The Morris/Clemson Offensive System

It’s one of the most popular offenses in the country. MQ helps you understand it.

Stephenville High School (TX) is located about 100 miles southwest of the DFW metroplex and is the birthplace to two of college football’s most dominant offensive systems. The modern dominance of Yellowjacket football began with the hiring of Art Briles in 1988. For 12 years, the offensive guru haunted the minds of fellow Texas head coaches and defensive coordinators winning four state titles (’93-’94, ’98-’99) during his tenure. Briles would leave the sidelines of Stephenville after his last set of back-to-back state championship campaigns to join the college ranks in Lubbock, Texas under former Texas Tech and current Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach. The meshing of Briles “high school” offense, adapted from his former Houston Head Coach Bill Yeoman, and Leach’s pure Air Raid developed at Tech speaks for itself.

A few years after Briles’ departure to join the Red Raiders, Stephenville would turn to a young, up and coming coach in the name of Chad Morris. Morris would come from the storied program in Bay City, Texas to try and regain the glory created by Briles. After a first rough season, Morris needed answers and turned to a coach who was racking up points and making noise in a neighboring state. That coach was none other than Gus Malzahn and his unique brand of no-huddle Spread. Briles had proven the Spread could be a success in Stephenville, but Chad Morris’ brand needed an update after falling on hard times. Morris’ career and Spread offense would explode after his meeting with Malzahn.

The Yellowjackets under Morris’ tutelage would real off four consecutive 10+ win seasons with a high water mark in 2005 at 13-1. Morris’ success would take him to Lake Travis High School and two consecutive Texas State Championships, going 32-0 before moving on to the University of Tulsa in 2010 and then Clemson the following year (2011). His tenure at Clemson would solidify him as one of the top offensive minds in college football, eventually landing him the Head Coach title back in Texas at SMU.

The QB Whisperer

Morris has a knack for developing elite quarterbacks (…outside of his tenure at SMU). Starting with his stint in Stephenville, Morris would help develop former Texas, Ole Miss, and Prep All-American QB Jevan Snead. At Lake Travis HS, Morris had two of the top high school quarterbacks in the country with Garrett Gilbert (Texas/SMU/6th Round) and Michael Brewer (Texas Tech/Virginia Tech). Both prep QBs had video game numbers, with each throwing for over 4,000 yards while rushing for over 600 yards on the ground (and 65+ total TDs each!).

During Morris’ brief one year stint at Tulsa, the Hurricanes would real off a 10 win season with QB G.J Kinne passing for 3,500+ yards, 31 TDs, and accumulating over 500 yards on the ground. After the 2010 season in northeast Oklahoma, Morris would leave the region for Clemson where he inherited Tahj Boyd (three seasons of 3,800+, 30 TD seasons/6th Round) and helped elevate the Clemson Football program to national prominence under current Head Coach Dabo Sweeny.

In his final year at Clemson, Morris would oversee a young Deshaun Watson (1st Round) lead the Tigers until he tore his ACL during the season. During Morris’ tenure with Clemson, Tiger offenses were consistently ranked in the top 25 in offensive efficiency. The program would also see four consecutive 10 win seasons (something that hadn’t happened at Clemson since the late ’80s: ’87-’90). He also introduced America to the now infamous “Philly Special” (below).

The Offense

On the surface, the Malzahn and Morris systems look very similar (they do come from the same tree). Where Malzahn is more Slot-T, which relies heavily on gap plays (pulling guards/tackles – think Power/Counter) and the use of a running QB, the Morris system is more in line with other modern Spread offenses and bases out of zone schemes. Open up a Chad Morris playbook and the first play you are likely to see is a simple 20 personnel Inside Zone (below).

01 IZ (w) [Switch]

Formations

The base formation for any Morris style offense is the typical 20 pers. with a stacked backfield as shown above. The backfield orientation is critical in this style of offense because it usually dictates the type of plays a defense might see. Many teams that run this type of offense will like a “stacked” backfield to run their gap plays because it allows the RB to hit the play downhill in Power or follow the folding H-back in Counter. The split backfield look (Slant/Slant Opposite) is usually used for Zone Read (Arc) or BAsh (back-away) plays because it gives split flow look or hides the arcing H-back behind the line of scrimmage (LOS).

