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One of the more highly publicized offenses of the past two years (especially this year) has been the Gus
Malzahn orchestrated attack at Auburn. With Auburn playing Oregon for the national championship in just
over a week, Malzahn, Cam Newton and what Auburn does on offense has been a hot topic not only in
the media but also the coaching ranks.

Auburn's running game relies heavily on power running schemes which are by no means new to football.
Malzahn has simply tweaked and altered existing concepts and utilized them in way's that may or may
have not been tried before. The buck sweep is no different, as it has been a staple of wing-t offenses for
decades now, it is also the first play I'll look at.

Chris Brown of smart football fame dissected Auburn's buck sweep last year as part of a great post for Dr.
Saturday so check that out if you're looking for even more information. And for even more on the topic
check out Brohpy's coverage of the "hand sweep" as it is called.

(***note...I was unaware of Brophy's extensive posts on the Auburn run game before beginning my
endeavor, hopefully I can contribute something new to the discussion.***)

A diagram of the play out of a base wing-t look is shown below:

Note the down blocks at the point of attack by the tight end (Y) and wing back (W). Also note the blocks of
both guards, with the front side guard kicking out the force player (the corner) and the back side guard
leading through the hole. The half backs path is not a true sweep path as he is not trying to "get the
edge", it is more akin to a "power" play, with the half back getting vertical as soon as he finds daylight.

Also note that the buck sweep was only one of a few in a series of plays. The other two staples being the
FB trap and the Waggle pass. Unlike the wing-t version, Malzahn does not have an inside fake to hold the
defense, instead Malzahn utilizes other plays (counters, reverses, PAP, etc.) which still give his version of
the buck sweep the semblance of being a part of a series.

Malzahn (as I'll show you) literally finds as many possible ways to run his base plays out of as many
formations and motions as possible. Which when combined with his frantic no-huddle pace is where he
really has put his stamp on the offensive landscape in football.
The formation on this particular play is one of Malzahns favorite looks. He employs a twins look to the
right, with a split end to the left. Along with an H-back and tail back positioned in the backfield with
Newton. Some formation notes related specifically to running the buck sweep.

The H is utilized heavily in this offense. His role on most buck sweep plays is a seal on
the DE. This also means his alignment is somewhere in the vicinity of the offensive tackle. Whether it is
directly behind the OT, slightly outside of him and off the LOS or slightly inside of him and off the LOS.
Malzahn employs lots of motion and movement to get his H-back into this alignment. The H-backs
alignment is also employed on numerous other types of plays as well, so it's not a complete tell to the

2)     On many of Auburn's buck sweeps Malzahn will employ a tight split by a
split end, or a close slot receiver. He is usually sent inside to seal the first linebacker that shows. Much
like the H-back, Malzahn will use lots of motion and also different players to disguise the plays intention.

Below, the H will be sent in motion before the snap and will set up just outside the left tackle. And I've
also highlighted the tight split by the split end who will be responsible for the first backer inside.

On the snap of the ball, we'll see the following things (drawn poorly below.)
SE: First backer inside
HB: Seal DE
LG: Pull and kick out force
RG: Pull and lead through
TB: Get width and follow pulling guard through hole

For a more in-depth explanation of the offensive line rules head to Brophy's.
The pulling guards are still utilized in Malzahn's version, the big change comes in the initial formation
structure to a more "spread" look and how it affects the POA (point of attack). The down blocks from the
wing-t version by the tight end and wing back have been replaced by down blocks or rather "seal" blocks
by the h-back and split end. 3 

The defensive structure should have Malzahn and the Auburn offense drooling, with having angles at the
POA and a loose corner to not force the issue too quickly this play should be a big gainer.

As we watch the play develop, we see the receiver release on his path inside. The H-back move to
engage the defensive end, and the two guards leading the play.

As you'll see with the next screen shot, the reason I chose this particular example of a play is to show the
importance of the down block at the POA by the H-back.
As he struggles to pin the defensive end inside, both guards are forced to alter their paths deeper, which
alters the path of the tail back as well. (shown below)

Finally, the defensive end #43 swallows up the tail back after stretching the sweep out and shedding the

That example helped me illustrate the  major keys I've noticed in Malzahn's formation structure when
he calls buck sweep. 1) The H-back alignment and 2) the tight receiver split.
In the next part I'm going to highlight some of the other formation and motion looks that Auburn showed
when trying to run their buck sweep, because I believe, and previously stated by Brophy, Malzahn's
genius is the simple schemes being disguised with all of the different smoke and mirrors week to week.

