By David Buchanan
Mercer County Senior High School (KY)
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Unbalanced lines have been a big part of our offense for 27 years for several reasons. But, the most significant of the two:
1: Our rival at Paris HS (1992-1995) was Coach Roger Gruneisen's Bourbon County team and they played Cover Zero in their base defense. An unbalanced line gave us an extra man at the point of attack while also putting the FS in man coverage away from strength, who was covering our TE. That gave us a net gain of at least one player and if they aligned improperly, two players. In fact, our base goal line & short yardage set we still use in 2019 is an unbalanced power I that we created specifically for Bourbon County's defense.
2: Studying Homer Smith's Manual's on football, I became obsessed with numbers, the defense's ability to get defenders across the midline, and the ability of a defense to "fit" on multiple sets.... sets that were unbalanced and unconventional.
Our overwhelming tendency is that we will run to strength because defenses struggle to fit to it and get numbers across the midline. But we have developed a way to attack the weak side that has been successful when defenses are able to do both above.
The unbalanced line also gives us a chance to maximize the use of our best players at the point of attack. On the 3-man surface, we can utilize two offensive tackles and our best guard to have a great run surface. A concept I stole from Coach Alvis Johnson at old Harrodsburg HS in the '80s is to go unbalanced and put two studs (Shon Seibert: TE & Jim Pittman: OL) on the weakside/ 2-man surface side. Watch the defense slide to strength, then hammer them to the weak side with superior personnel.
Weakside Counter Trey, Isolation, and Sweep
Our favorite play to the unbalanced side is a basic, gap down, off-tackle play. The entire offensive line blocks the inside gap. The fullback kicks out the End Man on the LOS (EMOL). My coaches have teased me about our multiple sets and say all we do is find a million ways to run off-tackle. They are correct.
To the weak side, this concept is a good complement/counter to our off-tackle play. The play side OL (Guard & Tackle or Guard and Tight End) will block their inside gap to the linebacker. The center will block back for the pulling Guard. If the Center has a 0 technique, he will post the NG before he blocks back. The BS Guard will pull and kick out the EMOL. The BS Tackle will pull and "hug the wall". He will block the first defender he sees, working inside out. Generally, it turns out to be the play side inside linebacker. Counter Trey to the two-man surface is an A gap play for us. We want to collapse the A gap and have the TB run it tight, so we do not block the outside linebacker. Most of these coaching points come from good friend and former opponent, Leon Hart when he coached at Ashland Paul Blazer HS. Leon was also the OC at Eastern KY University for Coach Roy Kidd during their heyday.
The fullback will block the most dangerous defender backside that is past the defender being blocked by the center. Usually, it is a 4 technique or wider. The 3rd OL to the unbalanced side will rip and try to get to the Free Safety and block him, usually. But his assignment can vary based on a weekly game plan issue.
To the weak side/ 2-man surface gives us a simple & sound way to break our tendency of running to strength. We will isolate in the weak side A or B gap. We have a system for calling the Isolation play to the gap that does not have a defensive lineman in the gap. The OL adjacent to the gap will create width by turning out. All the other OL will either block the man on them or step with the play side foot and block the first defender in their path. For the most part, we tell our offensive linemen where to go and then block whoever is there. If it sounds simple, it is. We try to give our guys schemes/techniques that are simple to execute and use formations, often unbalanced sets, to create the advantage of angles. We also create a new look for the defense so that they cannot play as fast and pounce on a play.
Our fullback will fill the gap and block the first defender to enter the hole. Generally, we hope that our backside guard can get to the backside ILB. A great time to call the Isolation play is when the linebackers overcompensate in their slide to the strength. It makes it hard for the BS ILB to make it all the way back over through the trash to make the play on the isolation play. Any offensive play that helps eliminate the BS ILB is a good one. Usually, that is the toughest guy to block in a gap scheme.
To the weak side, sweep is a great answer for us when the defense can properly adjust to our unbalanced, especially if they do so by sliding their defensive linemen. Our EMOL will hook a head up defender. If there is none, he will block his inside gap to the linebacker. The play side guard will pull and block the first defender outside of our EMOL (usually the TE in our unbalanced sets). The fullback will block the first defender outside of the G's block. We draw on the video/HUDL screen and tell our guys that the fullback and guard will block the defenders in their "alley".
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- The 4-man surface package that Coach Buchanan and his staff uses as a changeup, which includes seven offensive linemen.
- The PAP package that Coach Buchanan and his staff use off all of these run concepts, including the complement reverses.
- How these same concepts can be run from shotgun formations.
- The 3-back set package that Coach Buchanan and his staff uses in goal line/short yardage situations.
- Plus, game film of all these concepts.
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Unbalanced formations have given us the ability to make the defense uncomfortable. We can manipulate matchups on the LOS to help us win those matchups with both personnel and angles. When you throw in the variations of a four-man surface, 3 back set, shotgun, reverse and play action, we have several options in choosing ways to attack our opponents with a fresh, but sound approach each week.
Meet Coach David Buchanan: David is the son of a HS football coach, John Buchanan, and is entering his 28th season as a head coach. Previously the head coach at both Paris HS (4 years) and Mason County HS (19 years), he is entering his 5th season at Mercer County Senior HS. David is married to Stephanie and they have three children, John Combs, Emma & Trosper.