02 Backfields

10 pers. is another major grouping in the Morris Spread system. The use of four wide receivers is typical in most Spread offenses, but what separates Morris’ offense from the typical Air Raid scheme is his use of motions within these formations. Every WR can be brought back into the backfield or across the field. The use of motion is used as “eye-candy” to get defenders to move or out leverage themselves.

Like a typical Leach-style offense, the “Little Y” is usually on the ball. In the Morris system, this is the 5-Man. This style of offense can also move players around depending on the formation strength. Some offenses will opt to have a left and right side of WRs, in this particular system, there is a “strong” and “weak” side. In a typical “Doubles” formation the 5 and 2-Man are aligned together while the 9 and 3-Man are aligned opposite (below). The 9-Man is like a traditional “X” WR and is usually found on the single WR side.

03 Spread Rt

As the system has developed over time, Morris and Clemson have used more TE sets to change up their Spread looks. Many Spread offenses like a TE versus 3-down defense because of the lack of a natural adjuster. For instance, when SMU played Houston in 2017, the Ponies used TE sets to combat the Cougars 3-down front (below). The clip below highlights a favorite Spread play against a 3-down defense, the Dart or T-Power. The lack of a 5 tech. allows the offensive line to down block on the D-linemen while the backside tackle wraps to kick out the force player.

Gap plays from 11 pers. are also used. Below is a look at SMU’s Counter GY. Most offenses won’t pull an attached TE, but in this case, Morris opts to use him as a wrapper. This play can be run from any 11 or 20 pers. formation which adds to the use of tempo. The use of multiple formations with the same basic run plays is a typical practice by many Spread teams. Where Morris and Clemson make a defense work is in the utilization of WR and backfield motions.


The Use of Motions 

Motions and shifts are a big part of the Morris/Clemson style of offense and have several ways to move and shift players to gain advantages by the formation and placement of players. Each position in the offense has its own specific motions to align them in certain areas or to change the structure of a formation. The main motion used in this offense is the Jet motion. Most positions in the offense have the ability to Jet motion into the backfield, even the 9-man (“X”) from unbalanced formations. For the most part, they are nothing more than window dressing or eye-candy for the box players.

When offense use Jet motions they are trying to out-leverage the defense quickly by beating them to the edge or countering the defense’s movement with BAsh plays away from the motion. QB runs are generally used with this motion, or simple Inside Zone handoffs because it moves the ILBs enough to get angles on them. Another tendency to look for versus teams that use Jet motion is the RB’s location. Many times, the motion comes away from the RB’s alignment to allow the back to become the lead blocker for the motion man (Jet Stretch). If the jet motion comes from the RB’s side, those motions are mainly to get the defense to trigger and not for a Jet Sweep play.

Many times the RB will actually tip off where the ball is going. If the RB is even with the QB or wide (stacking the OT), there is a tendency that the ball is going to be handed off to the Jet or the offense is running some kind of Power Read or Counter with the RB as a lead blocker. If the RB is tight to the QB and deep the motion may just be for window dressing. These are always things to look for when breaking down an opponent’s run game. The main plays that utilize Jet motions will always be QB run schemes that pair the motion with the ever-popular BAsh concepts (Q Power/Counter). Below is a look at a majority of the motions this offense utilizes throughout the season.

The 2-Man

Zin Motion – This motion is used to get the 2-Man and 5-man close together either to run screens or as the clip shows to run rub routes.

Utah Motion – This is an “orbit” motion that brings the 2-Man behind the QB and into pitch relationship. The Utah Motion is also the first motion installed in many Morris offenses. It allows the offense to get into a 3-back set. Many of the concepts that the Morris/Clemson tree use are taken and modified from option offenses. This particular play is a Split Zone paired with option motion. Through a simple tag, the offense can change the H’s responsibility and turn this into Arc Option where the QB will pull versus a crashing DE and run simple Load Option pitching off the secondary. The orbit motion can also act as a modified bubble screen if defenses load the box.