Auburn makes extensive use of unbalanced sets, whether it is tight end over, split end over, or tackle
over...they do it a lot. Here's a diagram of their buck sweep play from their tackle over set. Notice once
again the use of the H-back, along with the tight split from their split end. It's also something to note that
this is not a spread set by any means, don't let the "spread" term fool you, they are not a finesse football

Malzahn also uses lots of motion into the back field by his tail backs. As shown here, I'm not sure if you
can deem this an empty back field formation because of the H-back alignment, but this formation has now
spread the defense horizontally across the field pre-snap.
As you see here, Malzahn utilizes a short motion into the formation by the flanker to set up the buck
sweep. In this case the flanker has now taken the H-backs role in being responsible for the defensive
end. Nothing revolutionary about it, Malzahn will also put his H-back as the flanker to so it's the same
personnel, which means less teaching across the board.

Here we see a formation adjustment that combines the previous play and it's use of short inward motion,
with the play I originally diagrammed. After the H has finished his motion he is now in almost the same
position as in Diagram 1, and he's ready to execute his block on the end. I'm sure by now everyone gets
the "smoke & mirrors" point I'm making, and many people probably already utilize these ideas.

One last diagram to show an adjustment that Cam Newton has allowed Malzahn to make, since he is
such a special athlete.
With Newton's ability to out-run and run over opposing defenders, Malzahn has been able to utilize him
HEAVILY in the run game. One of the ways is on QB buck sweep plays (this one resembling something
you'd see out of a half-spin single wing series). As I noted earlier Malzahn couples his buck sweep with
other plays like reverses and counters. Which is exactly what we see here, a fake reverse after short
motion into the back field by the flanker. While not directly utilizing the FB fake that accompanies the
wing-t version of the buck sweep, Malzahn is still able to replicate the same effect of holding pursuit by
faking a reverse opposite. It also helps that Auburn does run their fair share of reverses, so defenses do
have to respect them in the run game or will pay later.


Here's an example of a fake reverse used to disguise the buck sweep.

These were not the only ways that Auburn executed their buck sweep these past two years, there's
numerous, but I think by now you get the idea. Formations and motions...and lots of them.

Overall, Gus Malzahn is not doing anything new...at all. Like most good coaches, he is taking concepts
and ideas that he has picked up and stolen from other coaches. However, I believe it's his ability to keep
his scheme so simple (not only on the buck sweep, but on other plays as well) which allows his players to
execute at a high level and operate at such a high speed. This is my first full length post so if there's
anything you'd like me to add or know about I'll see what I can drum up from the video files.

While the buck sweep plays a major part in the Auburn run game, the inverted veer (and it's off shoots)
are one of the key reasons for Auburn's running game to be so dominant this year and is probably the
sole reason Cam Newton won the Heisman trophy. Needless to say, Newton made a living on this play
this year.

This play however is not anything new to the college football landscape. Documented at smart football
TCU busted out this play against Clemson last season, and their QB Andy Dalton had a field day. Smart
footballs description of the play:

"But TCU ran a variant, one I¶ve seen other teams use. They just ³inverted´ the runningback and
quarterback: The runningback runs a sweep or outside zone action laterally. If the defensive end takes
him, then the quarterback shoots up inside the defensive end. If the defensive end sits for the QB, the
runner should be able to hit the corner. Remember, the defensive end is often the hardest guy to block,
and especially so when you want to ³reach´ him to seal the corner."

For more information on this you can also check out this thread from Coach Huey on the inverted veer
(referred to as "Dash") and a few other plays that may be of interest.

It's a pretty simple concept, and meshes well with Auburn's other gap-running schemes perfectly. Once
again, of course having Newton really helped this play explode for Auburn, but numerous other teams
also employed it with less athletic QB's.

Like the other plays in this offense, Malzahn disguises them well using formations and motions. Along
with talking about the different looks Auburn deployed to run the inverted veer, I will also look at some
alterations and variations they use.

Here is a diagram showing the basic set up for the inverted veer play.

