Know Thy Enemy: The Gus Malzahn Run Game

Instantly recognized in modern college football by its unique formations and motions, the foundation of Gus Malzahn’s offense is traced directly to the Father of the Wing-T, Tubby Raymond. Raymond was the long time coach at the University of Delaware and brought the Wing-T to the masses in the 70s and 80s.  Malzahn used Raymond’s book to develop his first high school offense 30 years ago.  He has maintained staples of the offense in his system wherever he has coached.  Although, I see less remains of the Wing-T in Auburn’s offense this year, it is still there and was prominent under Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.

Let’s look at some basics of the Malzahn playbook still in use today.  This is a classic Malzahn play that he has adapted from Raymond.  It is known as the Buck Sweep.  It’s a beautiful football play where both guards pull and lead a perimeter run.  Malzahn will run this out of a variety of looks.

This is the same play in last year’s Sugar Bowl out of a single back look.  As you can see there is an element of deception to the play that involves the QB keeping the ball.  These type of plays are logically most effective when the QB is a run threat.

That brings about a natural segue to the basic zone read play.


Who doesn’t run this play in college football?  Frankly, it seems like every other damn play is this play or the derived RPO off the same look.  I’m ready for something else.  But, Auburn has certainly made it a staple of their offense.  They especially love to go to this play when they go up-tempo and try to catch a team before they can get set.  After a splash play, expect hustle to the line and a zone read call. It can be predictable, but still remains effective for Auburn.

It was a great element of their playbook for Nick Marshall and it remains important in their current offense.  They will certainly run multiple RPOs off this play.  In the above clip, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham runs untouched for a 15 yd TD.  Why?  Well, the Arkansas game was really the first game where Stidham kept the ball on these plays.  And it certainly caught the Arkansas edge player with his pants down.  Notice how he crashes down the line with no regard to Stidham.  Stidham is a pretty fast QB.  He can certainly keep a defense honest and would probably beat Kellen Mond in a 40.  He’s not elusive or powerful as a runner, but he is pretty fast.

Flanker Sweep out of a Wing look.  This is a Malzahn favorite. It is a sweep play with a pulling guard, but the ball is handed to the flanker. Malzahn has typically lined up his fastest RB in the flanker position whether it was Michael Dyer, Corey Grant, or Cameron-Artis Payne. It’s just a fantastic play for a fast RB. As Chip Lindsey has taken over as OC, you are seeing less of this play. But, #23 Ryan Davis or #12 Eli Stove would be the flankers used to run it.

Play Out of Quick Huddle

The quick or sugar huddle is used throughout the game by Auburn to disguise formations and try to gain an advantage on the opponent.  It’s a signature of Malzahn’s offense.  Here a traditional jet sweep is run out of the quick huddle. Notice how the guards don’t pull on this play as they do in the flanker sweep.  The jet sweep is more effective in the Malzahn playbook than other systems, because flanker motion is such a constant of the run game it provides no key to defenders.  In other words, they can’t cheat due to motion.

Another reason that Malzahn will use the quick huddle is to disguise trick plays.  Here you have a tackle-over who splits out, only to see Auburn run a tunnel screen on the opposite side of the formation.  The defense has to be on alert anytime Auburn goes to the quick huddle, because you will get deception and it will happen quick.

Inside Zone/Power

The most commonly run play for Auburn this year would be a inside run that Auburn runs out of its shotgun formation.  Generally a 2 or 3 wide look where the flanker comes in motion, but the ball is handed to the tailback.  The flanker carries out the fake to one side and the QB will often carry out the fake to the other side.  This is a foundational element of Wing-T football, use motion and fakes to keep both edge defenders at home with threats to both flanks.

Auburn will run this play using basic zone blocking, with a wham block across the formation by the HB/FB.  This is basically an inside zone read play with flanker motion.

This is a very similar looking play, but more akin to the old power dive from the Wing-T playbook.  I’d venture a guess that this play is a Malzahn creation off the old 21 dive in Tubby Raymond’s original playbook.  They also love to use this play in short yardage and goal line situations. There is a hell of a lot of backfield motion to distract a LB, DE, or safety, but it is just a basic run play right up the old gut, with a pulling guard and a kick out block from the HB/FB. And of course, you could get a QB boot or a flanker sweep out of it.  That’s Wing-T 101 and it nice to see that it still serves as the bedrock of a top college run game 30 years after its Golden Age.

I’ll breakdown the Auburn pass game in the next couple of days.


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Talking ball for ball fans.

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