Twirl or Return Motion – This is the counter off the “orbit” motion shown above. Once the 2-Man enters the backfield he will then arc back out on the snap. This is prevalent in many Flexbone and option teams because it deceives the defense and allows the motion man to quickly out leverage a defender. Again, another option look off a called run (no read). Like the orbit, the twirl motion can also turn into a unique screen look.

2-Man Jet Motion – Outside of Utah this is the primary motion for the 2-Man and used in various schemes in the playbook. The 2-Man Jet is similar to how most Spread teams attempt to get the ball in an athletic slot’s hands. It is also a great window dressing for a multitude of plays.

Back Motion – The 2-Man functions as a hybrid RB/WR that is typical in most Spread offenses. The main difference is that the Morris/Clemson offense aligns him as the #1 outside WR, and will use him primarily as the motion man. The 2-Man has five base motions that are utilized to move him around, compare this to his counterpart in the 5-man who only has two base motions. The Back motion allows the offense to get the 2-Man into the backfield as a decoy or to hand him the ball as a hybrid back.

2-Man Across Motion – Finally, the across motion gets the 2-Man from one side of the formation to the other. Below, the Tigers move from an 11p Trips look to an 11p Pro Twin set. This can allow the offense to see if the defense is in man or zone.


The 3-Man:

In or H-Across Motion – The 3-Man is the H-back and can line up on the line or in the backfield depending on the formation. One shift that is utilized in many 20p two-back offenses is the across shift of the H-back. This particular motion moves the 3-Man from one side of the formation to the other but inside the box. This can be used to change the defense’s front, to counter how the defense has aligned, or simply as eye-candy and have the H come back post-snap (Counter/Split Zone/Boot). This shift can help offenses break tendencies by using a simple shift. This shift can also be tagged to bring the “H” back into the box from out wide (Ex. – 10p 2×2 set then shift into a 20p 2×1 set).

3-Man Far Motion – This shift is the opposite of the In or Across shift shown above. The H-back is moved outside of the box. In the clip below, the H-back is moved outside of the box to help block on a perimeter screen. Utilizing the H-back on screens outside is a typical use for a Spread team that uses a big bodied hybrid blocker/receiver.


4-Man:

Flare/Behind Motion – In the Morris/Clemson offense these motions are dictated by the tag. There are two, one to push the RB to the boundary and the other to push him to the field. The only reason they look different is by how the initial formation is called. Below, the RB pushes to the field (Flare) because the backfield formation is Slant Opposite. If the call had been Slant the RB would have gone behind the QB (Behind) and the motion would have looked different. This is an easy way for an offense to have one call for a motion, but make it look like two different things to the defense.

Shift to Boundary (A-Far) – One way the Morris/Clemson offensive system gets into Empty is by shifting the RB out. This can help highlight a defense’s coverage or gain a mismatch by making the defense cover a RB and waste a DB allowing a speed slot to take advantage of a mismatch. The clip below illustrates how Morris used motion to the boundary to get into Empty.

Shift to Field (A-Far) – Below, Clemson motions their RB to the field. In each clip, the motion was used to distract the defense from the called play. In the previous clip, the throw went opposite the motion whereas below, the motion goes to the screens side. Either way, the ball is out quick with it being only five-man protection.


The 5-man:

5 Jet Motion – The clip below illustrates how the offense changes if they are going to send the 5-Man in motion. The primary way to motion the 5-Man is through a simple Jet motion. The base offense always has the 5-Man on the ball. This can be problematic if an offense is going to move him. Morris has several ways to get him off the ball, whether through screen tags or motion. Purest will always have the 5-Man on the ball, so if he lines up somewhere else, be on the lookout for something funky!

5-Man Across Motion– This is the same as the 2-Man Across motion, but now the 5-Man is off the ball and works across the formation.


