Why Leach used extra wide line splits

Why Leach used extra wide line splits

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  • Here's an excerpt from an article I found written by Chris Brown a few years ago. I think it's very interesting!

    "Linemen splits. It was impossible to flip over to a Texas Tech game and not be shocked at the enormous amount of space between the offensive linemen, at least as compared with other teams. The trend across football had been a tightening and homogenization of line splits as every team seemed to go to a basic inside zone/outside zone running game, and on the outside zone in particular teams used relatively small splits. But then there was Leach’s Red Raider offense. It was weird stuff, but there was method to the madness.

    In the game cut-ups from Leach’s year at Oklahoma you can clearly see his move to a four-wide set and, with it, some of the advantages of that approach in terms of having another immediate downfield receiving threat and a clearer picture for the quarterback. But the clips also show some issues the Sooners had in pass protection, particularly against Colorado and Texas as they used blitzes from safeties and outside defenders who came free. Back then, the primary response was either for the quarterback to check the play to a quick pass, to try to identify a hot receiver to throw the ball quickly to, or to bring an inside receiver in “orbit” motion (where he goes one direction and then pivots back to the opposite directly) and essentially become an extra runningback to check release after watching for the extra blocker. These worked but were unsatisfactory answers. The solution Leach came up with were these maximum splits, which had the effect of (a) stretching the defensive line from sideline to sideline, lengthening the space they had to rush from and (b) making any extra interior blitzers or guys who wanted to shoot the gaps more obvious. In terms of the passing game, Leach felt that it put his guys at a significant advantage. As he put it:

    To me, the ultimate offenses in terms of distribution are what we do and the old school wishbone offense and both of them have wide splits with their lineman. We would do it for zone run lanes and pass blocking assignments because the edge guys are now wider from the QB than they would be. We start out at three feet. If we had no trouble in blocking them than we would widen, if we had trouble then we’d tighten them. Defenses would try to keep a guy in the middle of a gap and shoot that gap, if they did that we would keep it at three feet. We would just take deeper drop steps to get angles in our run game. No defenses ever had success in doing that [shooting gaps] against us because, again, it wasn’t something they would consistently do so they weren’t comfortable in doing it. They’re not good at just shooting gaps because they haven’t done it except for three practices in preparing to defend us.

    The interplay of the wide line splits with the run game was also interesting, however. The wide line splits made it impossible to use double-teams like traditional zone running teams did, and as a result it was more about each lineman blocking his man one-on-one. But, because the only time Leach wanted to run the ball is if the numbers in the box were extremely favorable, the wide line splits helped his linemen in their run blocking because they almost always had angles. If the defense tried to stretch out with his linemen, there were almost always running lanes inside; if they tried to pinch down and shoot the gaps, it was easy enough for his linemen to block down and seal the edge for his runners to scoot around edge. And while his teams weren’t known for their rushing prowess, they did have some success. In 2008, for example, Leach’s top two rushers combined for 1,475 yards on over 5.8 yards per carry.

    At one time or another, Leach coached every position on offense, including offensive line. And he had strong views of how line should be played, and both he and Mumme firmly believed in the value of one-on-one battles. While slide pass protection and zone blocking have increasingly become the rage, Leach always focused on “man blocking,” where the goal was to win the battle versus the guy across from you. The wide splits were simply that principle taken to its extreme: each lineman split out enough to where he was essentially on an island, as far from the quarterback as possible. On the line, at least, the goal was actually to have as many one-on-one matchups as possible. And Leach was confident his guys would win them."

  • Discussion
  • Good article - thanks

  • Thanks!

  • I have been waiting on Leach to have a breakout year in the P12, but it has not happened yet. Don't know if it is his athletes (talent) or if the Leach offense is not that new and radical in the P12 and therefore more straightforward to defend in the P12?

    Thoughts?