Spread Principles - Part 1: Formations

GoBlueWolverine's Josh Turel takes an in-depth look at Rich Rodriguez's system. In part one of the series, Turel examines some of the basic formations in the new offense, how they're utilized, and the theory behind why they work.

Basic Formation Examples:

This first two formations are your basic four wide spread formation with the strength call going to the running back. We refer to this formation as a two by two (2x2) formation due to the two receivers on each side. If a tight end were to come in on the line of scrimmage, we still consider him a receiver. You hear the cliché “taking what the defense gives you.” Well that in theory is true for any offense. If you are a wing-t team, that offense provides an answer to anything a defense does to defend it. The same with a full house backfield, an I-formation, or a spread. The variable is, what weapons each offense has in its arsenal and who’s piloting the ship. To counter what the defense is doing, in most cases one of the tools coaches use is alignment. In the spread, you start out in the 2x2 formation to check how the defense will align to that formation and then you can attack. One main goal of the spread offense is to force the defense to “cover down,” meaning to put a defender on or around each receiver split wide. If the defense does not do this, then the offense will counter with the bubble screen or quick passes to the uncovered receiver. Another general rule is, against a two high safety look such as in a cover 2 man/zone under, cover 4, or what we call cover 6 (quarter, quarter, half), the spread offense wants to run the ball because there is a numerical advantage in the box for the offense. Against a one high safety look, such as in a cover 3, cover 1, or rolling coverage, the spread wants to throw the ball as these are mostly run support or pressure coverages.

The spread “stack” formation shown above hasn’t been a big part of the West Virginia game lately. Central Michigan (former WV assistant) coach Butch Jones uses it quite often. The theory is still that same as discussed above. This formation really puts stress on the wide flanks of the defense and stretches the run support from the secondary wide. It is tough to throw downfield from this formation with the receivers stacked and wide but it is ideal for spread runs.

Here is another very common formation in the spread offense which is “trips”. This is a 3x1 formation and what teams love to do is put their best receiver as the lone receiver wide. Having the best receiver wide allows him to get favorable match ups and work a variety of routes in space. The downside to this alignment is he has no one to “combo route” with or influence coverage. The back can be adjusted over to the split side but in the past, West Virginia liked to put their back to the trips side. Such an alignment makes for a very unbalanced formation, something I can tell you defensive coordinators hate. Defensive coordinators hate the option, they hate unbalanced formations, and they definitely do not like a running quarterback from an empty set. Florida’s Urban Meyer is a big proponent of being unbalanced in the spread offense and the trips formation does that. Though the formation is different, you are still looking to accomplish what you did in the 2x2 and that is to attack defensive alignment. If the defense does not cover down to the trips side, the screen game should be there. The trips formation allows for many different combo routes to the trips side as well as the option to or away from the trips. The formation tagged “close” is a variation of trips that West Virginia has done in the past but you likely won’t see much.

Here are some examples of “empty” formations. This formation is very difficult to defend with a mobile quarterback because it reduces the front so much with five wide receivers. Central Michigan runs these variations quite a bit and Rodriguez used this at West Virginia as well as their main empty package.

The Michigan Insider Top Stories