The Run Game

The Morris offense can be deadly when there is a running QB involved because it allows the offense to use motions and split flows to confuse defenders. The most important thing to remember when defending a Morris/Clemson style offense is that they are option based, meaning they are “Read” heavy. In essence, Morris is an option guy. The Utah and Twirl motions from the 2-Man are modified right from an option playbook.

Zones are going to be the base plays found in any Spread offense because they are simple (less verbiage/teaching), mesh well with tempo, and lend to the Read game. Understanding the multitude of ways a Spread team can run Zone will help a defensive coordinator better defend a system that is built around a simple play.

That being said, the gap plays that are most affiliated with the Morris/Clemson style offense are similar to Malzahn – Power, and Counter. Power, in particular, has been adapted into its own kind of read and Counter has been combined with BAsh movements by the RB (or Jet Motion) to get the ball in the QB’s hands. Below are the major run concepts found in the Morris/Clemson scheme.

1. Inside Zone/Iso/Split Zone/Arc Read

Take a peek into a Chad Morris playbook and the first run concept highlighted will be Inside Zone and all its variations. Even Iso is considered a zone variation for most Spread teams. Understanding this fact can help a DC better understand his opponent. Meaning, Split Zone can easily turn into an “H” insert or Iso play. Since Morris bases his offense out of a 20p look, the top play is going to be simple Inside Zone (shown below). In the clip below, Lake Travis HS runs a simple Inside Zone scheme from a 3×1 Pistol formation. In the Morris/Clemson offense, the addition of a TE on the line or H-back into the backfield will be used to prevent the DE or end man on the line (EMOL) from crashing in (illustrated below). The Morris/Clemson offense can work from the Pistol or the Gun and Morris has moved to and from using Pistol. It really depends on the preference of the OC.

Split Zone – Every offense has a way to transition from a simple Inside Zone to Split Zone. A simple tag or a different play call can tell the H-back in a 20p set to work opposite the line. In the Morris/Clemson case, verbiage for the offensive line is kept the same and a tag is given to the 3-Man to work back across the play, blocking the edge defender.

Lead – Another way this system can run Inside Zone and change the blocking by the H-back is to tag it with a “Lead” call. This creates an Iso play. Depending on the offense this can change the blocking scheme to Big-on-Big or let the O-line know they don’t need to climb for the Mike or ILB.

Arc Read – If an offense has Split Zone then they are sure to have the Arc Read off of it. This play uses the same action as Split Zone but instead of walling the EMOL the H-back works up to the next level (LB). The Arc Read is a great play for the same reason the Split Zone is, it creates an extra gap without pulling a lineman. The play forces the box ‘backers to fit their gap. The main difference is the offense is now meshing the Zone Read and Split Zone. As the read side, LB fits, the H-back arcs to wall him. The offensive line’s blocking is the same and never changes. If the DE takes the RB, the QB pulls with a lead blocker – the H-back working to the next level. Below is an example of the same-side Arc Read. Add an Orbit or Twirl motion and you have a Load Option play.

2. Power

Though the most famous play within the scheme is Power Read and the several variations off of it, any 20p based team is going to run some variation of standard Power. Below is a look at a simple weakside Power ran by Clemson. The H-back will kick out the DE and the guard will loop for the ‘backer. The play is not an “A” gap run but rather meant to hit off tackle. Alabama uses a Tite Front and strong side edge pressure to stuff the play.

One thing to be aware of is how teams like to run their Power. Some OCs will run same-side Power and put the RB on the side of the play. This allows the RB to hit the hole downhill. If an offense anticipates a spill and wants to give the RB the option to bounce, splitting the backfield (above) allows the RB time to read the guard’s pull. When looking at tendencies the back alignment is something to keep an eye on.

3. Counter/Q Counter (GA)

Where the H-back aligns can usually tip-off what runs a defense might see. Many times, if a team is going to run Counter GH, the H-back will be in a slot position (or Y-off). To give time for the slower guard to kick the edge defender, the H-back is usually moved outside the box. When developing a formational breakdown, it is important to distinguish the difference Y-off and “sniffer” alignment.

