Running the Single Back Offense in NCAA Football 14
The Single Set Back offense was made popular by Joe Gibbs, in short, to keep defenders off the line of scrimmage. Having one less player, a fullback, in the backfield, and moving them in the form of an extra tight end or wide receiver can usually clear out space in between the hashes. The scheme flourishes with a zone blocking offensive line, but this is NCAA 14, and we don’t have that option quite yet.
When it comes to strategies within the game, it has a lot of potential. Those who love to run nearly all Shotgun sets, in a hurry-up offense or otherwise, could easily make the transition because it involves essentially the same personnel. This year’s NCAA has improved a lot from years past in terms of blocking. Your pulling guard no longer whiffs by a defender to get to the next level too quickly. Your offensive line has assignments, and changes them on the fly if need be.
My infatuation with this system stemmed from the lack of competent blocking from my Fullbacks. They’d just let a linebacker by, allowing my running back to get lit up in the backfield. While the blocking system has changed, the amount of space to move up and through to the next level is ample compared to throwing a big bodied bruiser in your way.
While I don’t know if it confuses the CPU opponent, having a running threat, in any given formation, goes a long way against your Human counterpart in game. Generally, you’re going to be running within the offensive line’s reach. Not that an outside run can’t be had, especially off counters after continuously ramming down the defenses throat through the middle. Play action is another real threat to use in the Single Back, whether it’s a straight dropback pass or a designed roll out, linebackers have to keep an eye on that running back at least a second longer. Within the confines of the game, and the playbooks available, you can do everything that a spread shotgun system does, and a power running game can do. Four TEs up tight with the offensive line, to bully defenses around? It’s in there. Trip Sets, Four WRs, Tight Ends out wide? It’s in there too. WR End Arounds make appearances too, and with a handful of plays faking such, can be a real threat against defenses, keeping them on their toes as they have to watch for two running threats, when it still might just be a Play Action pass.
Pros and Cons
Despite me making it sound like a no brainer, there are still cons to this system to go along with the multiple benefits. If you are particularly weak on offensive line, it can spell trouble. Not only will you struggle to get consistent run blocking, but without the aid of a few yards in a shotgun formation, a great pass rush can get to your Quarterback in a hurry. That extends to your Running Backs and Tight Ends as well. If you’ve got a receiving threat at Tight End, while it makes the passing game that much more dangerous, it also, in certain Ace formation sets, gives you an extra blocker that likely won’t engage a defender very long, allowing them through to your Running back.
As I mentioned before, the outside stretch plays, or tosses, can be very ineffective. It depends on two things, whether or not you’re able to run between the tackles successfully, and whether or not your Tight Ends and Wide Receivers blocking the edge can hold their blocks. An aggressive defense, that throws simple or complicated blitzes your way, can disrupt your passing game and rushing game alike, but there’s also a pro with that as well.
The pros to the system outweigh the cons in my opinion. Think when you’re playing a team, and you see that they’ve picked a two TE/two WR set, what do you do? For me, on instinct, I pick a base 4-3 or 3-4, at least at the beginning of the game before I realize what threats I’m dealing with. This is where an athletic Tight End can come into play, and as an offense with hot routes and audibles available, allows you to pick on opposing defenses. If they want 7 men in the box, then let them have it, you don’t have to run every play. If they pick a Dime formation to allow coverage for those two TEs you keep busy in your system, run it up the middle, and watch those smaller defenders get blown up by your offensive line and Tight Ends.
The same goes for heavy WR sets out of the Ace. The defense has to respect all those athletes on the field, quick and fast, are tall and powerful, they all have a place in this system. Because allowing your running back to get a head start before he even touches the ball can go a long way. You get to see where the blocks are, and how well they’re being executed, before you get to the line, something that you miss when your HB is at a standstill in the shotgun when he gets the ball, and your offensive line hasn’t engaged all of their assignments yet.
The most beneficial part of this system, in my opinion, is that at the HB position, you have an open slate. Bruising big backs can flourish, and speed backs can give defenses headaches. A rotation of both can be deadly, especially when that defense isn’t paying attention at who’s lining up behind your quarterback.
Recruiting for the Single Back Offense
So how do you get your team One Back ready? Who do you recruit to fit the system? We’ll start in the middle and work our way out.
OL: At offensive line, you can mold it into what style fits you. If you still want to attack through the air, the system allows it, so great pass blocking linemen can be had. What I’ve had the most success with so far, since I keep it between the tackles most of the time as the scheme has ‘defined,’ is power and quickness up the middle. Have a balanced Center, even Run blocking based if you choose. Not many times does a blitz straight up the 0 gap get through without having to jump over hurdles. At guard, having strong guys is a plus, but having quick guards who can pull as some plays declare, and get upfield quickly to find you a lane to run through is paramount.
