The Run & Shoot offense is most likely one of the misunderstood offenses in all of football. Similarly, terms like West Coast Offense and "The Spread Offense" are often used interchangeably as misnomers and used loosely. This author wishes to set the facts straight as to the origin, premise, philosophy, and myths about the great offense that has been proliferated on all levels, and particularly by the Spartans at the High School level in Ohio.
The Abridged History of the Run & Shoot:
In 1958 Tiger Glen Ellison, coach of the Middletown Middies of Middletown, Ohio was in a position of having lost the first few games of the season and was searching for a way to win. To excite his players and try to ignite offensive production, Ellison devised the new Lonesome Polecat offense. The offense was a rudimentary attempt at spreading out the defense and exploiting it. Suffice it to say that the only rules for the receivers were, "Im going where you ain't!" as Ellison put it. The offense worked, turning around the Middies season. (On a side note, Valley View ran version of this throwback offense against Carlisle in 2009 due to being plagued by injuries).
Ellison saw the writing on the wall, and quickly set to formalizing an offense that maintained the same concepts of spreading out the defense and putting skill and speed in space. The result was a more refined, Run & Shoot that focused more on attacking one or two defenders rather than the sandlot/jailbreak feel of the Lonesome Polecat. Thus, the origin of the Run & Shoot and a true spread offensive scheme was born in Ohio contrary to these offensive schemes often being referred to as "The West Coast Offense".
However, in the 1970s the Run & Shoot made its way to the west coast with Darrell Mouse Davis taking Ellison's concepts and employing them at Portland State University. Davis refined the system into a more systematic form, and maintained originally only 3 running plays and approximately 7 passing plays. Davis focused each play on attacking a specific defender or defensive scheme. The result was a high octane offense and success for Portland St. From these early days the offense saw some success in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the NFL level with the Atlantic Falcons and the USFL Houston Gamblers. Further, the Shoot was used successfully at the University of Houston. Most recently, June Jones used the shoot to propel the University of Hawaii to national prominence in the WAC conference, and now has taken Southern Methodist University to its first bowl since the 1980s when the NCAA instituted the Death Penalty.
The Basic Premise & Philosophy of the Run & Shoot
The basic premise and philosophy of the Run & Shoot is three fold: 1. Utilize Space To Your Advantage; 2. Create Personnel Mismatches; 3. Adjust according to the Talent you have.
1. Utilize Space To Your Advantage: "Putting Speed in Space"
From a basic standpoint, the seemingly complex Run & Shoot is simple. Stretch the Defense Horizontally Across the field by formation and changing offensive splits of players accordingly and Stretch the Defense vertically by the threat of going over the top on the deep ball. This two way stretch creates problems because now 11 guys cover a greater area than they do when an offense is more compact in its alignment. If a defender tries to creep off a slot receiver to help in the box or rush the passer, the offense had built in hot reads and checks to combat this. Further more the deep threat forces the corners and safety that may be in run support to back off and honor the threat. That typically means a Run & Shoot team may only see 6-7 defenders in the box instead of 8-9 which is often the case at the high school level. This obviously creates opportunities in the running game.
2. Create Personnel Mismatches: "Pick Your Poison"
The offensive formation and the strain it places on the defensive naturally means that it limits the looks and coverages a Run & Shoot team is likely to see and also creates mismatches in coverage situations. A defensive coordinator will be faced with either putting his safeties in man on the slot receivers and losing help over the top and run support (also man coverage means that the QB is usually left unaccounted for) or putting an outside linebacker on the slots which likely will create a mismatch in favor of the offense. Add to the mix an athletic Singleback out of the backfield against a middle LB and you have a defensive coordinators worst nightmare. Creativity and match-ups in this offense are only limited by the personnel a team has on a given year. With maximum talent and execution this offense borders being unstoppable.
3. Adjust According to the Talent & Personnel You Have: "Flexibility is the Key to Success"
Probably the fundamentally most valuable attribute of the Run & Shoot at the high school level, is the ability to tailor the scheme to the personnel you have on any given year. Unless you are a large school with tons of talent to choose from, or are a private school that may draw in greater talent from various districts, your personnel will be limited by the boys in your district on a given year. Some years you will be more situated to focus on the passing aspects of the offense, other years you will be more situated to run the football. On rare years you will be equally situated to do both, and you have something really special.
