A Unique Take on the Spread Offense

By Dave Christensen

We want to spread defenses and make them cover the whole field. Our base set is a two-by-two set, though personnel in those positions will change with situations and game plan.

The No. 1 receiver to the wide side aligns at the edge of the numbers. The No. 2 receiver is on the hash mark. Into the boundary, the No. 1 receiver aligns outside of the numbers. The No. 2 receiver to that side splits the difference between the tackle and the outside receiver.

We try to run seven to eight plays each game in unique formations in order to make teams spend practice time in preparing to play us. We use different sets for five straight weeks, and the players love the diversion. It adds to our offense, and it is difficult to defend.

The next formation we use is the 3-by-1 set. We number our receivers from the outside in. The boundary receiver is the single-receiver side of the set, aligning at the edge of the numbers. For the three receivers to the wide side, the No. 1 receiver aligns at the numbers, the No. 3 receiver is two yards inside the hash mark, and the No. 2 receiver splits the difference between the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers.

The other formation we use is the 3-by-2 set. This alignment gives us an empty set in the backfield, using the same boundary rules as the 2-by-2 set.

The wideside receivers align in the 3-by-1 set, and the boundary receivers are in the 2-by-2 alignment. The No. 2 receiver into the boundary splits the difference between the tackle and No. 1 receiver. It is not complex, and the rules are consistent. In this set, we can bunch the receivers to either side, but 90 percent of the time, we align in a normal formation.

The first time the offensive line coaches see these sets, it makes them a little nervous. There is a lot of space between our offensive linemen. We split the guard two to three feet from the center with the tackles splitting three to four feet from the guards.

In the shotgun, if you align your quarterback and running back at four-and-a-half yards, you cannot run the ball with those splits in the line. The quarterback has to be six-and-a-half yards deep. Our tailback aligns six-and-a-half yards deep on the offensive tackle. We cheat his alignment on some plays, but 90 percent of the time, that is his standard alignment.

With those splits in the offensive line, there will be penetration. Our offensive linemen come off the line with a zone step, but it is more of a back step. That means we cannot prevent some degree of penetration by the defensive line, so we must have the extra depth by the quarterback and the tailback to run the ball.

We experimented with the splits when we first started running this offense. If the splits are too tight or the tailback is too close, you cannot run the football. The penetration in the line will not allow the back to see the creases. The depth allows the line to get their hands and shoulders on the backs of the defenders and push them out of the way.

When we run the zone play, the tailback takes two steps to receive the ball. From there, he has a number of places he can run depending on how the defenders charge. He can take it front side or back side to the inside or outside. All of the zone plays break a little differently.

The idea about the offensive line splits came from what Texas Tech was doing. However, the additional depth gives us a chance to run the football. In this set, when we align our backs at five yards, that leads to a lot of negative yardage.

We start out in the empty set about 75 percent of the time, but when we add motion to the sets, it gives us a new dimension, many times motioning players back into the backfield to act as tailbacks. Defenses like to play a set alignment when we are in the empty set and something different when we have one back in the backfield. We use the quick motion to our advantage, keeping some teams from moving around in their defensive alignments.

We use the motion to go from a one-back set to a two-back set. We use it to go from an empty set to a one-back set and from a one-back set to an empty set.

Many people say that causes the defense to move and that causes problems. That is one of the best things we do.

Dave Christensen is a college football veteran of more than 30 seasons, including his last two stops at Texas A&M and Utah. Previously, Christensen was the head coach at Wyoming from 2009-13 and a longtime offensive assistant at Missouri and Toledo.