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unbalanced1By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Nearly 70% of coaches polled are using unbalanced formations in some way each week.  Find out how and why they are using this age old tactic in their running games.



By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs


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Editor’s Note:  When referencing unbalanced formations, we’re referring to any formation where there are no players on the line of scrimmage to one side of the formation. Rules say there must be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage. 


With the advent of the "Wildcat" offensive package several years ago, we started to find that more teams are beginning to use unbalanced formations at the point of attack to run the football.  While we realize that this is nothing new to football- the "lonesome polecat" utilized over 50 years ago can attest to that- we did find that more coaches are finding innovative ways to get more players to the point of attack pre-snap and create advantages in the run and pass game.

The fact is 35.6 percent of coaches use unbalanced formations between 6-10 snaps a game, 33.7 percent use them five snaps or less.  So when we developed our survey on unbalanced formations, we wanted to find out why coaches will use these formations and what they use them for.   So we asked them.  The results are below:  Some of their reasoning is below:

Case 1: Reasons for Unbalanced Sets, Various Personnel Groupings/ Types of Unbalanced Formations

Reasons for using unbalanced formations: 

  • 27.4 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets to get an extra blocker on the perimeter.  This helps with perimeter run game schemes like toss, speed option, outside zone and jet sweep.
  • 26.5 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets in order to create and extra gap in the run game.  We’ve found this is more suitable to gap schemes like power and counter.
  • 15.6 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets just to "create a different picture" for the defense.  As one coach told us in our survey, "defenses just don’t know how to adjust to them."

Other write-in responses included:

  • "The defense has to prepare for something they do not see every week, or even ever again that season. We get an extra gap the defense has to defend and often times the coaches and/or players do not know how to handle defending that gap. It brings at least 8 guys into the box, which opens up our play action tremendously well. By using the motions in an unbalanced set we can dictate what the defense will do rather then them dictating what we are going to do."- Collins Wetzel
  • "Combination of reason--overload a side, attack weaker personnel, make defense think about adjusting and losing concentration on keys etc,"- Rick Jones
  • "To create a +1 in either the run game, screen game or take advantage of their coverage,"- Jesse German
  • "We create an extra gap and different picture for the defense but it also allows us to do things that a defense might not be prepared for (motioning a previously ineligible man)."- Mike Dolan
  • "I will use it as a part of a no-huddle and run the unbalanced to our hash. We will have 2 TE's in the game with a slot receiver and 2 backs (22 personnel). Our unbalanced is with our OL. We will move one tackle to the other side with one TE opposite on the line and the slot to the weak side, so essentially it’s a tackle over. I will also run it on the first sound so the defense doesn’t have time to adjust to our extra man, plus being so far away from the visitors sideline the other coaching staff may not pick it up,"- Steven Croce
  • "As a former defensive coordinator I don't think there is any good to adjust to the unbalanced. If your an odd front team your nose can't beat up my center any more, he has to play on the strong guard if you are an even front team your 3 tech is now going to be on my center or tackle. It put the defense in an uncomfortable position,"- Jerome Learman
  • "We feel that blocking play side is a math problem. I want more players play side then the defense has. It is very simple, if I have more players at the point of attack then you do I will win 90-95% of the plays run there,"- Mike Woodward

Offensive "Structures" that utilize unbalanced formations


The common thought was that only unconventional offenses like the Wing T or option style systems employed "end over" or unbalanced formations, but the truth is various offensive systems are finding ways to create unique formations that give them an advantage at the point of attack.  Perhaps it was the success that Boise State and Stanford University had (both of which we’ll detail later on) that triggered more coaches to utilize some of the same sets.  While we are hesitant to label offenses into "systems" we were curious to find out which types of offensive structures will use unbalanced sets.  Now, we realize this could be a measure of which kind of coaches are involved in our surveys, but in either case, our findings are below:

  • Spread Offensive structure- 41.6 percent (this surprised us)
  • Multiple "I" formation structure- 25 percent
  • Wing T offensive structure- 23.1 percent
  • Pure option structure- 6.9 percent

Case 2: Gap Run Games in Unbalanced Formations

We’ve found that teams that run gap schemes out of unbalanced sets do so because of two main reasons:

  1. An extra player on the line of scrimmage creates and extra gap in the run game- one that a defense must account for.  We’ve found that most four down teams that adjust with their front are susceptible to getting gashed in unbalanced sets because they can’t account for the extra gap.
  2. Using unbalanced sets to run down/down/kick out schemes allows you to bring a player from the other side of the line of scrimmage to be the kick out player in power.  Now you have a puller and an extra kick out player to run the power scheme.