Much like the rest of their gap run schemes, the front side of the offensive line collapses down on the
defensive line, this time leaving the the defensive end unblocked and waiting to be read by the QB.
Here's an example. Auburn aligns in an empty formation with the tailback aligned as the #3 to the left. He
will motion into the backfield.

Here's the alignment on the snap of the ball, I've highlighted the DE that Newton will read.

During the mesh between Newton and McCalebb, the tailback, we now clearly see the unblocked
defensive end who has made his way up the field. We also see the right offensive tackle releasing to
block the sole LB in the box.
The DE clearly commits to taking the sweep being run by McCalebb and Newton correctly reads this and
keeps it. However, at this point in time an interior defensive lineman has slipped off his block and will
make a shoe string tackle and pursuit from the backside is coming as well. This is what leads me to
believe that Malzahn prefers leading with a pulling guard (which I discuss later) to be able to pick up a
defender who has defeated a block or backside pursuit.


Auburn will also use a power-like variation by adding a pulling guard to the mix to lead for the QB should
he keep the ball. Malzahn seems to prefer this scheme, to the basic inverted veer, I can only assume
because the added pulling guard requires no new teaching and gets another body at the POA. Diagram

Here is an example of the inverted veer with the added pulling guard element that Malzahn seems to
prefer. And as I document more of what Auburn does offensively, their offensive guards are pulling on
almost every run play (obviously beside the zone plays).

They start the play in a true empty set, with the tailback aligned in the slot. Much like on the buck sweep
Malzahn uses lots of motion into the backfield by the tailback. McCalebbk (TB) will stop before the play
starts, so this is not inverted veer off of the jet sweep. I've highlighted the DE who Newton will be reading.
Notice the effect that the empty set places on LSU's defensive structure.

On the snap of the ball we see the back side guard pulling and leading and the mesh between Newton
and McCalebb the TB. Along with that the pre-snap alignment of the defensive tackle to the play side
forces the offensive tackle drive him out. This places the DE in a position that makes Newton's read pretty
clear with two defenders outside now, ready to defend the sweep hand off to McCalebb. Finally, we see
absolutely no one immediately at the second level for LSU on defense.

Below we clearly see both the defensive tackle and defensive end are now in no position to make a play
on Newton's keep, and the pulling guard leading the way to block...well...no one in sight.
And finally Newton with some running room and a lead blocker who is still looking for someone to block.


Here is an example of Newton giving to the sweep after making his read. Auburn once again aligns in an
empty set with the tailback aligned in the slot to start the play, he will once again motion into the backfield.

During the mesh we see the highlighted DE charging the mesh point. Much like under center veer teams
if the hand off key comes down hard the QB is supposed to pull and attack the edge. Since this is the
inverted veer and the QB is now the dive portion if the hand off key charges the mesh point then the
tailback should now receive the hand off and attack the edge on his sweep path.
After the hand off has been made we now clearly see the highlighted DE was attacking Newton and now
that Newton has made the correct read McCalebb now has the ball on the edge.

Finally, we see McCalebb now one on one with a member of the LSU secondary.

Like the other different versions of option football, when executed correctly it is deadly.

Here is another example from a different formation against Arkansas.

Auburn aligns in an empty formation once again. This time it's a little different as it is more of a trey look
to the left, with the tailback in the slot to the right. McCalebb will motion into the backfield like all the
previous examples.

On the snap of the ball we'll see the same thing we've seen on the other versions. I've highlighted the DE,
and also tried to show the arc block course that the tight end will take.

During the mesh we see the DE who is the hand off key come down hard on the mesh, so much so he
will collision the pulling guard. Along with that we see the great angle that the tight end now has on the
linebacker inside.
Newton makes the correct read and hands off to McCalebb who can now continue on his sweep path.

It's unfortunate that McCaleb cuts back into the pursuit and doesn't try to stay outside.

    !  "

Here Auburn aligns in one of their more traditional two-back sets to run the inverted veer "power" play.
While the spread sets they love to deploy to run the play, Auburn also does operate out of tighter sets as

Hopefully that gives you a good idea of what Auburn has done this year using their inverted veer and
inverted veer "power" play. As I come upon more variations I'll post them as well.

