Tom Osborne
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Deceptive Simplicity

November 30, 2017

If you want a big ol’ breakdown of what Husker fans hope will soon be “Nebraska’s offense” (i.e. Scott Frost’s offense), head over to USA Football’s blog for this story by Ted Nguyen.

There are a lot of Xs and Os to absorb, and a series of videos that should make any football fan say, “oh, that looks fun,” so if you want to get really deep into what could be coming to Lincoln this is a good place to start. (This story from Richard Johnson of SB Nation from earlier in the season is also quite good.)

If Xs and Os really aren’t your thing, check out Nguyen’s story anyway for the last three paragraphs. They outline what seems to be the key offensive football in general:


Imagine having to line up and face this offense as they hurry up to the line play after play. There is so much thinking that defenses have to do in a short amount of time, and when they finally think they have a bead on the offense, Frost hits you with a key-breaking play. While UCF moves fast, they cause their opponents to suffer from paralysis by analysis.

[Chip] Kelly said, “I think the coaches that are the best, really what they do is make the simple seem complex to their opponents, but they make the complex seem very simple to their own teams."

This is really the key to both his and Frost’s offense. Though Frost has taken it to another level by adding additional layers of deceptions to his concepts, underneath it all are just the same base plays over and over again. And that’s the beauty of it all.


That Kelly quote really sums things up nicely, and he’s probably one of hundreds of football coaches to have said some variation of “what you want is deceptive simplicity." One of the easiest ways to do that? Formations.

Here’s Mike Leach from the famous 2005 New York Times Magazine profile by Michael Lewis:


"There's two ways to make it more complex for the defense," Leach says. "One is to have a whole bunch of different plays, but that's no good because then the offense experiences as much complexity as the defense. Another is a small number of plays and run it out of lots of different formations. That way, you don't have to teach a guy a new thing to do," he says. "You just have to teach him new places to stand."


Leach learned offensive football through an intense study of BYU legend Lavell Edwards.

Edwards’ good friend, Tom Osborne, liked a lot of different formations, too. At a coaching clinic in 1990, Osborne said: “We are going to make use of multiple sets. This is how we feel we can move the football. Also we are going to use motion to give our offense an advantage. We want the defense to spend some time working against our motion.”

Nebraska’s 1983 offensive playbook listed seven different formations (almost all of them utilizing the I alignment in the backfield). The 1997 playbook lists 14 formations, including more one-back sets. You then take 20-or-so running plays that can be run out of most formations to either the left or right, and all of the sudden you’ve got what looks like a panoply of plays to an opposing defense, but the teaching involved is a fraction of what it might look like on the field.

Frost seems to have taken those lessons to heart, and, thanks to his time spent with Kelly, added the element of tempo to it.

It’s a pretty intriguing blend. No wonder so many people feel it can’t get here quickly enough.

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