I tend to lean towards run blocking guards, because in my experience they tend to be quicker. If anything, I’d just stay away from Pass Blocking Guards in this system, they won’t hurt you a great deal, but anything that doesn’t help you is a miss. At tackle, I like to lean towards big bodies pass blockers. You want to have that edge guarded when you do drop back and pass, and they’re usually not an incredible liability in an inside run offense. If you want to spread the field a little more with Tosses, Stretch plays, and even Off-Tackle Counters, then a balanced OT might be the better fit for you.
FB: Oh, the lost art of fullbacks. There isn’t a place in this system for them, which isn’t to say you shouldn’t target them in recruiting. I always try and keep two fullbacks on my roster regardless, both different styles. I want to get a blocking fullback to have as an option for a 4th tight end in some heavy Ace formations as an extra punch in the running game. They can even double as high as the 2nd TE, especially if you have an athlete atop your TE depth chart. They’re blocking ability can be key in making your running game efficient. Then, I want to add a receiving back, someone who’s got decent size(6’2 or higher,) and speed. These guys can not only double as a Tight End, whether it’s in a pinch because of injury or just key to your team, but they also can be your power back if you choose. I usually don’t lean towards the later, but in a short yardage situation, plugging them in at RB, while still using a 2 WR/2 TE or 3 WR/1 TE set, can allow their size and momentum to carry you over that yard marker.
TE: At Tight End, you want to have guys that are big targets. Their speed, depending on your play style with this system, isn’t all that important. Having a 260lb TE at 6’5” can not only help you in run blocking situations, but in passing situations as they’ll usually tower over linebackers or defensive backs guarding them. I skipped over it, but decent run blocking ability is a minimum, with about 3 TE spots on your roster, more or less depending on how you use them or the fullback, you can mix and match athletes with bruisers.
WR: At WR, I usually go for a speed guy at my number one. In certain formations that use the end around, those guys are usually getting the handoff, and you want to be able to make it to the corner and turn up field quickly before getting caught before a defender gets to you. Also, the obvious passing situations, if you have them crossing the field, can lead to open men, and against zones, zone movements to find someone else open. A threat, even if you don’t lean on them heavily is the point here.
At the two position, I try and go with a ‘Red Zone Threat,’ or as I like to use them, a first down waiting to happen. Big guys, with good hands, and great route running. You don’t need them to spread the field, the system does that for you, what you need for them to be is a consistent catch. I try to get big guys, that might have some run blocking ability, but anything above 6’1” is threatening with the right attributes. I’d look for route running, hands, catching in traffic, and run blocking. The slot can be used as little or as much as you want to. If you lean more towards 3 WR sets, I’m going to tell you to do something you’ll hate. Don’t get a speed WR to play the slot.
If you have an athletic tight end, and that speed receiver, the slot can really be any guy you want it to be, but someone who is consistent is more important than anything else. A lot of people think the slot WR gets routes that are open consistently, and in some plays, that’s true. So get a guy with great acceleration, great hands, and the rest will work itself out. He doesn’t have to be great getting off the press, because in that position it rarely happens. You want separation, and a 6’6” WR with 85 speed, but 90 acceleration can do just that. The third CB, or linebacker, won’t be able to reach him at a tall height, and after the catch, his height falling forward can be beneficial.
QB: At QB, I won’t go into much detail, except to say it’s whatever you’d like it to be. The option game can still be effective here, and bootlegs with someone quick footed can frustrate defense. The same goes for pocket passers, since they’d just be handing the ball off or picking apart defenses with a lot of targets available to them.
RB: Could be the most important part of your offense, and it probably should be. Any type of running back can be effective in the system, and a rotation with the new fatigue system in NCAA 14, can keep you ahead of tired defenses. I usually look for power runners that have some pass blocking ability. They can help in short yardage, but they also help in passing situations as an extra blocker. I also look for quick guys, opposed to just downright scat backs, to make up for what big backs can’t do.
I want someone who can hit the hole quickly, and if the blocking isn’t there, is still an automatic 3-4 yards up the middle. I also want someone who can be dangerous off of delayed routes, and be effective check downs for my quarterback, just making it that much harder to defend if you spread your offense out like the scheme allows you to. I try and get a running back every recruiting season. You can’t get to many of them, but 5 is the magic number. Specialty guys, like scat backs, or converted fullbacks in short yardage have room on your roster, but aren’t typically your Number 1 or 2 guys.
So with that, I hope you join the Ace/Single Back Offense brotherhood. It’s something that I use nearly every release without fail, and is easy to not only recruit to, but to fit a team to that normally doesn’t run that system. Oregon and Alabama can move into this system for you and be extremely productive, and if you’re a build ‘em upper, in a small conference, this system will keep you competitive year in year out. Because after all, you can pass all over the field with real running threat, or you can pound the ball and wear defenses thin as they attempt to cover all the targets available to you play in and play out.
Article by: MartyWebb