Offensive Breakdowns: Baylor

Note: this post of mine originally appeared on r/footballstrategy

Baylor has one of the most explosive offenses in college football. The Bears, under coach Art Briles, have become one of the power programs in college football over the last five years, and the most noticeable culprit for this rise to power has been Art Briles’ offense.

Briles’ offense is a bit of a homemade creation, first honed during his high school days at Stephenville HS in Texas. He then went to Houston and further honed this attack during his 5 years there, before finally coming to Baylor in 2008.

Splits and Spacing

Baylor’s offense depends upon it’s wide splits, which can throw you off when you first start watching them. They take the idea of a “spread” offense to it’s logical extreme, with the flankers (or outside receivers) often below the numbers, and the slot guys also being very detached from the offensive line. The Bears use this spacing to open up the defense with their athletes — most spread teams do this, but with the way Baylor splits their receivers, the defense essentially has to put everyone on an island in quasi-man-to-man coverage; it’s really tough for opposing defenses to get safety help on at least one or two of their receivers, which means things like this happen all the time when playing the Bears.

Tempo

Tempo is also central to Baylor’s scheme. The Bears were second nationally this year in play, and first nationally in plays per game. In this era, buzzwords like “up-tempo” and “playing fast” have become almost cliched, but Baylor remains dedicated to this philosophy in a program-wide sense — the whole entire football program there is dedicated to playing up-tempo and trying to scorch the opposing defense.

Running and Passing

Most people think of Baylor as a passing team, and certainly, they do like to throw the rock. However, most of their offense is built off of their running game, or at least the threat of it. During one game I charted of them in 2013 (Oklahoma), they either handed the ball off or faked a hand off about 75% of the time. They only throw off of a dropback about 25% of the time.

In short, they don’t want to dropback and throw a lot, because they think that in order to get the matchups and the looks they want in the passing game, they have to present the threat of the run, primarily to hold the safeties and linebackers from committing one way or the other. Baylor wants those guys to have to think about what they’re playing, and a defensive player that has to actively think and question his assignments is an ineffective defender.

What Playbook?

Art Briles doesn’t actually have a playbook. While it might strike you as odd that a Power 5 program doesn’t have a playbook, it’s actually by design. Briles believes that once you start needing a playbook to go over, you’ve probably got too much for your kids to remember. This bogs them down in terms of just going out there and playing football, so Briles has chosen just to install his offense without issuing his kids one.

Terminology

Briles played for Bill Yeoman at Houston. Yeoman was the “inventor” of the veer offense — basically a triple option out of a split-back look (if you’re a Houston Veer guy, I’m sorry for being a heretic, but fuck you). Briles, in an interview with SB Nation, has even made mention of the fact that his offense still uses a lot of Yeoman terminology, so we have something to go on when trying to piece together what he might use to communicate with his players (see Yeoman’s 1975 Houston playbook for further detail on the veer).

Note: this is obviously not exact and is pieced together using Yeoman’s terminology and knowledge of Briles’ offense. We will use this terminology when discussing Baylor’s offense.

Note 2: Lower numbers are to the right, higher numbers are to the left. When you see 2/8 Zone in this section, it’s the same play, but it’s how it would be called to the right/left.

Numbers Series
Single Numbers Pre-determined give to RB, no read
10’s Read option play with WR screen on backside
20’s Gap scheme runs (power, counter, sweep, etc.)
30’s Man scheme run plays (isos, QB sneaks — this isn’t going to be used a lot)
40’s Flipped versions of the Single, 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s series
50’s 51/59 are screens to the receivers, 55 is a draw play, and 52-54 and 56-58 are the basic dropback passing game
60’s Open/Possibly not used
70’s Lead option series in Yeoman’s playbook/possibly not used any more
300’s Play action passes — attached to the Singles, 10’s, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s scheme.
400’s Same as 300’s, but with counter action

Base Plays

13 Bubble, or a simple inside zone with a receiver screen on the backside, is Baylor’s base play. This is a called run play, but if the numbers in the box are not favorable — i.e. the defense has 6 in the box versus only 5 run blockers — they’ll tell their QB to throw the quick screen. This keeps the defense from committing too many resources to stopping one thing. Additionally, even though this is diagrammed as 13 Bubble, there can be a number of tags added to this play to make it look like a good number of plays. For example, you could call it as 13 Now to get a screen to the outside receiver.

Additionally, they could call “15 Read Bubble” (we’re putting the back to the right this time so the QB can see if he needs to throw the bubble) to make it a sort of triple option; an inside zone read with a receiver running a bubble screen — if the QB sees the DE crashing, he pulls the ball out and takes off. If the defense overplays the QB when he takes off, he can quickly throw the bubble. This adds another layer of complexity without dedicating too much more teaching time with their scheme.

