Incorporating Unbalanced Formations into Your Offense
Both Clemson and Ohio State use unbalanced formations in every game because it gives them a numbers advantage and causes havoc on defenses as they are tough to prepare for and difficult to align to properly. The other thing about these two teams is they play with tempo so their unbalanced looks are very subtle and usually once the defense recognizes, it’s too late. These two teams use these unbalanced sets more than many teams so if you are looking for ideas for using unbalanced, I would study Clemson and Ohio State. Hopefully this post will give you some great ideas on how you can incorporate unbalanced formations to your offensive system.
The first clip, Clemson starts in a Trips closed set and then shifts the Tight End over by stepping the #3 receiver on to the line of scrimmage. This gives Clemson all 4 receivers to the right side of the formation which is a good way to overload a defense to one side and run some sort of sweep. This particular play they make that shift to get the defense to overplay that side as you see the Safety roll down to the motion and they adjust to a single high look which makes the weak side very vulnerable. Well that’s exactly where they attack as they run a QB counter to the left with the RB becoming an extra lead blocker.
The next play, Clemson has both WR’s on the left and on the line of scrimmage which allows their single wide receiver to be off the ball and go into motion. Again it’s such a subtle thing that it can be hard to identify especially with tempo involved. Clemson also has a h-back and Rb stacked which they like to run QB power off of. Off this look, they get the number 1 receiver with a head of steam and pitch him the ball while the offensive line blocks the power play. This makes the defense account for the power play with the interior guys, and the end squeezes which gives the edge easily to the man in jet motion.
Here is another look at this play, as Clemson ran it a few times:
The next clip, shows the same look but this time, it’s a fake jet play and the QB runs the power. The idea behind this is to try and soften the defenders with the motion which gives the QB and offensive line a head start against the defense. Cam Newton really made this play famous in his time at Auburn. Here is that play:
Ohio State ran power a different way out of an unbalanced set. Ohio State loads the right side with a pro formation and the Wide receiver over which makes the defense defend a tight end and two wide receivers to one side with a full back off set in the same direction. Definitely a great way to overload one side. This is a great look to run power out of and gain a numbers advantage. The only drawback to this look is the backside edge is shorter and more susceptible if somebody comes off that backside. So what Ohio State does is use Jet Motion to hold the backside players, which actually ends up not just holding that backside end but also gets the corner to run with the Jet player which impedes the run fits of the LB and allows for a big play in a short yardage situation.
They do this again down on the goal line but this time they do not use the motion and just go right at the defense with the overload look:
Another look Ohio State uses with their base run game is to line up in Tight end trips but have the #1 WR to the trips step on the line which allows the backside WR to get off the line which enables him to motion. This time Ohio State is running their base inside zone look but they fake the Jet motion to hold the defense before giving it to the RB on the inside zone play. Clemson does a good job adjusting with the motion to minimize the gain. This is a great look for the true jet sweep too because you can get all your skills player out front blocking for the jet sweep. Ohio State didn’t run that in this game but definitely has that as an option off the same look.
The next couple clips shows some ways teams can use unbalanced in the passing game which is especially useful in the perimeter screen game where you can overload the defense from a numbers standpoint. Ohio State does this by lining up in a pro slot split backs look with the tight end over to the twins side. Then they motion one of their RB’s from the split backs look and run inside zone with the other RB. This is an RPO look where if the defense doesn’t adjust with the motion the QB can throw to the RB running a swing or if they do adjust he can hand the ball off on the inside zone which is also a good option. This is tough to defend because you essentially have 3 Wr’s to defend including that motion but also have to worry about that tight end create a gap on that side as well. Here is a look at this one:
Clemson has their own unbalanced way of creating numbers for a perimeter screen. In this clip, Clemson starts in a Trips set with the tight end on the backside but then shifts and motions the TE to the Trips side to make it a quads look. The defense doesn’t adjust in time and now Clemson has a numbers advantage and can get the ball to their best player in space with advantageous blocking numbers, 4 to 3. Here is this creative play design:
Another area you can expect to see a ton of unbalanced looks from these teams is when they get down in the red zone. Both teams make a conscious effort to create formations that will give them a numbers advantage at the point of attack to help them come away with points once they get to the red zone. This first look which Clemson likes to do from a muddle huddle where they break away quick to try and prevent the defense from recognizing and lining up correctly. It’s a pro slot tight end over formation with the FB offset strong to try and overload the defense and get the ball to the edge. They also line up under center and pitch it out there to make it hit even quicker. Auburn loves to use this play as well. Here is that look:
Another look they have used in the red zone was a Twins open look but both WR’s to the twins were on the line to allow the backside #1 to motion. In this particular play the single WR is actually an RB who shifts to the backfield and the QB runs inside zone bluff with two lead blockers. If the defensive end crashes the QB can pull with two lead blockers to the backside. If the end comes upfield then the QB can just give the RB the ball on the inside zone. This is a very creative play design and again is very easy for the offense but very complicated for the defense to align too and get the right run fits.
Clemson uses the same formation a different time but this time the #1 Wr runs a fake jet and they run a QB counter going in the opposite direction. That flash motion holds the defense and then Clemson comes back the other direction with the guard kicking out with an h-back pulling under the kickout for an LB.
All of these unbalanced plays are from one game between Clemson and Ohio State which illustrates how both these teams have similar offensive philosophies and like to use unbalanced in some way throughout their games especially in short yardage and red zone situations. They will also use these types of looks in order to get their player makers the ball in space with a numbers advantage. Hopefully this post gives you some ideas of how you can incorporate unbalanced formations into your offense. Most of you probably have these plays in your offensive system, so it’s not teaching new techniques or plays but rather just window dressing with formation which is easy to implement on offense while causing a great deal of stress on the defense at the same time.