Sunday, January 2, 2011

Auburn Run Game - The Buck Sweep

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.

1) The H-Back: 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 defense.

2) Tight Split by a receiver: 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. (note the diagram of the play below)

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 block.

That example helped me illustrate the two 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 team.

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.

Fake Reverse

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 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.


  1. Nice article. I like the inclusion of the different fronts Auburn uses to disguise the Buck Sweep. Simple scheme=effective play.

  2. Thanks. Exactly right about the simple scheme. The more I watch Auburn, the more I realize the genuis in Malzahn is his simplicity of scheme. I'll have more to come hopefully later this week, I think on the inverted veer.

  3. What are they using as a complementary play to the QB unbalanced sweep? Great article still.

  4. As I stated in the article they use lots of reverses, I'd say well more than most teams. Along with that I have seen a fake reverse/waggle play.

  5. Great article. I disagree though, I believe Guz is doing new things. Who else is running the buck sweep in college, and the QB buck thats genius. Also I would love to see someone dissect what he does with the receivers off the backside of this play its pretty unique.

  6. This is so cool! I'm 17 but I love offense a lot ... My dream job would be an Offensive Coordinator! Thanks for the breakdowns they teach so much.

  7. Greta article that's neat. I'm a big AU fan and was very impressed. WAR EAGLE!!!

  8. YO,Great article!!! My dream is to become Clemson's OC.On NCAA13 I run a lot of buck sweep a bunch. I use some motion just to get another blocker, it works ever time either a big run for 10+ yards or a touchdown. Once again great article

  9. Great article.....I am a Defensive coridinator and we see this 3-4 times each season!!! A great "D" to run against this is a 4-2-5!!!