The Clemson/Morris system uses Counter and Q Counter in a variety of ways. Below, the Razorbacks used a 20p unbalanced formation and Jet motion to gain leverage on Colorado State’s defense. This is a typical way that Morris uses “bastard” formations with traditional plays. Pop motion creates a soft edge to the two-man surface and allows the RB a nice crease.

The mix of formations and personnel groups dictates who is the wrapper on Counter. Below, the Tigers are aligned in a basic 11p Twin formation. As with many of Clemson’s plays, there is some kind of quick motion to get the eyes of the LB’s away from their keys and opposite the direction of the play. One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the alignment of the RB. Many times if the offense is going to hand the ball off to the Jet motion, the RB will be even and wide in order to be a lead blocker. Below, Clemson does a great job of disguising the alignment. This particular play is a Q Counter GT BAsh. The Jet Motion acts as eye candy to pull the LBs in the wrong direction.

Outside of Inside Zone, the Power Toss is probably the second most popular play within the scheme. Morris/Clemson pairs this play with the “sucker” Q Counter. The clever play design uses the defense against itself. Whoever is responsible for the RB will be kicked out by the guard and the H-back will replace the usually wrapping guard in the Power Toss. The play uses the outside momentum to create natural fitting blocks for inside pullers. Add quick motion and the defense can look discombobulated.

Finally, the addition of the RB as the wrapper is another simple way to give the defense another look. Below, Clemson runs the play from a 10p 2×2 cluster set. This is a clever way to run Counter without pulling both the guard and the tackle. In 10p the box is already light, so the RB doesn’t have to thump with a plugging Mike. The key to defending this is the overhangs and their ability to trigger and close the gap.

Load Tag: This tells the RB to lead up on a QB play (the base is to make it a Bash concept). Typically the Q Counter is ran from a BAsh scheme, but in the goal line, an offense may want an extra blocker. An easy way for the Morris/Clemson system to do this is to give a “Load” tag and have the QB run the ball.

5. Power Read Toss/Power Read

This year I got the chance to listen to Coach Morris at this years THSCA Coaching School (think AFCA, but only for Texas HS coaches) talk about the development of the Power Read Toss, which is arguably this systems most famous play. Innovation stems from desperation. To the outside eye, the play is a unique way to switch the look of the Power Read. The simple alignment switch, however, is a clever adjustment to a problem many coaches face – a slow RB. Morris explained the genesis of the play was he felt he didn’t have a RB fast enough to actually run the stretch successfully.

The basic Power Read plays on the path of the RB. The stretch action forces the ILBs and secondary to react to a fast outside flow. In the interior of the line, a guard is pulling and the other linemen are blocking just like Power. Instead of kicking out the end man on the line (EMOL), the offense leaves him for the QB to read, usually a DE. If the EMOL crashes down or works up to the QB the RB receives the ball on a stretch, if the DE works upfield to take or wall the RB, the QB pulls an inserts behind a pulling guard. Morris’ dilemma was that he didn’t have a RB that could stretch the defense horizontal. His solution, “Just put him out there.” Instead of using stretch action, place the RB to the read side and fake a toss to him, similar to Speed Option. The same rules apply.

Clemson uses an Empty formation to spread the defense out and motions the RB back into the backfield (below). As the play begins, the QB eyes the read-side DE who uses a “surf” technique keeping his shoulders square as he closes down the line off of his tackle’s down block. The RB is already gaining width on his toss path. By “surfing” down the line, the DE essentially plays himself out of the toss. There is little chance of him making the play and the QB tosses the ball to the RB on the perimeter. The read-side overhang is cracked by the slot (who happens to be the 3-Man/H-back) and the Mike has to sort through trash. The play is a successful six-yard gain on 1st Down. Had the DE stepped with the RB, the QB would have faked the toss (to sell the DE completely) and inserted behind the guard.

