The Stanford’s Unbalanced Run Schemes

David Shaw is hoping to lead his team a national championship with a new quarterback and a Heisman-hopeful running back. To that, Shaw will stick with passing and running concepts that have been reliable in the past. Joseph Ferraiola breaks Stanford’s unbalanced run schemes and how they force defenses to constantly adjust.

The Stanford Cardinal had a lot of success a season ago going 12-2 overall and 8-1 in conference play before their victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. A lot of their success is attributed to their running game, as head coach David Shaw and the Cardinal offense run a lot of unbalanced power and counter runs from essentially the same look. These looks cause defenses to have to adjust, allowing Shaw to decide what plays to call.

Diagram1Stanford Unbalanced Look

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During his 2016 Nike clinic presentation, Shaw outlined how Stanford unbalances its line two different ways. The first is by lining up in a regular offensive line alignment with a tackle on each end and a tight end to the right side of the line.

Diagram2 TE T Flip Unbalanced Look

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The other way Stanford unbalances the line is to take both tackles and place them on the right side of the line and align the tight end on the left alongside the left guard. Shaw makes the decision of how to unbalance his line according to the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. If the tight end is a good blocker the line can stay as is, but if the team feels they need added power they can flip the backside tackle to help the strong side. According to Shaw, Stanford may use a tackle for added blocking power no matter if the tight end is proficient enough in his blocking abilities.


[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Unbalanced Counter

Diagram 3 Unbalanced Strong Side Counter

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We are unbalanced with the tight end in standard position. He arc-blocks out on the outside linebacker to his side. The play side guard and tackle block for a combination block for the 3 technique defender and backside linebacker, or they simply block down. The center blocks the backside for the backside pulling guard. The backside tackle secures the backside B gap and turns back on the defensive end. The fullback is responsible for the play side inside linebacker. The backside guard pulls and kicks out on the first man that shows. The outside receiver to the play side blocks the man aligned on him and the slot receiver blocks the most dangerous man. That will probably be the strong safety. (Shaw, 210)

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StanfordCounter.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StanfordCounterStill.png”]

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On this play against UCLA in 2015, Stanford is in 21 personnel with its tight end unbalancing the line on the strong side. The offense has a two-back set – as they do on the majority of their unbalanced runs – and two wide receivers aligned to the right. When the ball is snapped, Christian McCaffrey (#5) and his fullback, Daniel Marx (#35), both counter while the tight end, Dalton Schultz (#9), makes initial contact with the defensive end and then moves to the next level. The play side guard and tackle combination block the defensive tackle while the center blocks the backside for the pulling guard. The backside tackle blocks the opposite defensive end.

Just as Shaw explained in his presentation, the pulling guard kicks outs on the first man he sees. The fullback has to block the play-side linebacker, Kenny Young (#42), and does so before the linebacker frees himself. A lane is created for McCaffrey and he runs through it, breaking a tackle along the way before being brought down by Young while picking up the first down.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Unbalanced Power

Diagram 4 Unbalanced Strong Side Power Play

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The only difference between the blocking of the counter and power play is the fullback and pulling guard. On the counter, the guard is the kick out blocker and the fullback wraps for the play side inside linebacker. On the power, the fullback is the kick out blocker and the backside guard wraps around for the play side linebacker. (211)

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StanfordUnbalancedPower.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StanfordPowerStill.png”]

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Stanford loads eight players on the line for this power play. The Cardinal are in 21 personnel with additional offensive linemen added to the strong side. Once the ball is snapped the center blocks the defensive tackle, Kenny Clark (#97), for the right guard to pull. The left guard and left tackle both block the end with the extra linemen blocking the middle linebackers. The fullback makes a block on the outside linebacker. The pulling guard blocks the defensive back, Ishmael Adams (#1), clearing a path for McCaffrey. McCaffrey is able to burst through the hole and outrun the UCLA defense in pursuit for a touchdown.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Unbalanced Power Toss

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StanfordToss.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/StandfordTossStill.png”]

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The unbalanced power toss is a play Stanford picked up from LSU. The toss is designed so that the quarterback can defend against teams that like to blitz the corner from the backside. He’s able to quickly toss the ball and then turn around and make a block. According to Shaw, the block should be enough to shield off the corner. This allows Stanford to pick up an extra blocker in the run game.


This unbalanced power toss is run from essentially the same look that Stanford ran on its unbalanced counter run. The difference, however, is that the Cardinal have flipped the tight end and the tackle in this unbalanced formation: Schultz is aligned on the weak side and there are two tackles – Kyle Murphy (#78) and Casey Tucker (#77) – on the strong side for additional power blocking.

Like Shaw describes, the difference in blocking between the counter and power run is the responsibilities of the fullback and the pulling guard. The fullback is now responsible for the kick out block and the pulling guard takes the play side linebacker. However, opposing defenses don’t always cooperate and Stanford must adjust its rules. On this play the fullback is responsible for the first man who shows off the edge. In this case, it’s linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea (#44). The pulling guard, Johnny Caspers (#57), blocks defensive back Jaleel Wadood (#2). The line makes a wall against the UCLA front clearing a path for McCaffrey to pick up the first and more on 2nd and 1.

You can expect Stanford to run more unbalanced formations this season to create confusion and mismatches against opposing defenses. The Stanford offense has a lot of talented starters to replace, including quarterback Kevin Hogan and offensive guard Joshua Garnett. Despite that, Stanford should be able to compete for a Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff berth with Shaw calling the plays and Heisman-hopeful McCaffrey in the backfield.

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All video courtesy of Draftbreakdown. 

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