Coach's Look: A 'Bunch' of Good Ideas

If you weren't paying close attention on Saturday night, you might have missed a wrinkle to the Longhorns' offense. If you blinked, you probably missed it, because the Horns only ran the formation six times in the first half. The "bunch" formation is alive, and for the most part, well in Austin, Texas. It's an idea that has been a long time coming, because it fits UT's personnel very, very well.

First off, let me explain the bunch formation, its history, and its evolution into the Longhorn playbook. The bunch formation has two main variations: 1) three receivers set to one side, tailback behind the QB, and a split receiver opposite the bunch, and 2) four receivers set to one side with a split receiver on the opposite side of the bunch. Some slight changes to this can be made (TE instead of split receiver opposite the bunch, bunch split wide instead of in tight, etc.), but 95% of the time you will see one of the above variations. The bunch set could have evolved from many sources, but the most logical ancestor appears to be the run-and-shoot offense. The run-and-shoot came into being many years before June Jones, Mouse Davis, and the like were throwing 50 points up on a regular basis. That is when the run-and-shoot became a household name.

In reality, the run-and-shoot was the brainchild of Tiger Ellison, a high school coach in Middletown, OH. He observed some kids playing sandlot football, and he thought that their game could be adapted to fit the needs of his staff and players at Middletown High School. The original premise of the run-and-shoot was this:

"If he goes this way, you go that way. If he goes that way, you go this way."

Sound simple, doesn't it? At its core, the offense is very simple. However, more time has been spent by coaches over the years to improve and "disprove" the run-and-shoot. Many feel that the run-and-shoot went the way of the world once Jerry Glanville left the professional coaching ranks. Some may feel that June Jones is the only one left running the offense (and no one sees it, because Hawaii plays in those late games on FOX). However, a stepchild of the run-and-shoot reared its head at Reliant Stadium Saturday night. It wasn't the first time that the Horns have dabbled with the bunch offense, but it was the best time.

The offense has even been run at the high school level as early as twenty years ago. More often than not it was called the "Satellite" formation (don't ask me why), and it was the best way to put your best athlete in man-to-man coverage on the side opposite of the bunch. The difference between the bunch and the satellite was the fact that the receivers were wider in the satellite (same bunching, but 5-10 yards further out). The same plays were run that are run out of the bunch now, but the bunch takes advantage of the newest trend in football, the hybrid TE.

Tight ends are getting leaner and faster every year. This is not a Mike Ditka, Keith Jackson, or Billy Joe Dupree offense. It is a Kellen Winslow II, Bo Scaife, and David Thomas offense. Since tight ends have become better receivers and worse run blockers, it makes sense to widen the TE out some. In return, the TE faces a DE less often and faces an OLB more. That is a much better matchup for the tight ends of today.

The bunch formation also puts the opposing defensive coordinator in a bind. How do you defend it? Do you move your defensive end out on the TE? Do you play him over the tackle? For those of you with a knowledge of or background in the Wing-T offense, it is the same problem defensive coaches face with the "Nasty Slot" formation (moving the WB inside the TE instead of outside). Do you treat the WB as another lineman? Do you disregard him and leave a gap in your strongside defense? And anything they do, the offensive coach has a counter for it. You are really in a no-win situation, unless you are just much more talented.

So, how would I defense the bunch? I wouldn't adjust the front too much, and I would play zone behind it. I would cheat the safety to the bunch side, but I wouldn't leave the backside CB man-to-man unless my CB was Nathan Vasher or the like. If you adjust the front and move the DE out on the inside receiver of the bunch, you invite the inside zone play. If you play the DE inside on the tackle, you invite the toss sweep. As a DC, I feel that I would rather make the Longhorns try to run outside than inside. If you play zone, the bunch will flood you to death. They will send out three receivers to flood the zone, and one of the receivers will settle in the hole. If you play man, you get a bevy of pick plays designed to rub off defenders. I would rather force the offense to take five and ten yard routes all the way down the field, and hope they make a mistake. So, how did Rice defend it? The same way I would, and it didn’t work. They probably could have thrown out an extra DB to make 12, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Why do I like the Horns running the bunch set so much? Well, let's take an inventory of the Texas athletes…

Good QB — Check and Check (for the Vincent Young fans)

Four or Five supremely talented receivers — Check

Hybrid TE — Check

Talented TB — Talented? Yes. Check

A good pass-blocking OL — Check

There you have all you need to run the offense successfully, except one more thing…an offensive coordinator that will let the horse run. Well…OK, at least he was on Saturday. (I made a promise to myself to be very positive this week.) I think Greg Davis realizes that this formation could do a whole lot for the Horns this season, and I think you will see more of it this coming week. It may be the best avenue for beating the KSUs, OUs, and Nebraskas of the world.

With all of that behind us, let's look at the game film.








Drive 1 — Play 2

3 receivers right in tight bunch; Roy left; tailback

Zone coverage; No adjustment to the front (DE over tackle); the rover or force moved outside the bunch, and you appear to have cover 4 with the DBs.

David Thomas was the point man of the bunch and he ran a drag, taking the LB with him. Sloan ran an out or arrow, taking the rover with him. B.J. curled neatly in front of the CB and safety playing quarters.

13 yds


Drive 1 — Play 5



The defense has a bubble directly in front of David Thomas — the LB and DE were well inside and the rover was well outside. What do you do? Attack the bubble. The Longhorns did, pitching the ball to Benson. D. Thomas and S. Thomas blocked down on the DE and LB. B.J. kicked out on the rover, and Blalock pulled to seal inside.

5 yds


Drive 3 — Play 7



Same as play 1

10 yds


Drive 4 — Play 1



Probably the best play call by GD. Roy was facing zone coverage opposite the bunch, but the safety was starting to lean a little to the bunch formation. Mock throws the backside screen to Roy. Great downfield blocks by Scott (CB) and Holloway (safety).

18 yd TD


Drive 7 — Play 2


The Owls make an adjustment, moving the end out slightly, and rolling the deep corner up into a force position along with the rover. The safety was still over the top. The LB blitzed A gap, and the DE dropped into coverage, taking away the same route to BJ.

The same routes as above, but Mock had to hit Sloan on the out as his safety valve, because the end had dropped into coverage.

7 yds


Drive 7 — Play 4

3 left, Roy right, tailback

Same adjustment, but this time the DE ran an X stunt with the DT to put pressure on the QB.

The Owls get caught in the stunt, and the Horns run the zone play to Ced. Good movement at the point of attack (on a 250 lb. DT)

6 yds

All in all, a pretty good set for the Horns on Saturday night. Six plays, 71 yards. What are upcoming possible wrinkles? Well, the most obvious is a short hitch to Roy to the backside against zone, and a go route against man. Next would be an outside screen to one of the bunch receivers. I think a middle screen or bubble screen to the outside man of the bunch would be good against man coverage. Speed option to the bunch side if you see man or zone. You can probably come up with some other great plays, but the key is getting the best performers in space where they can make plays. What can stop the Longhorns, right? Well, not using it enough would probably stop it pretty quick.

Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University and is in his second season of writing for IT. His 'Coach's Look' column appears after each game during football season on

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