach says it’s based on the Single Wing, I believe most of the actual plays are more Wing/Split-T football and less mobile mass attack, of the Single Wing. And, in my opinion the defensive fault lies not with the players, but, the coaches. As a head coach, one must possess the ability to put all the pieces together, orchestrate the execution, and make adjustments. While there are offensive and defensive coordinators and coaches, the “head” coach must be able to guide each segment of the team’s management.

Deeper into the weeds we go. In the early 60’s teams who played against the T-offenses used 5 and 6 man lines to defense the variations of attack. A five man line would have four linebackers (players to support the line players and fill the gaps.) Six man lines put three linebackers behind the front (One Middle and Two Outside.) The concept behind the 5-4 and 6-3 is to spread the defensive front and add depth at the point of attack. Both the five and six man lines have players stationed outside the offensive line when the ball is snapped. Which then eliminates leverage by players stationed wide on offense such as Single Wing and Winged-T and Split-T.

This goes back to paragraph one and my belief in being a student in the history of combat. (Military leaders are, and, the CEO of a company should also be versed in the history of combat, after all business is about besting the opposition. It should be no different in athletics.) Arriving at a game without an understanding of the fluidity of combat is like leaving most of one’s arsenal at home. This, in my opinion, is what happened to MU against Auburn, the leader was clueless as to the history of defensing the variations of the Single Wing, Wing and Split T offenses.

Gary Danielson was the color commentator for CBS’s coverage of the SEC Championship between Auburn and MU. Danielson was a 2 year starter at Purdue University and played quarterback in the NFL for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns in the 70’s and 80’s. Danielson never backs away from the calling out the referees when they err, nor does he sidestep obvious miscues on the field. Beyond that, Danielson understands strategic football as well or better than most color analysts at the college or professional level. In last night’s game, he repeatedly pointed out Missouri’s lack of ability to cover outside the interior line (four down linemen). He noted that MU, finally put two linebackers up close to the line to support the four down lineman. This would be a 4-2-*. The asterisk being the unknown number or formation behind the first six. This helped slow down Auburn on a few series. But, again the line lacked width. Even Danielson missed the obvious- There were no outside linebackers to add width to the line. Nor, did he suggest MU force a mediocre passer to win the game by putting 7or 8 (in the box) close to the line of scrimmage. MU enjoyed an offensive advantage in the passing game and should have won an “air war.” I enjoy Gary Danielson’s analysis and hope he continues for years in the college game. Which is my preference in American football.

May I suggest that players entering the game beyond the early 60’s probably never saw a single wing from the player’s perspective. As an offensive and defensive end, I experienced both offensively and defensively. In my high school playing days, ends were primarily blockers and occasional pass catchers. I experienced first hand being attacked and chop blocked by wingbacks. And, the helpless feeling of being attacked from my weak side. I feel for the Mizzou defensive players who suffered that feeling last night and wondered why no one gave them help dissecting the action.

As an aside, I attended a game at Missouri as a senior and was offered a chance to meet then Freshman Coach Al Onofrio. (Dan Devine was Head Coach) My parents refused to let me play football in college, so I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Devine (who I consider to be a legend) while at Mizzou.

Back to the weeds. As a defensive end, I had two responsibilities, either slide wide and stop any attack to the outside of the interior line or penetrate and knock down as many blockers as possible or tackle the ball carrier. Remember, the purpose of the Single Wing– overwhelm sections of the defense. A variation play of the T-Offense known as the sweep was the same concept. The Split-T/Wing-T could put a blocker inside or outside the “End” position, creating an overload on that defensive corner. The counter to that strategy was to put width and depth into play on the defensive side. The 5-4 was an answer. Passers in those days lacked the accuracy of today’s quarterbacks, which allowed teams to put more players closer to the line of scrimmage, or in the box. (Which would have been, in my opinion, effective against Auburn.) In Single Wing offenses, usually two players were passers, and all four were runners and blockers. In defense of my statement regarding Auburn not being based on the Single Wing. I see very few Single Wing similarities and more similarities with Split/Winged-T football. Had MU put linebackers outside and inside, Auburn would then be forced to play a passing game.

“It’s all about strategy.

As a player I hated the 6-3, because I spent most of the game hanging around the outside missing most of the action. Good Split/Winged-T teams understood the width strategy of the 6-3 and would attack inside the end. Their goal would be to push a blocking half back inside of the defensive tackle and slide the runner inside the end and outside linebacker, occupying the middle linebacker with interior linemen. Many plays I saw runners go inside of me. If that occurred the runner reached the second level and it was secondary players attempting to tackle elusive runners at speed. (Watch those ESPN clips. Notice the number of times the outside MU defense was attacked from the outside and held (no flags).

In the 5-4 defense I was given latitude to crash the backfield. From the wider angle I could beat the defensive end and be in the backfield as the play developed. My flank was covered by an outside linebacker. My penetration prevented many wide plays from developing. In some games, that strategy forced teams to run straight-on into two interior lineman and two inside linebackers. Being ADD, I loved the 5-4 and hated the 6-3 defense. And, I loved sacking quarterbacks and stopping halfbacks in the backfield. (Being a strategist, I see the advantages of attacking the enemy before they have completely begun execution of their plan.)

The era was a difficult one for small town coaches. They lacked the talent and depth to field competitive teams against more complex offenses. (We had 20 players on our team and players played both offense and defense.) But, like all combat, the best strategist usually wins. Even undermanned teams can win more often, if the coaching staff has an edge as strategists.

Last night we saw a team with average talent turn a talent laden team into a twisted mess. At times the MU defensive players were running into each other. Other times, the sure tackling Tigers missed easy ones. Tackling, like football and all combat is about aggression. To be aggressive one must be confident. Confidence is personal. But, in team endeavors, confidence starts at the top. Not only must the leader be confident, and competent, he must be able to support those below him to excel.

As someone once told me,

‘children learn more from the way you live than what you say.’

I suggest that holds true for leaders. And, the old adage,

‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ could not be truer.

That leads us back to my original premise, Gary Pinkel is not capable of being the leader of a national powerhouse athletic program. If you doubt me, just watch ESPN clips this week and do some research on his personal life. And, I find it shameful that he exceeded Don Faurot’s MU wins record, then loses to a team which utilized many of the concepts which Faurot designed to overwhelm defenses. The Auburn coach may credit his system to a book on the Single Wing, but, if one studies his offense, in my opinion, he’s just modified the Wing-T/Split-T concepts. And, many of his formations, were, in my opinion, bordering on illegal. You need to research that one on your own. But, a clue would be the number of players on the line of scrimmage, and eligible receivers. Shame on Gary Pinkel for being too lazy to memorize the history of his own institution’s football legacy.

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