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Secrets of the Split T, part 6: Let's talk blocking and adjustments

The Savitar

With the playbook out of the way, it's time to get to the fundamentals. Chapters 13 and 14 of Secrets of the "Split T" deal with blocking and adjustments.

Blocking for the Split T

It has been said that the deceptiveness and swift striking power of the "Split T" will assure ground gains even without blocking. A famous Missourian, Mark Twain, once made a now-famous remark: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." We should like to paraphrase his statement and say that reports of our "blockless" offense have been greatly exaggerated.

This is as close to humor as Don Faurot got in this book. More wit than humor, I guess. And "greatly exaggerated" jokes probably weren't as common 65 years ago, huh?

At Missouri we try to make blocking a tradition, a matter of personal pride to team members. Our coaches always give all the credit for a successful play to the men clearing the path, not the ball carrier. Our linemen and fullback need this encouragement. The press and radio generally take good care of our ball carriers because they must stress what the fans want to know: Who carried the ball? Who scored the touchdown? The running back is always the showpiece, the linemen and blocking fullback always the unsung heroes.

Either the campaigning worked, or the effects of solid line play were obvious. Between 1935 and 1955, Missouri boasted 68 all-conference performers -- 33 were linemen.

Kinds of blocks

A. Individual line blocks

1. Shoulder block
2. Long block
3. Reverse block
4. Tie-up block
5. Passive block

B. Downfield blocks

1. Running shoulder block
2. Rolling hip block

C. Combination block

Faurot spends quite a few pages outlining the proper techniques for each of these types of blocks. Here's an example:

Combination Block

Two-on-one block

This block is generally executed by two linemen but may be used by the end and wingback. In double-teaming, the first consideration is that the two men work with, not against, each other. This two-on-one block casts one man as a post and the other as a driving force to turn the defensive player. Both blockers must step off with the same foot so that they cannot be separated.

Here is a typical example. To take a defensive player to the left, the offensive pair step with the right foot in the defensive player's direction. The post man shoots his head and shoulders directly under and into the thighs of the man to be blocked. His next task is to raise the defensive player, turn to his left, and drive in the same direction as the power blocker. The impact of the power block comes from the outside as the blocker buries his left shoulder about hip high. He is roughly one foot higher than the post blocker. It is the post man's duty to stop the defensive lineman while the power blocker turns him down the line of scrimmage. The idea is to turn the defensive player; it is not necessary to move him back one inch.

When college football began, it was a "three yards and a cloud of dust" sport. Even when the rules adjustments of the early 20th century opened the game up a bit to decrease injuries, it was still power über alles. The option allowed a little bit of misdirection into the equation, and over time, blocking became less about pushing your guy over and more about keeping your guy out of the runner's way. Since the Split T was originally conceived as a way to make up for disadvantages in size and athleticism, it makes sense that this would be the goal of the blocking, too.

Fundamentals of blocking

A. Eyes open and on the target
B. A wide base for best operation
C. Body position: head up, tail down, good balance
D. Hit coming up with low leverage
E. Good follow-through; keep feet digging

I don't think this has changed much.

Methods of Practicing blocking

A. High-standing dummy

1. Shoulder block
2. Hip block
3. Tie-up block

B. Swinging dummy for downfield blocking

C. Row of standing dummies

D. Blocking live defensive man

1. One-on-one shoulder block
2. Two-on-one combination blocks

E. Scrimmage against defensive line

F. Scrimmage against defensive backs

Lots of detail here, too, though I imagine technology has improved the equipment just a smidge in this regard.

Blocking is probably the skill most difficult for a young player to perfect. It requires continued work and guidance on the part of the coaches. A player with plenty of fortitude will sometimes tackle well from the start, but it may take him years to learn blocking finesse. The common faults of blockers are lunging forward and consequent loss of balance, and failure to maintain contact. Most players have the nerve required of good blockers, yet few ever attain greatness at it.

I like the way this was described. Anybody can be decent at it, few can be great at it.

Meeting the Changing Defenses

Aside from the obvious size differences of the players themselves, the way the game has changed the most since 1950 is in communication. This chapter spelled that out pretty well.

The football coach's biggest pre-game problem is figuring out the defenses his next weekend's opponents are likely to play against him. When the players go on the field they will be on their own and will have trouble if the coach has not anticipated all the offensive adjustments necessary to meet the opponent's moves. Although the coach may send in information and may even substitute players while the game is in progress, it is difficult for him to make major offensive changes at that time.

"May even substitute players." Here's your reminder that players went both ways and substitutions were limited. I knew this, but I always tended to think of it as an endurance thing as much as anything else. But really, it made football almost like soccer in its limited opportunities to communicate with players. If the defense gave up a score, there was little time to do anything about it because the same players had to back out to play offense.

The offensive quarterback can call the different types of blocking more effectively than can a man in the line because the quarterback has the "best seat in the house" for looking over primary and secondary defenders. He can describe the defensive situation by calling two numbers. For example, a 53 call would indicate five men on the line of scrimmage and three linebackers; a 62 call would be translated as six men on the line of scrimmage and two linebackers.

The quarterback must be certain that our offensive linemen know the defensive set-up confronting them, so he is instructed to wait until the defense gets set before he calls the snap signal. We vary this procedure on a few "quickie" plays in which the ball is snapped as soon as our offensive team assumes its stance. This technique is often used at the start of the game in an attempt to force the defense to show immediately. Instead of using a pre-shift, we come out of the huddle and line up hurriedly, ready to go.

Offense itself has grown infinitely more complicated through the years, and QBs are far more well-drilled, but the amount of pre-snap information the QB had to process on the field in 1950, without a ton of feedback from the coaches, was immense and probably not that much more than what currently exists.

We teach our offensive line and backfield specific blocking assignments on each of the above defenses. Blocking in the line is similar on 53 and 54 defenses, but the men assigned to the backers-up must proceed in a different manner. They must take into account the extra linebacker and the changed position of all backers-up in the 5-4-2 defense. All of these defenses fall in the odd or even classes explained in Chapter 2. The quarterback's call of the defense affects all the players of the offensive team.

"Backers-up." Adding this to the long list of terms I want to try to bring back.

Against certain defenses, specific plays are very successful. When the offensive signal caller observes one of these tailor-made situations, he may use a code signal to call an automatic play. These must be well rehearsed so that the whole team will understand exactly the meaning of the code call.


The coach must spend enough time with all quarterbacks to assure their understanding of how to adapt their offensive team to the most complicated defenses. The signal caller should never let a play start that does not have a good chance of succeeding. He must change quickly to a play that has a chance of working against the defense at hand. Otherwise a down will be wasted; the wasted down might well terminate a sustained drive and snuff out a scoring opportunity.

Art Briles says that every play Baylor runs is designed to score. That's a really fun mentality. I'm sure even 1940s Missouri ran plays that weren't expected to succeed greatly and were designed more to set up another play for later on -- Faurot said as much in earlier chapters -- but this attacking mindset had to be relatively rare in the quick kick era. For so much of football's history, the first role of the offense was "don't screw anything up for the defense."

It is a foregone conclusion that in this day of changing defenses one will meet many unorthodox defensive set-ups. The only way to insure successful offensive operation against them is all-out preparedness. Have fewer offensive plays, but know how to use them against all the standard and unorthodox defenses.

A smaller playbook, but not in a Remember the Titans, "they know what we're going to run, but we'll out-execute them anyway" type of way.

Football games are usually won on the practice field during the week, not in the dressing room between halves. Saturday is generally too late to show your boys how to solve your opponent's defense.