Starting from the bottom up, the Run & Shoot at its purest form is a balanced 2x2 receiver set with a singleback in the backfield directly behind the QB under center. In Shotgun the Singleback will flex to the right or the left of the QB traditionally (the Pistol variation puts the SB behind the QB, but the QB is at a shallower depth). This balanced set lends itself to flexibility and unpredictability. On a given year, as long as you have a decent passing threat, you can tailor the offense around a very good Singleback and offensive line to rack up large numbers on the ground, or you can tailor it to a finesse and speedy core of receivers and a smart QB to throw up astronomical passing numbers (Kenton anyone?). The determination of how the Run & Shoot will present itself on a given year will depend just on that, the personnel you have at your disposal.
This differs from more regimented, rigid offensive systems. Many times, systems like the Wing T or I-Formation are personnel dependent. If you do not have a stud Fullback and good, quick lineman you are not going to have a good offense. Many coaches in spite of that employ these systems and suffer cycles of rebuilding, with down years when their personnel is just not up to snuff. While heart, desire, and grit can make up for a lack of size and talent, it is an uphill battle. With the Run & Shoot a coach can downplay his weaknesses and focus on his strengths. Further, a weaker team running the spread may not have its weaknesses exploited as much, or suffer as much, because of the advantage that spacing gives to the offense. Lineman do not have to block as long or drive as hard (shielding more the plowing), receivers that are not as fast can learn to run good route and use speed and route concepts. Quarterbacks who do not have a cannon of an arm can benefit from the short, quick passes that dominate the offense....etc. etc.
Myths Dispelled: "The Run & Shoot is becoming extinct because..."
Many people believe (or would like you to believe), that the Run & Shoot is in a state of decay and extinction and has been for the greater part of 10-15 years. This simply is not true. While on the College and Pro Level it is not widely seen for a number of reasons (speed of the game at those levels, and an overall misunderstanding of the system) the system is alive and well on the high school level and at Southern Methodist University.
Myth #1: The Run & Shoot is a flash in the pan passing game
The Run & Shoot is what your personnel dictates it to be. Some years it may be a "flash in the pan" passing attack. Some coaches lend themselves to utilizing the offense in this way (Mauk at Kenton). However, the Run & Shoot can equally be as effective as a run first offense. As long as there is sufficient threat for a QB to at least make hot reads and throws to keep the defense from stacking the box, the offense can flourish as a running attack. The 6-7 defenders normally in the box cannot effectively account for the QB and Singleback running the ball out of the run and shoot. In sheer numbers you have 7 on 7, or 7 on 6. Further, if you employ option concepts into the run and shoot (zone read, counter option/dart read, speed option) it makes one defender less to be blocked because he is the "read key". Therefore, the numbers become skewed to 7 on 6 (If 7 in the box) or 7 on 5 (if 6 are in the box) in the offenses' favor. One doesn't need to look any further than the fact that Valley View has had two singlebacks near or above 2,000 yards when employing the Run & Shoot. Furthermore, Covington runs the option out of the 2x2 formation to great success, dominating the Cross County Conference and being a perennial playoff team.
Myth # 2: Defenses have caught up to the Run & Shoot
While it is true that many teams in the early 1990s had no idea what the heck was going on, and much of the scoring could be attributed to the defensive ineptitude of coordinators, the Run & Shoot cannot be "caught up to" by defenses. Sure, Defensive Coordinators have a better handle on what is going on and what the Run & Shoot is trying to do to them. They have adapted better defense schemes to put more athletes and speed on the field and have had some success or at least closed the glaring gap that was present in the early years.
However, for one reason......the defenses can never "Catch up" to the Run & Shoot when it is executed properly....
Whats the reason? The offense is not static, it is dynamic. The whole offensive philosophy is based on reacting to what the defense presents you after the snap of the football. Therefore, if the players running the Run & Shoot execute, they convert their routes based on coverage etc., a defense can NEVER be right.
Many people claim the answer is to heat up the QB. They say it will throw off the timing or at the very least you will give up point but knock him out of the game. I personally would never blitz the heck out of a Run & Shoot team with any regularity. If you are going to blitz is must be at a calculated time, and you must vary the look and who is blitzing in an attempt to cause misreads and confusion. Otherwise, you will likely see the scoreboard light up.
Next time: Personnel required to effectively run the Run & Shoot.