The third play I'll be looking at in Auburn's run game is their counter. The counter for Auburn is less of a
stand-alone play and more of a scheme that Malzahn has found numerous uses for. Once again, I'll
reiterate the fact that for the most part everything Malzahn does is very simple scheme wise, it's his ability
to "dress up" his simple schemes with formations, motion, and tempo that makes his offense so
explosive. The counter scheme is no different than the buck sweep and inverted veer in the sense that
Malzahn relies heavily on numerous formations and motions to disguise the play, but the counter scheme
is also extremely versatile and Malzahn has numerous variations, all of which he employs pretty

Brophy already has a great post explaining the blocking scheme for counter, and includes a diagram and
video clips of the play, so head there for a great explanation of the blocking rules, technique, and idea
behind the play. Therefor my post will be geared more towards the base play and it's variations and the
numerous formations and motions employed to make this scheme so effective.


Below is a diagram for how Auburn's base counter play looks. Similar to their inverted veer play (which
I'm going to refer to as "Dash" from now on because it's a much better name and easier to type) the
frontside of the line blocks down.

The backside guard is looking to kick out the defensive end, but will log if the end comes down hard. The
H is looking to lead through the hole for the tailback, but will adjust his course as well if the end crashes.
The tailback aligns opposite of the play and is usually two yards deeper than the QB in order to become a
downhill threat.

Let's go to an actual example. Like on many plays, the tailback #5 Dyer starts out of the backfield and will
motion in.
Once Dyer gets into the backfield we see the actual depth of his alignment, Auburn's backs align very
deep on their counter and power plays and attack downhill now.

On the snap of the football we will see the right guard pull, along with the H-back lead while the tailback
sets up to attack downhill. I've highlighted the targeted defensive end.

Here we see how well the left side of the offensive line does at securing their down blocks and beginning
to build a wall of bodies. The pulling guard is set up well to open the hole for the H-back and tailback to
go through.
The guard engages his block as the H-back is heading to block the play side linebacker.

And finally we see the hole that's been created, even though the pulling guard isn't able to sustain his
block. Dyer is able to make a player in the secondary miss and this play goes for about 30 yards

-  $

Here is another example, from a different formation set. Notice the use of another running back to help
pick up the outside linebacker.
The defensive end squeezes with a down block read.

The pulling guard adjusts his path and now logs the end, causing Dyer the tailback to adjust his path as
Dyer ends up dancing too much and pursuit is able to track him down, but overall an interesting
adjustment by using a second running back and a good example of a defensive end crashing and the
pulling guard logging.


One of the variations that Auburn runs is to flip the side of the tailback. Essentially, they counter the
counter, which gives defenses another thing to prepare for with almost no teaching.
Here we see a base alignment for Auburn, except as I stated the tailback aligned opposite of the H-back.

The tailback takes a downhill course, and attacks the line of scrimmage almost in a straight line. After
taking the hand off he slightly plants on his inside foot and angles back towards the off tackle hole. We
see the pulling guard and H-back executing the same techniques as the base counter.
Auburn executes well, but are simply outnumbered at the point of attack.


Here is an interesting wrinkle Auburn showed later that game off of the same action from above. It's a
quick screen to the two receiver side with the exact same run action.

I was unsure if this was a called screen, or a choice for Newton to make. I'm still not completely sure, I
think there's a big possibility it could be either give to Dyer or throw the screen. No matter what it is,
Dyer's fake is pretty good.

Easy completion, and a nice 5-6 yard gain.

ü #  

Auburn also makes extensive use of their QB run game off of their counter scheme as well. They do it in
a couple of different ways as well.
The first QB counter is a very
traditional one that most shotgun teams employing any kind of counter scheme may make use of. They
will have their QB mesh with the tailback and ride him, after disengaging from the mesh the QB will then
become the counter back and follow the H-back.

ü #  

The second kind of QB counter that Auburn runs is actually very similar to "Dash" in a way and
compliments "Dash" well. It also seems to be the preferred choice for Malzahn.

On this play, the QB rides the tailback once again, except this time the tailback will be running his sweep
path to the side that the play is hitting. The play starts out very similar to "Dash" in this sense, along with
that the DE to the play side is left unblocked as well. The play starts off almost exactly like "Dash" until the
pulling guard actually engages the unblocked DE and the QB disengages from the mesh and follows the
H-back through the hole.