Stanford University is one of the teams that believe in creating an extra gap by bringing another offensive lineman into the gap.  Stanford apply calls this personnel grouping "Balco" (named after the San Francisco area laboratory implicated in the MLB steroids scandal) which is used to bring a little more "juice" into its offensive system.  Stanford will line up in a four-man surface in an "I" formation backfield and run its power scheme strong and weak.  X&O Labs had the privilege of vising with the Cardinal offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren who expounded on his double team progression when running its power scheme.


Our intent in this report is not to detail the complete power concept, but showcase some of the formations that teams use to run the scheme.

The formations that Stanford University uses are detailed below:

To see clips of Stanford’s unbalanced power scheme, click on the link below:

Chris Petersen at Boise State prefers to run his power concept out of a pro-style unbalanced formation with Z on the line of scrimmage.  Petersen will motion to the unbalanced formation, which we’ve found that only 39 percent of coaches will use pre-snap movement or shifts to get into unbalanced looks.  Boise does run the scheme both weak and strong, but will usually use the offset fullback or H-back to motion and be the kick out blocker on the line of scrimmage.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the QB gap schemes used in unbalanced formations.  Of course, anytime the QB is a ball carrier, an offense has 10 players to block 11.  Norfolk State University (VA), the MEAC champions of last season, ran their QB gap scheme with an element of fly motion that draws defenders out of the box.

This report is continued below...


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  • The most popular types of unbalanced formations according to our readers
  • The most common run concepts used with these formations
  • Stanford University's Power rules out of its "Balco" formation
  • A video tutorial on the coaches tape of Boise State University's unbalanced run game
  • Norfolk State University's "read power" concept out of its spread unbalanced formations
  • Auburn High School head coach Gordon Elliot's complete HUDL presentation on his unbalanced jet sweep run game out of his Wing T sets
  • A video tutorial on Villanova University's wildcat package out of its unbalanced formations
  • Plus much more!

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Report continued from above...

Norfolk State will use the fly motion to influence the force player to get him out of the box.  According to Steve Canter, the former QB coach at Norfolk State, "there has to be great timing on the mesh of the fly sweep," he says.  "The fullback has to work to kick out the defensive end.  If he does a great job of spilling blocks, we will read him and have the fullback bypass him and block the running lane.

The formations that Norfolk State University uses are detailed below:


Case 3: Zone Scheme Runs in Unbalanced Formations

It would seem that zone runs might be more productive out of unbalanced sets because of the leverage available on the perimeter.  Once an offense gets and extra blocker out there, defenses have to make the decision on whether or not it wants to match the overload (in which offenses may have an advantage away) or keep numbers to the weak side (giving the advantage to the offense toward the unbalanced).


We’ve found that one of the more prominent schemes to use out of unbalanced is the fly or jet sweep scheme that teams such as the University of Oregon have made so popular.  Perhaps it was Urban Meyer, now the head coach at The Ohio State University who made the fly sweep trendy in major college football.   Meyer would use an unbalanced formation to run the fly sweep scheme.  The key to him was to get a player like Johnny Demps, the track star turned football player at the University of Florida to snatch the mesh going full speed.

The formations that the University of Florida used under Urban Meyer are detailed below:

Although the film is grainy, you could see exactly how Meyer would out-leverage defenses, such as the University of Mississippi by using his unbalanced sets.

Another prominent unbalanced concept is the two back toss sweep used by George Klupchak.   Klupchak will run the scheme out his two-back trips alignment (which he calls Jumbo) with the X on line of scrimmage (Diagram 15).  To Klupchak, players have to communicate defensive alignments, and he does so by using simple verbiage that he details below (Diagram 16).


Case 4: Wildcat Runs

Finally, there is a good deal of coach’s who will use unbalanced sets and use the wildcat run game.  Why not, particularly if you have an athlete in the backfield that can snag snaps, as Villanova University did with Matt Szczur when the Wildcats won the FCS National Championship in 2009.   Villanova logged a handful of snaps each game during the regular season- and even more during the playoffs- with Szczur under center.  The Wildcats ran the gap and zone schemes out of the following formations, with Szczur averaging 7.5 yards per carry.


Concluding Report

We realize that you are smack dab into the season, but our hope is that you can implement one or more of these schemes into your system today, of course, without losing your identify as an offense.  We all know it’s a fine line between maintaining your system and sinking into the "play of the day" mentality so by all means do what you do - and if this generates an idea, well…we won’t hold you back.

Questions or Comments? Post your questions or comments below and Mike Kuchar will respond shortly.




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