The other day my cousin Albert Lee Childress down in Knoxville sent me two East Tennessee country hams and asked me to explain to him how the Split T formation works. Albert said he got confused watching Jim Tatum's All-Stars execute the Split against the Detroit Lions. I don't blame him; Albert saw it on TV but I was there and didn't know what was going on. Confidentially, I talked to Jim after the game and he didn't either.
Usually the Split T isn't that hard to figure out. I guess the most simple way to explain it would be to start with a diagram of the basic formation:
The Split T gets its name from the spacing of the linemen. The guards are 12 inches from the center, the tackles 24 inches from the guards and the ends split 36 inches from the tackles. This is, of course, just a basic alignment. They may vary the distance against certain types of defense or depending on the play they want to run. Without getting too technical, the general plan is to split wider against a five-man defensive setup and tighten up on a seven.
The quarterback takes a position immediately behind the center with his feet on the same plane, so he can move either to his right or left with equal facility. He is the key to the entire attack and must be able to run with the ball, which is not considered a requisite for the quarterback in the regular T formation. The halfbacks align themselves approximately three yards directly behind their offensive tackles with their outside hand on the ground. Their depth varies also according to speed. They threaten the quick opening play or dive buck at all times. The fullback takes a deeper position, around four and a half yards, from which vantage point he can threaten either end or block downfield. He is primarily the blocking back and never hits the line except on a delayed play. His running efforts are confined mainly to keeping the defensive linemen "honest." In other words he keeps them from "sliding" with the movement of the quarterback.
The conception of the Split T attack is most simple. While the regular Shaughnessy or Halas T is founded on deception and the Houdini performance of the quarterback, the Split T is a sort of overconfidence game. The quarterback takes the snap from center, hugs the line as closely as possible and shows the ball to the defense. What he does next largely depends on the reaction of his opponents. Actually there are just three basic running plays in the Split T attack. They're the same whether they go right or left. The blocking also is the same for all three, which makes this offense especially appealing to high school coaches.
Number one (diagram below) is the quick opener in which the quarterback "gives" to the halfback. The halfback takes the ball practically on the line of scrimmage, so if the exchange is made properly there is no chance of loss even if the play does not gain. Normally the quick opener goes inside but this too is dependent on the play of the defensive tackle. If he doesn't move out with the offensive tackle, the halfback veers to the outside. The theory, by the way, in spreading the line is to afford each offensive lineman a blocking angle or to force the defense to spread with them, creating space to run through without the necessity of opening a hole. After this dive-buck is run several times, the tackle is pretty well "tied to his spot" and the "option" play is ready.
The quick opener is always called as such in the huddle, but numbers two and three are the same play. This is known as the "option" and is the Split T play. The quarterback fakes giving to the halfback, then runs along the line of scrimmage. He looks the defensive end straight in the eye. If the end comes in to tackle him the quarterback pitches out to the halfback who is faking to the right. He is preceded by the fullback, whose job is to block the defensive halfback. If the end floats out with the threat of the pitch out, then the quarterback "keeps" and runs outside of tackle. Anything that the defensive end does is wrong.
OH, THOSE HORSES
Sounds like it could never fail, doesn't it? But the defenses are not always as simple as the one that I have diagrammed. There are maneuvers like slants, angles and loops. There are defenses with the linebackers keying on the quarterback, and the ends assigned to the pitch out, and then there is always the possibility of a fumble. The Split T doesn't give you any protection against that.
A large percentage of the top-ranking teams will be using the Split T this fall. Don Faurot out at Missouri was its innovator. In the past few years Maryland, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama, and this year Minnesota, just to name a few colleges, have used variations of it. Like any other formation, though, the Split T needs good players to be effective. As my Grandpapa used to say: "You can't go to town without the horses."