Gus Malzahn and the Delaware Wing T: An Order of Football

In the weeks leading up to the BCS title game I ran across several articles like this one in SI.com that mentioned Auburn OC Gus Malzahn’s roots and how he read the book “The Delaware Wing T: An Order of Football” and how be bought it word for word as his first philosophy. Good luck tracking a copy down if you have tried. It currently sells for $140 used on Amazon and there are only five in stock at the time of this posting. I did some digging around and found a copy through a friend of a friend who was kind enough to let me borrow it for a couple of days. I had read a couple other books on the Wing T offense before but I liked this one better in general. The philosophy of the attack was very sound and compelling for me to read. I feel the same way about any good offense whether it be Run n Shoot, Air Raid, Veer, or other style of attack. Do something well and you will find ways to win.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the book on the merits of the philosophy of the Delaware Wing T plan of attack. Note: It is too much work to embed all the diagrammed examples so I will attach a pdf file for download at the bottom of the page. From what I can discern it is the sequential conflicts created by the system and not so much the formation(s) that influenced Malzahn to a high degree in the running game.

The Philosophy and Design of the System

The Wing-T is more than a formation. It is a system of offense that is versatile and multiple in nature. It is best described as a four-back formation that originates as a running offense. However, the presence of the wing forces a defense to play at least three deep. In spite of its dependence on the running game, it is, paradoxically, initially depen­dent on the threat of a passing game. The passing, however, is action in nature with the quarterback keeping the ball with or away from the flow of attack. It may be best described as sequence football. This should not imply that every play is run in order, but that the offense is run in series where several points are threatened as the ball is snapped. Its sequential aspect is shown not only from the series pattern of the backs but, just as significantly, from its blocking.

These sequential conflicts can be created in the following way:

(1) Multi-threats built within each backfield series, combining run and pass. Using the Belly series as an example, the systems can attack the defense off-tackle (Figure 3-1a), up the middle with a counter trap (Figure 3-1b), outside with an option (Figure 3-1c), or outside with a play-action pass (Figure 3-1d).

(2)  Interrelating line blocking schemes within each series and using similar blocking schemes with different backfield series. The basic Wing-T blocking scheme, which has the attack-side players block down, is designed to enable the system to run outside (Figure 3-2a), off-tackle (Figure 3-2b), or up the middle (Figure 3-2c). It is interesting that line blocking schemes can create defensive conflicts independent of the backfield action. Figures 3-2a and 3-2c have the fullback going up the middle whereas Figure 3-2b has the fullback going off-tackle.

(3)  Utilizing the misdirection theme to its fullest from similar backfield action. Because the Wing-T is a three-back offense, it can develop misdirection to its fullest.

a)    Motion: The system can develop misdirection first by attacking the defense away from motion. This can be done by having the quarterback keep the ball outside after faking to the motion back (Figure 3-3a), by having the left halfback run off-tackle in the direction opposite the motion (Figure 3-3b), or by giving the ball to the motion back and having him run up the middle (Figure 3-3c).

b)   To Wing: The system can also provide misdirection by starting the backfield flow toward the wingback and having the quarterback keep the ball outside after faking to the dive back (Figure 3-4a). Using the same backfield action the system can attack off-tackle away from flow by executing a halfback to halfback reverse (Figure 3-4b).

These series are designed to place as many conflicts on the defense as possible and are directed at men who have dual defensive alignments. The blocking style is designed so that as a defensive man reacts to the blocking in his area to stop a particular threat, he will be placing himself in jeopardy for a companion play. The defensive left cackle in Figure 3-5 faces such a conflict. If he reacts down with the tackle, he becomes vulnerable to the tight end block. Notice that the sing is threatening the end who is similarly affected. It is of interest to lee that two distinct series are used for this example, and they both demonstrate inclination for the defensive linemen to watch backfield action. This, of course, is what the offense is attempting to do.

The philosophy of attack is based on the idea of taking advantage the adjustments a defense must make to compensate for the wing’s flanking angle. The seven-man front, for example, must do something

with their secondary, which will in turn weaken one flank or make them vulnerable to the pass. Against the eight-man front, the wing tends to widen the front creating a weakness off-tackle or up the middle. The three-deep secondary also feels the need to play men-pass defense in order to get adequate support at the flank to the wing. This increases the vulnerability of the defense to a weak side running and passing threat with the use of quick motion.

The offense includes the option from the fullback slant or belly series, but is not a triple option. It is advantageous to use several ways of attacking the flank because of the pressure this places on the end and, as a result, the triple would consume too much practice time. The quarterback will, however, threaten the flank at different depths. Threatening the flank adds a dimension to the defense of the front and provides an aspect of misdirection that is nonexistent in some systems. The quarterback will threaten the flank at a depth of six yards from the line of scrimmage when running the Waggle, or keep pass and tight to the line when running an option.

BASIC PRINCIPLES

The Wing-T has enjoyed the compliment of emulation and has proved successful at every level of football. Its inherent flexibility has allowed it to adjust successfully to defensive trends for over two decades and yet the following basic principles have remained:

1.    The Wing-T is designed for consistency and strength and is ball control oriented.

2.    The formations are characterized by a wing so that there is the threat of at least three deep receivers.

3.    The quarterback threatens the flank either with action or away from it on every play providing either an additional threat to the attack flank or misdirection threatening the flank away from flow.

4.    All three backs are close enough to the formation so that they can be used as blockers, ball carriers, or for deception.

5.    The offense is designed in complete backfield series, each of which presents multiple threats to the defense on each play.