Really, this play can become about 7-8 with all the different tags that you can attach to it and all the different ways to call it. Baylor will even attach dropback passing concepts to it (primarily stick or slot slants) Guess what; you’ve just learned about 25-30% of their offense right there. They really do run a variant of that play that much.

2 Zone is simply an outside zone play with no backside call. To be honest, I haven’t seen Baylor run it that much, but considering their zone scheme, it has to be included as a base play. Baylor will generally run this with a TE or H-Back in the backfield so that they can get an extra blocker at the point of attack. The backs are reading the helmet of the TE on this play; if the helmets are facing in, they break out. If the helmets are facing out, they’ll go back inside.

20’s – Power play and it’s variants – Baylor also runs the power play as well. The only real difference is that they’ve got two or three different ways of running the power series (in which case, it’d simply be called 23). The first one is just a straight up power play with no read. This is how most pro-style teams do it.

The second way is the “power read” concept, which has become en vogue over the last 5 or so years in high school and college football. The rules are the same as the regular power, except that the frontside tackle (the side that they play is going to) is down blocking the first down lineman to his left. The QB reads the unblocked man on the line of scrimmage; if he goes to the QB, the QB will hand off to the RB. If the unblocked man flies up to stop the RB going to the outside, the QB will pull it down and get up the field.

The third way, and probably the least talked about way, is simply treating it like a zone read, with the backside tackle (the side that the play is not going to) going to block the first second level defender he finds. The QB will read the backside DE like it’s a zone read play; if the DE hesitates or slow plays the read, the QB will hand it off. If the DE crashes on the back, the QB will simply take himself and replace the DE.

Also, the power play series is much like the zone series when it comes to all the options on the backside when it comes to quick throws (ignore the “power read” text, it’s not power read play I just talked about). We’ve only really talked about 3 plays thus far, but with all the adjustments and tags they can add with this offense, you’ve really got about 30 plays here.

Play action concepts/300’s and 400’s Series – This is where Baylor does the most damage in the passing game. Baylor loves to fake the run and drop back and pass. Mostly, this is done with quick passes to the slot, like either a short post, slant, or shallow crossing route to a slot receiver. The reason they do this is to fuck with outside linebackers trying to fill to quickly on the run, thus leaving their area open in the passing game.

On the outside, it’s rare that Baylor doesn’t run either a fade/go route or a comeback route. They will usually have one-on-one coverage to the outside on the defense’s corner, so they will try and take advantage of that with one of their speedy receivers going deep. On occasion though, they’ll take their outside receiver and run a post route with him.

Dropback concepts/50’s Series – Baylor doesn’t dropback a lot, but when they do, they usually make use of one of the following concepts.

A common play they use is one where the slot receiver runs a slightly angled go route, while the flanker, or outside receiver, runs a quick slant in. This is basically a pick play, as the corner usually runs into the slot receiver when the outside receiver is running a slant route.

Another play Baylor likes to use is the old “switch” concept from the run ‘n shoot offense. The inside receiver gets an outside release, and runs a wheel route. The outside receiver gets an inside release, and runs a post route. I don’t know for sure whether they are actually reading the defense like the run-and-shoot guys did, but I do know that they do have at least the post/wheel version of this play.

Baylor also has the old reliable Four Verticals play as well (shown with the #1 to the top curling up against man). It fits in quite well with their overall scheme.

On the goalline/redzone, Baylor has a little pass play that only has one read — the TE. This is typically something they’ll do as they hurry up to the line. I suspect this is something that’s an automatic call when they hurry up near the goalline.

Conclusion

Really, that’s about it in terms of the base offense. It doesn’t seem like much for a FBS program, much less a top 10 program to have, but this is about 80-90% of what they run. Remember though, that Baylor is not a team that sacrifices a complete scheme for simplicity; their scheme is quite complete when it comes to options for attacking a defense and having multiple ways to do it.

Further Reading On This Offense (not already included in the write-up)

http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2013/11/7/5073520/baylor-football-offense-art-briles-2013

http://grantland.com/features/chris-brown-how-art-briles-potent-offense-made-baylor-national-title-contender/

http://www.footballstudyhall.com/2013/5/22/4351446/Baylor-bears-football-art-briles-lache-seastrunk-spread-offense

http://regressing.deadspin.com/why-baylor-is-porn-for-football-nerds-1468141463

WATCH THIS OR DIE (no, not really)

Art Briles at a coaching clinic giving a general overview of his offense

Art Briles’ Stephenville HS highlight film

Baylor’s Veer Drill coaching clinic tape

Baylor’s shallow cross overview

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