In 1941, a year after
Clark Shaughnessy's Stanford team used the T formation to win the Rose Bowl,
Missouri coach Don Faurot created a new version, the split T, so named because
the offensive linemen were split apart rather packed tightly together. The
split T relied upon two basic plays: the dive and the option.
It may come as a surprise, but Faurot's recipe for the option was not a
pre-existing football play. It was a basketball play.
During his playing days at Missouri, Faurot was a 3-sport star. He was the
captain of the Tigers' basketball team as well as the starting fullback on the
football team and an infielder on the baseball team. Faurot once told the
Des Moines Register that basketball's 2-on-1 fastbreak was the blueprint
for the option. "We ran a lot of 2-on-1 fastbreaks, forcing the defender
to make a decision," Faurot said, "and that made me wonder if the
same thing could be done in football." He soon found that could it
"The option play and split line enabled us to run inside or outside the
defensive end without blocking him," Faurot said. "This technique was
unheard of prior to this time."
On the option play, the quarterback slid along the line horizontally for 3-to-5
steps rather than turning away from the center and bringing the ball back into
the backfield for a handoff. As the quarterback navigated horizontally, he
watched the outermost defender, either an end or a linebacker. If the defender
took the quarterback, he pitched the ball to a trailing halfback. If the
defender took the halfback, he kept the ball and cut inside the defender to run
The option replaced a thing (a physical blocker) at the point of attack with an
abstract idea: The decision of the defender which--no matter what he
decided--"blocked" the defender and thereby nullified him as a threat
to the play. The option gave Missouri control by providing its offense with
both the first and last decision in an encounter with the defense. Prior to the
snap, the Tigers' quarterback first decided whether to run the option, the
dive, or another play. If he chose the option, he decided whether to keep or
pitch as the last instant.
The first opposing coach to experience Faurot's new design was Paul Brown. In
1941, Missouri visited Ohio State in a game that marked Browns' debut as the
Buckeyes' head coach. Brown wrote that "we had nothing to match this
revolutionary concept in offensive football. Though we won the game, 12-7, we
were not prepared for this new concept, and we managed to survive only by the
sheerest of good fortune."
Other coaches also were impressed. "The split-T formation was the greatest
offensive innovation in a quarter century," said Oklahoma coach Bud
Wilkinson, who learned the split-T option from Faurot. Former Missouri and
Notre Dame coach Dan Devine said in 1995 that Faurot "made the only
significant change in offensive football in, I used to say 50, but I'd say 75
Wilkinson's and Devine's observations are not all hyperbole. It is undeniable
that the idea of creating a 2-on-1 matchup in favor of the offense is at the
heart of all offensive football. From Vince Lombardi's "run to
daylight" power sweep design to Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, all of
the great offensive play designers simply have been trying to recreate what
Faurot designed first with the split-T option: A 2-on-1 advantage.
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