6.    It has a balance of passing, which is predominantly play-action in nature.
7. The spread of receivers is accomplished by ends and is made to accommodate the running game as well as a mechanism to enhance the passing game.

GROUND ORIENTED

The objective of offense in football is, of course, to move the ball and score; but every coach is confronted with the question, “How can this be done most efficiently?” The conception of any football system must begin with deciding whether the attack will be primarily running or passing. Certainly, every offense must create a balance between running and passing, but because of limited practice time, the design must favor one phase.

The Delaware offense is primarily a running attack for the following reasons:

1.             The core of any football team is hardness and as there is no separation of offense from defense, the style of offense affects the defense. The development of a gruelling consistent ground game builds a desire to dominate the opponent physically. How the ball is moved then shares importance with moving the ball itself.

2.             During a football game, each team will get the ball between ten and fifteen times. The team that controls the ball by making first downs with the least risk of turning the ball over will decrease their opponent’s opportunities to have the ball.

3.             A consistent ground game increases the number of oppor­tunities to enter the all important four-down area.

4.             The running game is not as subject to severe weather problems as a passing game.

5.             The running attack is not as dependent on the superior ability of one or two players as a primarily passing attack is.

BALANCE OF PASSING

In spite of the advantages of a sound running game, no offense can operate effectively today without a balance of passing. The defense often dictates what can be run effectively. Overaggressive secondary support and plugging linebackers can make it difficult to move the ball on the ground. Consequently, the passing game is designed to hit those areas that are covered by defenders whose immediate assignments must be to control the ground game. Play-action passes create defensive conflicts that make it difficult for these defenders to concentrate on either phase. In this way, the passing game comple­ments the rushing game.

The offensive philosophy includes a great regard for the passing phase of football, which should be regarded not only as a scoring phase, but as a method of maintaining the ball. Passes that come from running action are most effective on early downs and enhance your chances of controlling the ball.

Basic Alignment

The Wing-T is a multi-formation offense. The position of the backs should be constant, however, in order to maintain the balance and deception that is the basis of the entire system. The established positions for the backs are:

The Wingback: A wing is present in every formation for the following reasons:

a.  It confronts the defensive secondary with an immediate threat of three deep receivers.

b. It widens the defensive front.

c.  It presents an additional blocker at the line of scrimmage.

d. The motion of the wing balances the attack.

e.  The motion of the wing creates misdirection.

The Halfback: Most of our formations will place at least one man in a dive position. This is important for the following reasons:

a.  It enables the dive man to release quickly into a pass pattern as the fourth receiver.

b. It is an adequate position to block at the flank.

c.  It provides a vertical blocking angle on linebackers and linemen.

The Fullback: The Fullback is in the middle of the formation for the following reasons:

a. It provides a dive threat to the middle of the defense.
b. It provides the offense with a balanced attack to either side of the formation, much the same as an I-formation tailback.

c.  It enables the FB to flood either flank as a third receiver.

d. It solidifies the counter game by having the FB in a position to check.

Although the QB is under the center, as is the case with all modem offenses, his keeping the ball or faking away from the flow of slack presents the defense with an additional contain problem that minimizes pursuit and provides big play opportunities.

The Delaware Wing-T then, is a multiple formation, four-back tanning attack that depends heavily on play-action passing and misdirection, utilizing synchronized schemes both in the line-blocking ad backfield action.


I suspect we will see a lot more of this style of attack since it obviously works even though Malzahn has changed the formations and roles from the original run plays. His passing offense probably differs even more but I have not watched it that closely. Coaches tend to copy what is successful so more teams will study this and adapt it and put it on display next season. Here are some video clips and explanations of Auburn base run plays on Brophy’s excellent site and here on this offensive breakdown blogspot.

Here is a link to the above text with play diagrams in a pdf file for reading.

4 comments to Gus Malzahn and the Delaware Wing T: An Order of Football

  • Great article, thanks for digging up those excerpts. Hopefully towards the end of next month I’ll have an entire detailed series of blogs related to the 2010 Auburn offense. I’m currently working on breaking down each game. After watching 5 or 6 games all of these things are very apparent, it’s really awesome to watch and see how he will evolve in the coming seasons.

  • BC

    Hi…

    My apologies for being off-topic, but I am wondering if it would be possible to post back a couple of articles from the original site.

    1) Attacking coverages…had light blue squares for the soft spots on each coverage

    2) Synopsys of fronts … over/under/even/oklahoma…had diagrams showing each

    I found the info on that site was one of the best as far as clarity and simplicity and often referred to them.

    Thanks.

  • alex

    why doesnt usc running anything besides a inside zone outside zone and a toss play why not throw some bucksweep in always bothered me about the usc staff

  • artoftroy

    USC is predominantly an inside zone / outside zone team with a few other run plays thrown in (e.g. Iso plays, draws, wind back play, limited one back power sort of stuff). Since LenDale White left they have not run the 2 back power play very much. They will run the toss play and sweep, etc. but that is a variation of the outside zone play. Pete Carroll bought into the philosophy of Alex Gibbs back around 2002 and just became convinced that if you run IZ/OZ zone plays well and learn to block all the different fronts well that you can manage with that given the limited practice time in college. I’m not saying I 100% agree with that but I understand the thinking. I personally would prefer some more misdirection in the attack. I like the concept of keeping players on defense guessing and not always penetrating especially at the college level. USC finished up averaging 189 yards per game and a 5.16 ypc average. The rush attack under Kiffen went up and down in 2010 and I suspect some changes may be in order for 2011 but probably not a ton will change. A lot will depend upon the o-line recruits and depth next season

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