In 1941 Don Faurot, football coach at Missouri, sat in a gymnasium watching a basketball game. As he watched he became enamored with the fast break and an idea began to form in his mind. When he emerged from the gymnasium a vision had rooted itself deeply in his mind. A vision so bold and effective it would leave an imprint on the game of football that is still clearly visible after more than 70 years.
His vision was the Split-T offense and the earliest version of option football. Once implemented, the Split-T and the option football style of play, led to 101 wins and five bowl appearances for the University of Missouri. Bud Wilkinson and Jim Tatum, who learned the Split-T as assistants under Faurot, carried the vision to other universities.
Wilkinson and Tatum dominated college football in the 50’s with the Split-T, earning 14 bowl bids and four national titles.
The Split-T and option football concepts transformed the game in ways that can still be seen today. Thousands of high schools and colleges across the country use a variety of option football systems, all of which wouldn’t be possible without Faurot’s Split-T and his creative ideas.
Reasons to Run the Split-T
Faurot grew to believe in his offense and developed four reasons why he preferred the Split-T over other offensive systems.
- The Split-T is effective with average personnel
- The Split-T produces a high number of yards per play
- The Split-T allows for more big plays
- The Split-T stresses defenses.
As coaches, we are always looking for the perfect athlete. They are big, strong, and fast. They
like love to hit. And to complete the total package, understand all the schemes we agonize over in the off-season.
Unfortunately this player comes along about once every 25 years. Or, it seems, he is always playing for the other team.
Most times we have players that meet part of the criteria, but fall short in others. If he is fast and agile, he is often small and desperately needs some time in the weight room. Or conversely, if he is big and strong, he only has two speeds. Stop and go. We may also have players who have all the physical attributes we are looking for, but may struggle with the mental aspects of the game.
Or their dispositions aren’t nasty enough.
According to Faurot none of this matters. The Split-T can produce positive results even if your team, like most, consists of average young men with normal abilities. You do not need a kid that can sling the ball all over the field or running backs that are constantly breaking ankles and running over guys. You don’t even need big offensive lineman.
We need athletes who are willing to commit to the offense and execute on every play. Faurot put together several seasons in the 40’s where his team led the nation in several key statistical categories despite have less talented players in key positions.
Average yards per play
Coaches work hard throughout the season to breakdown and evaluate their teams by play and productivity. For instance it is beneficial to know which plays you call most often as well as how many yards you gain per play. This will allow you to call plays in critical situations that are more effective. More effective play calling will usually lead to more wins.
Because of this, Faurot’s next reason to run the option out of the Split-T is the average number of yards gained per play. During the 1941 season Missouri ran both the Split-T and the Single-Wing. As the season went on, the coaching staff noted the Split-T was gaining nearly twice as many yards per play as the Single-Wing. Faurot reasoned that if the same personnel were running plays out of both formations against the same defenses the data was valid.
The Split-T was more productive.
Big play potential
The big play can change the face of a game in many ways. Momentum and emotion are key aspects of game management. If you have big play potential, and keep the game within a score or two, you always have a chance to win.
Faurot, again from statistical analysis, deduced that the Split-T had greater big play potential than the Single Wing or standard T formations he saw regularly. He realized that his new scheme spread the defense and created a lot of space for his small quick backs to work in. He also noted the dive play hit the line of scrimmage much quicker. Defenses were also forced into more 1 on 1 situations in the open field, leading to more missed tackles. Both led to more runs of 20+ yards and more touchdowns scored from outside the red zone.
In 1941 Harry “Slipperly” Ice rushed for 295 yards and an average of 30.8 yards a car against Kansas State. The Split-T leads provides big play potential.
Stressing the D
If you’ve ever coached against an option football team, you probably believe this one as well. It is commonly accepted that option offenses have a neutralizing effect on talent. The U.S. Naval Academy, while not a top 10 team anymore, remains competitive despite being vastly out matched at most positions week in and week out. This is because of an option football based offense known as the Flexbone. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious is option football’s ability to stretch the field horizontally and force defenders to make difficult decisions in space.
Faurot believed the Split-T placed a great deal of pressure on the standard defenses of his day. Defenses in the 40’s and 50’s would regularly use six , seven, and even eight defensive lineman against the various T offenses. Often times there would be as many as nine players within a yard of the line of scrimmage. Note: Photos from the Faurot’s book Secrets of the Split T Formation.
Faurot believed the splits of his offensive line in his Split-T were critical in putting pressure on the defense. With wider splits the defense would spread itself out, giving the offense the space it needed to be effective with the option play. It also helped with his blocking schemes and ability of his lineman to execute.
If the defense widens, the holes widen too and blocking angles become easier. As a result blocks do not need to be maintained as long and defensive players do not need to be moved as far (this relates to Reason #1 on personnel). If the defense refuses to widen, then blocking angles from the outside become better and plays on the perimeter are more effective. The defense is stressed horizontally.
The offense begins racking up more yardage on the ground and the defense responds by bringing more defenders toward the line of scrimmage. With more defenders on the line of scrimmage, the passing game opens up, and the defense is particularly susceptible to the play-action pass. Again, the defense is stressed, this time vertically.
Option football today
The best part of Faurot’s reasons for using his option football play out of the Split-T is that those reasons are still applicable today. If you ask an option coach why he runs the system he does, most will reply with the same reasons.
- Option football equalizes talent
- Option football leads to lots of yardage
- Option football opens the field up and provides opportunities for big plays
- Option football puts opposing defenses under a great deal of pressure.
After 70 years nothing has changed. Option football is still one of the best ways to gain yardage and score points in football.
Part 2 will be coming shortly and will get into the specifics of how to run the offense. If you have any questions or would like me to cover anything let me know in the comments.