Why are T formations in football back in favor after years of spread success?

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

The Liberty Hill slot-T offense (right) in a tight formation with the quarterback under center, the swing man to the left of the quick left tackle, and the tailback lined up behind the left tackle. The fullback and halfback are lined up behind the quarterback. Photo by Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography

The Liberty Hill slot-T offense (right) in a tight formation with the quarterback under center, the swing man to the left of the quick left tackle, and the tailback lined up behind the left tackle. The fullback and halfback are lined up behind the quarterback. Photo by Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography

When Bob Shipley became the Burnet High School head football coach and athletic director in 2001, he brought with him the spread offense, a scheme that emphasizes short passes to receivers in space, allowing for yards after the catch.

At the time, the spread was just taking off. But more programs began adopting the scheme and playing for and winning state championships, including Southlake Carroll and Austin Lake Travis.

Suddenly, the spread was all the rage.

Shipley guided the Bulldogs to two consecutive Class 3A state runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2003.

Carroll went 98-11 from 2000-06 and played for five state championships, winning four. Lake Travis won five straight state titles from 2007-11, setting a state record for the most titles won consecutively.  

All three teams used the spread during those runs, and it looked to be the offensive scheme of the future, one that coaches would use for years to come.

But recently, offenses seem to be favoring another style, one that’s almost as old as the sport itself.

Marble Falls, Llano, and Burnet head football coaches are preparing their defenses for slot-T and wing-T offenses, schemes that emphasize running and misdirection in an attempt to confuse the defense.

The slot-T and wing-T date back to the early days of football, when offenses relied heavily on running.

The T-formation is one of the base lineups: quarterback under center, fullback behind him, and halfbacks to the immediate left and right of the fullback. It also utilizes two tight ends.

Coaches began tweaking the offense with the wing-T, which gained ground in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This scheme put one of the halfbacks, or wingback in this scenario, just off the line of scrimmage next to one of the tackles and added a wide receiver, or split end.

The slot-T is a variation of the wing-T.

Both offenses rely heavily on misdirection to confuse defenses. When ran effectively, it’s a deadly offense.

In three pre-district games and one scrimmage, Marble Falls has defended the Slot-T three times. Mustangs head coach Mike Birdwell purposely scheduled opponents with that scheme, believing they’d see it in district competition.

The Mustangs scrimmaged against Liberty Hill, which won state championships in 2006 and 2007 using the Slot-T offense that is taught to every child wanting to be a Panther.

Former Liberty Hill head coach Jerry Vance brought the slot-T with him when he arrived at the school in 2001, and he never abandoned it. In his 16 years as the Liberty Hill head coach, Vance had a 155-46 record. His career record is 164-57. While other coaches and programs moved to spread offenses, Vance held with the slot-T up until his retirement in 2017.

Already this year, Llano has faced three teams that favor the run: Luling with its slot-T, Brady and the wing-T, and Lago Vista’s triple-option.

Burnet played Lockhart, a slot-T team, in preparation for Liberty Hill and Fischer Canyon Lake in District 14-4A Division II play.

Marble Falls, Burnet, and Llano each run a version of the spread offense.

Llano head coach Matt Green, a former offensive coordinator, and Burnet head coach Kurt Jones, a former defensive coordinator, offered insight on why it seems more teams are using these run schemes.

Green believes some coaches see the type of athletes they have at quarterback and the other offensive players and install schemes that best suit those athletes. Most of them can run with the ball, they can hand the ball off, and they can run block. Not every player can complete a pass on a designed rollout or hit a receiver in the hands with the ball, he added.

“It could be a quarterback-related issue throughout the program,” he said.

It’s said that passing the football has one of three results, and two of them, incompletions or interceptions, are bad. But running the ball allows teams to control the clock, tire the defense, and keep the other team’s offense on the sideline.

“We can hog the ball and run the clock and limit your possessions,” Green said.

Jones believes it comes back to what coaches are comfortable using.

“Schools look for a way to be successful,” he said. “You run block and see what you can grind out. You believe in it and coach it the right way, you can be successful.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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