Below is a tendency for defensive coaches to be aware of. Notice the H-back is opposite the RB. Any time this offense uses Jet Motion it is important to identify if there is a lead blocker. The 3-Man located opposite the Jet will act as a lead blocker. The play shown in the clip is a Jet Sweep opposite a Power Read Toss. To help stall the ILBs, the offense uses a pulling guard to hold them for a second as the H-back arcs for the safety who is spinning down as a reaction to the quick motion. The Morris/Clemson offense does a great job of creating different looks that can have multiple plays ran from it. If the defense overreacts to the Jet Motion, the offense can quickly come back to the same look and run the Power Toss.

The clip below illustrates a typical Jet Power Read. This is a typical complement to the base Power Read play that many teams already use. Some Spread teams will prefer to add a lead blocker by having the RB already aligned in the backfield. This is also a way for offenses to get the ball into its speedy slot’s hands. The key in defending any play like this is to make sure every player knows their responsibility (box or outside) and there is a force player to make the play cutback.

The Power Read and Power Read Toss highlight a fundamental issue for defensive coaches, how to play the DEs? The modern defensive coordinator can’t have his DE do one simple technique. Kirby Smart, at the same THSCA Coaching Convention I saw Morris, stated the same. A DE can’t live in a “surf” technique or crash down the line all the time. Sometimes a DE needs to charge the mesh or hold his gap. Creating calls to throw off an offense is key and need to be utilized when playing teams that run Power Read or Power Toss.

6. Buck Sweep

The Buck Sweep is a great horizontal play that doesn’t necessarily run east and west. The use of trapping or logging pullers gives an extra force on the edge of the box. If the defense overpursues, the RB can cut up behind one of the traps and scamper down the field for a large gain. In the clip below, Clemson pulls both guards (and many offenses will pull whoever is uncovered) to lead block for the RB.

7. Speed Option

Any good OC will have Speed Option in their playbook. This forces the defense to stay honest and not overload a side. The Morris system uses Speed Option as another extension of the QB run game. The key to defending the Speed Option is much like Stretch because that is essentially what it is, Stretch with a pitch. Option rules are key and players need to understand them in order to attack this simple read play. Below, Lake Travis uses Speed Option to attack the perimeter of the Allen Eagle defense. Allen does a great job of stringing the play along.

8. Sprint Draw/Spot Draw/Q Draw

Any team that passes with frequency or utilizes Sprint Outs will have either a simple Draw play or Sprint Draw. The Sprint Draw uses the defense’s aggression to its advantage. As the QB deepens and looks like he is sprinting to the edge, the RB will take a few steps then pivot back for the ball. The Tigers O-line turns and walls the DL creating a seam for the RB between the line and the LBs screaming into coverage.  The result is a big gain and a first down.

The Q Iso Draw is a great way to attack a lightbox in passing situations. The use of a running QB in this offense only expands the difficulty of defending it. Utilizing a snag by the #3 WR as shown below helps keep the overhang from folding into the box allowing the offense to have man-on-man blocking in the box. Below, the Spot Draw that is prevalent in many Spread offenses is adapted to run like a Q Iso. This same play can be used a base Draw too by just handing the ball to the RB. The Morris/Clemson team just adds the color tag to alert who is getting the ball.


RPO & Q “Pull” Tags

Tags are an important part of an offense’s attack. These simple “hot” words can change a play to take advantage of how a defense aligns or is choosing to attack an offense. The Morris/Clemson offense has multiple tags, but there are five distinct ones that carry over into most games. These can be as simple as telling the QB to pull it on Zone or change the type of screen the WRs are running.

1. Q Pull (Dash) – The Dash tag is a simple way to take advantage of an over-aggressive defense. Most offenses will have a Read and a Zone play. Typically, the Dash tag is used when the QB is not a huge threat running the ball (otherwise the offense would be running a Read play). In the Morris system, the base play is Inside Zone, with no read. The OC can call a Zone Read, but many teams that base out of 11p/20p will use the extra blocker to create more lanes for the RB. As defenses, primarily the LBs, get ultra-aggressive towards the run, the OC can tag their Zone play with a Dash tag. This tag tells the QB to pull the ball (below) and can either tuck it or pitch it out to the WR screen.