Once again, the tailback (McCalebb in this instance) starts aligned in the slot and will motion into the
Here's a diagram as to what is about to happen, the backfield action is pretty much the same as it is on
the "dash" play. The only difference now being the kick out block on the defensive end and not the
reading of him.

Notice the drastic change in depth of the tailback on this play in order to execute his job. This depth is
used on the QB counter, dash, and buck sweep plays.

As the play starts we see the mesh between Newton and McCalebb and the blocking up front start to
unfold. It's hard not to stress this enough, but Auburn's offensive line this year was very experienced and
very good, and it definitely shows on almost every play.

Also note the highlighted player. Since South Carolina is in a 3-4 front on this play the pulling guard is
actually looking to kick out an outside linebacker and not a defensive end with his hand on the ground.

The outside linebacker screams down towards McCalebb who is running his sweep path creating a
chasm in the defense.
Finally, Newton takes care of the rest. This is powerful football at it's best.

-  $

Here's another example out of a much different set (pardon my drawing, I went a little nuts on this one.)

Auburn aligns in an end-over set with both tight end and split end on the same side. Since they do show
so much unbalanced this formation is very similar to the one they run jet sweep out of so much. The
flanker to the left would usually be the jet man and the H-back and tailback make for perfect lead blockers
on a jet sweep play to the right.
Just like the first example, this play is run exactly the same.

An even better view.

The mesh between Newton and Fannin. The blocking scheme develops as it appears the defensive end
is crashing down hard.
The pulling guard is trying to uproot the defensive end, while two unblocked defenders are over pursuing
on Fannin. This sets up Smith the H-back for a nice lead through and Newton with a great opportunity to
attack downhill into a decent size hole. At first it was hard to decide whether this play was a read or not. I
originally thought Newton may be reading the over hang defenders for give or keep, but it just doesn't
seem likely as I haven't seen him give to a tailback on the sweep path when the play is run with the
counter blocking scheme.

Smith the H-back actually completely misses the hole and goes for a log block, maybe the crashing
defensive end muddied his read? Anyways, Newton is left 1-on-1 with a defensive back who is much
smaller than him and again he takes care of business. The play would've been almost perfect had Smith
led through the hole, notice the absolute wall that has been constructed on the right side of the screen?
A few things to note since this is the third run scheme I've broken down on Auburn.

1) Malzahn uses lots of formations.

2x1, 2x2, 2x2 with a TE, 3x1, 3x1 with a TE, 4x1 And unbalanced versions of almost everything. Auburn
is extremely multiple in this sense. While during many games Malzahn does get into a rhythm with certain
formations he usually does a good job of opening up drives with a new look, or throwing a new look after
a big play.

2) Speaking of big plays, Malzahn loves to turn up the tempo and use his gadget plays after getting a big
first down.

3) Motion, and a decent amount of it. As I've documented Malzahn uses a lot of motion by his tailbacks to
get into the backfield. They run their fair share of jet sweep as well, along with almost any compliment to
the play you can think of. They also do the standard motions by their receivers, either into the formation
or across the formation.

4) It is all of these things above (combined with experienced personnel at almost all positions) that allows
the Auburn offensive schemes to remain relatively simple and yet appear to be a complicated piece of art.
Auburn's schemes are not revolutionary, it's the combinations of all the smoke & mirrors listed above that
really has transformed the Auburn offense into one of the most notable ones in all of football.

Finally, I would hate to be a defensive end playing against this team. Each play is a different experience.
Auburn will kick you out, with an H-back or a pulling guard. They'll log you or crack you as well with
numerous different players. Sometimes they'll leave you unblocked too. This means you could be on the
front side of the play like in Dash or veer, or on the backside of inside zone.

Not to mention they can still throw the football. In their arsenal are play-action passes that have the QB
setting up in the pocket and also have him moving the pocket. They throw just enough drop back passes
to keep the secondary honest. And they keep everyone running laterally across the field, but especially
those big boys up front on one of their many screens.

Defensive end's have a hell of a task and it takes one hell of an effort to not be out of position at any
moment in time. It really is amazing to see all the things they can do to keep defenses on their toes.

Oh. And it also doesn't hurt to have a manchild of a Heisman winning quarterback either!