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Spilt-T: The Spread's Intimidating Grandfather

Spilt-T: The Spread's Intimidating Grandfather

Clay Milford

Love high speed offenses? You’re late to the party.

Think sixty-point offensive performances are new to this world? Think again. Before the spread, before the west coast, and yes, even before the pro style offense, there was the Split-T. Invented by Don Faurot at Mizzou as a variation of the T formation and perfected by Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, this run heavy offensive scheme features three basic plays, much like its descendants the wishbone and the veer: the dive, the keep, and the pitch. The dive is a simple hand off to a fullback who “dives” directly into the line, attempting to barge his way for simple straight ahead yardage. If the dive is not called, the keep and the pitch are the options for the quarterback. Running parallel to the offensive line, the quarterback can choose to either keep the ball and run up the field, or pitch laterally to his halfback, depending on what the defensive player at the end of the line does. Don Faurot based this 2-on-1 approach on the occasional two man fastbreak of basketball, in which an offensive player baits a defensive player into pursuit, only to pass to their teammate who hopefully easily lays the ball into the hoop.

Previously I mentioned two things; that the Split-T scored a lot of points and that Bud Wilkinson perfected this offensive scheme at Oklahoma. Fortunately, those two things coincide. While at OU, Bud Wilkinson used his version of the Split-T to win three national titles in 1950, 1955, and 1956. He also led the Crimson and Cream Machine to a still yet-to-be-broken NCAA record 47-straight wins, bookended by losses to Notre Dame. In 1950, the Sooners outscored their opponents 373-128, scoring at least 40 points in 5 of 10 regular season games. In 1955, they scored at least 40 points in 6 of 10 regular season games, and outscored their opponents a whopping 385-54, including a four week shutout stand in which they outscored Mizzou, Iowa State, Nebraska, and Oklahoma A&M 166-0. In 1956, they recorded 6 shutouts and scored at least 40 points seven times, including games with 66 and 67 points. 

I do realize that these lopsided wins have a lot to do with defense, but we cannot deny that the Split-T brought about a new era in football. One in which offenses were forced to produce or die off. After Oklahoma made itself into a college football powerhouse after installing the offense, fellow blue bloods Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State all deployed their own custom versions of the Split-T.

Now I am not saying that any team in the next few years should reinstall the Split-T, although that would be entertaining to watch (I do love watching Georgia Tech and Navy play ball). This would not be the most effective choice. Or would it? The Split-T might not be the flashiest, but one cannot ignore that it had its heyday. If the spread is the brand new Ferrari in the garage, then the Split-T is the old faithful Dodge that has been running since the Truman administration. 

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