The Dash tag can also help open up an offense’s screen game by allowing the QB to get to the edge and put the overhang in conflict. If the overhang takes the QB, the QB will simply pitch it to the open WR who has man-for-man blocking on the edge. Auburn has used this simple play to kill defenses by running a Hitch by the #1 WR and a Bubble by #2. Bill Snyder at Kansas State will have his QBs pull and run laterally, waiting on the overhang to trigger then flip it out to an open WR. It’s nothing more than a modern day Triple Option.

2. 5-Man Screen (Bubble) – The base alignment for a Morris/Clemson 20p offense is to have the #2 WR on the ball. This makes the base screen out of this offense to be a Switch Screen where the #1 WR runs a jab-hitch and the #2 WR blocks the 1st threat. In order to switch it up and give the defense another look, the OC can tag a play that tells the #2 WR to run a Bubble. The Bubble tag also forces the #2 WR to align off the line. It is important as a defensive coach to understand the different subtleties of how offenses line up. By seeing #2 off the ball, the DC now knows that there is a high likelihood of a Bubble RPO being thrown.

3. Backside Conversion Route (9-Man) – A quick and simple way for an offense to attack a backside CB that is soft is to run a Hitch route with the X WR. Many 20p RPO teams will use a conversion route by the X to add to their pre-snap read and RPO game. A conversion route tag tells the X WR that he will run a route depending on the leverage of the CB. If the CB is soft, the X will run a hitch. If the CB is tight, the “X” will then run a Fade. This simple tag tells the QB to look to the single-WR. If the RB is to the single-WR side, this is now the QB’s RPO read. If the RB is set opposite the “X,” the QB will flop his read (opposite the “read” or RB side) and look at the CB.

By utilizing the backside WR, the offense now has four different options in one play: 1) give to RB, 2) QB Pull, 3) throw WR screen (read side), or 4) throw to the 9-man on a conversion route. That’s a lot for a defense to handle from one basic look. The image below illustrates the usefulness of the 20p Stack formation. The defense has to make sure at all times they are option sound as well as ready to defend the pass.

RPO 1

Here is the infamous Ole Miss series where they ran the same play hitting all the options in route to a TD. The Reb’s ran one play five times, hit all four reads, and scored in less than a minute.

4. Snag RPO – When defenses utilize edge pressures or have a quick triggering overhang, offenses will turn to a Snag route. This is a great concept to be used against teams that run 2-Read over the two WRs too. The Snag by the slot replaces the vacated overhang and sits underneath a high safety. This can give fits to 2-Read teams that allow their overhang to be quick to a run read because the safety is now 10-12 yards off the slot. In the clip below, Lake Travis takes advantage of man coverage by The Woodlands. As the overhang inserts for the run, the #2 WR runs a quick five-yard hitch. The safety now has a one-on-one open-field tackle to make. Luckily, the CB fit off the #1 WR coming to block and made a great tackle. Many offenses will keep the #1 WR outside as to not bring the CB in to make a potential play (below).

5. Alaska – Many defenses will choose to drop their boundary safety or sink him near the LOS versus 20p two-back offenses (invert). This gives the defense an extra edge defender, but it isolates the CB one-on-one with the “X” WR. If a defense has a lock-down CB, there may not be an issue, but in the Morris/Clemson offense, the Alaska tag is their shot play. Alaska tells the backside 9-man to run a Post route, replacing the sinking safety. The QB will read the safety on the snap of the ball. If the safety inverts, the QB throws the Post. Though this is a 3rd level RPO, many times it isn’t a “read” because the offense already knows what is coming. Below, SMU runs an Alaska on the goal line to take advantage of an over-aggressive safety. The CB gets caught watching the QB and his slight delay is all the WR and QB need to connect for a touchdown. If a defense is going to be ultra-aggressive with the boundary safety, be prepared for Alaska.


5 Questions for Defending the Morris/Clemson Offense

1) Does the QB run the ball?

