Ask the Coach: Offensive Line Spacing

The Florida Gators widened their gameplan, so to speak, against LSU. Although they used it in a few plays the previous year against the Tigers, the Gators decided to deploy wider offensive line splits for a good portion of the game and the move seemed very successful. Coach Mike Stoeber talks a little bit about how and why the move was successful and the Gators using it from this point forward.

The question has been passed on to coaches and players alike for the last two weeks about why the wider splits were successful. Depending on who you talked to, the answers were different.

Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen pointed to the splits as a way for the running backs to visualize their holes easier before the start of the snap and in the earlier part of a play. Oddly enough, running back coach Kenny Carter said the plan was more schematic and designed to put the defensive players on islands and separate them a little more than normal splits would do.

Coach Stoeber agrees with both reasons here and talks about them.

Line Splits

A lot of people have asked about line splits since the Florida/LSU game so let's discuss some of the basics. Line split is the spacing between offensive linemen. It is generally measured in the distance between the OL's feet. Today's standard is 2-3' between the center and guard and 3-4' between guard/tackle and tackle/tight end.



Different offensive schemes will have different splits. Most Wing-T teams will have very tight splits, some as tight as 6". Triple option teams, like Georgia Tech today and the 90's Nebraska teams, have a wider than normal split. Although I never got a chance to see any videotape, I have been told that Danny Wuerffel's high school team had line splits of 5'. So why the differences?

Before I describe the differences, let me jump on my soapbox for a minute to say why football is the best team sport there is. In short, there is no other team sport that has such a great balance in the rules between the two teams that both allow creativity and variation in schemes. I often say that there is great defensive call for every offensive play. In contrast, every defense has a weakness and the right call for offense can exploit its weaknesses. One of the keys for team success is calling the right play at the right time and that is what makes this such a great game to me. Line splits and the defense's adjustments to them are just new aspects of creativity and variation.

TIGHT SPLITS

One of the main reasons for tight splits is to get better double team/combo block opportunities for the linemen. By starting closer together, the OL can better double team the defensive linemen at the point of attack. In addition, zone blocking teams will generally have tight to normal size splits as their assignment is to block a certain area and not a specific player. Other reason for tight splits is to create more outside running opportunities. This is because the defense will generally also align tighter. When the distance between the outside linebackers/defensive ends and the sideline is larger, there are more field for perimeter runs.

WIDE SPLITS

Conversely, wide splits help the inside running game by spreading the defense front seven out wider. This greatly benefits offenses that are designed to block specific men rather than a "zone" as it creates better blocking angles. It is also better for triple option teams as the quarterback's give and pitch keys are aligned farther, allowing him a long time to make decisions. Wide splits also help to slow down a 4 man pass rush. This is because the defensive end is aligned 2 to 4 more feet away from the quarterback, giving him more time in the pocket. It also creates wider throwing lanes between the defensive linemen. The biggest problem is that it is harder to get assistance for a fellow lineman in protection.

If wide splits are better for the inside running game, easier to run the triple option and is better versus a four-man rush, why don't we do it more?

ADJUSTMENTS

As I mentioned on my soapbox, the defense has its ability to be creative as well. One of the solutions to wide offensive splits is to "shoot" the gaps, especially with linebackers. It is almost impossible to stop a linebacker shooting a gap if you do not have a good blocking angle on him. This quick penetration can defeat an offense quickly.

Zone blitzing is another effective method as a wide split team will rely more on man pass protection (you block this man) versus slide/zone protection (you block anyone in this area). The wide spacing makes it harder to read who the rushers are and to react to their path in order to effectively pass block.

One offensive adjustments to shooting linebackers is to throw screens or quick passes. By shortening the time a QB has the ball, the defense should be unable to reach the QB. When the defense sends extra rushers, they will either need to play man coverage or a very open zone. In either case, I really like UF's chances of Percy and company in one-on-one situations on the perimeter. As for zone blitz adjustment, quick hitting inside runs, draw plays and speed options are good counters, making it difficult for the defenders to adjust.

OPINION

I loved the call to widen the splits for some plays versus LSU. I felt that LSU did not make any adjustments to this, creating a definite advantage for the offense. I foresee these wide splits being used in more of our offensive game plans moving forward. To me, the biggest questions ahead are how other teams might adjust to this move and how prepared our offensive staff is to counter their moves. This "chess" game will be lots of fun to watch!


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