This offense really hums when the QB is a runner. This scheme can add value with motions, shifts, and BAsh concepts to get the defensive players’ heads spinning. The Morris/Clemson scheme has multiple ways to get the QB the ball too. From simple Zone Reads to using a multitude of shifts and quick motions to get the LBs’ eyes off their keys. As a defensive coach that is defending a team that uses this offensive scheme, it is important to know who the offense is trying to run the ball with. If the QB is the main weapon, it will change how you structure your box. One thing to always keep in mind, option rules!

2) How do my alignments/leverages force them to attack me?

I’ve always argued that you can kill a lot of pre-snap RPOs by alignment. Earlier I illustrated how a typical 20p two-back offense can run one play with four different outcomes. On the surface, that can be a tough ask for any defense to defend. Where the Morris/Clemson offense excels is creating matchups depending on how a defense plays their formations. For instance, many teams will run a 2-Read scheme over the two WRs in a 20p formation. This allows defenses to stop RPOs by having a quick force player in the CB, but if the overhang LB is too quick to trigger to the LOS, the offense will tag a Snag route like shown earlier. Run Sky or Quarters/man over the two WRs and the offense can tag a Fade/Out concept to beat the safety to the edge.

How a defense defends the backside of a two-back formation is just as important. Watching TCU defend Chad Morris’ SMU offense and current Broncos WR Courtland Sutton, you will notice, the boundary CB tightened up on Sutton as to not give him the conversion Hitch. Pressing the boundary “X” can inhibit an offense from throwing backside because it forces the low percentage throw in the Fade. The safety can also stay high to help with bracket coverage and also inhibit the Fade/Post. The issue with this is that you are using two defenders on one man and leaving the boundary run defense without a crucial alley runner. Keep the CB high and drop/sink/invert the safety and the OC can either throw a Hitch or tag an Alaska read (as seen on every OC’s Twitter account!)

One creative way DCs can eliminate the backside Hitch/Alaska without giving up run support is to invert the boundary secondary by either dropping down the safety or trapping the CB. When the safety is down near the LOS, the QB has to think about if he will cut #1 (Hitch) or if he will blitz (unblocked too). The CB, knowing that he will have support underneath if the Safety cuts #1 can deepen and align firmly inside. This helps prevent the Post (Alaska) and he is already deep for the Fade route – all he has to do is play the ball. Cutting the CB can help too. Whether from a press or a Sky look, a trapping CB can add into the run game or muddy the window for a backside Hitch. The Safety, much like the CB in a dropped safety look, the defender can guard the Post and be deep enough to prevent play the Fade.

3) Where are potential lead blockers for Jet Motions?

One of the most distinctive attributes of this offensive system is the use of Jet Motion. For the most part, the use of quick motion in this offense is nothing more than a window dressing. Understanding which Jet Motions have the potential to be a give is key to developing a plan on defending this offense. One way to quickly identify if a quick motion has the ability to be a give is to identify if there is a lead blocker. Outside of Empty, most OCs are going to want to get an edge blocker out on the perimeter to help the stretch. This can be done in several ways from using the RB or the H-back. For the most part, OCs choose to use the RB as the lead blocker. Rarely does an OC choose to give the ball to a Jet motion that is coming into the backfield from the same side as the RB (unless the “H” is opposite). Identify who is the main lead blocker and plan accordingly.

4) Where is the RB (back or even)?

At the college level with advanced scouting and more time to coach the players, teams will find a way to change the RB’s alignment to muddy tendencies. At the HS level, with different speed and talent levels, OCs tend to tip their hand when it comes to back alignment. If the RB is deep and close to the QB, his path tends to be downhill (Zone/Power). If the RB is even with the QB, the defense is more likely to see horizontal runs (Bash/Stretch). Finally, if the RB is even and wide this can be an indicator for Jet Motion, especially a give.

5) Who is the main WR & where is he lined up?

Courtland Sutton at SMU was easy to find. Not only was he the biggest WR on the field, but he was almost always in the 9-Man’s position. At the college level, the 9-Man can easily be left in the same spot, but what if your best WR is in the slot? Purists of the offense will always keep the 5-Man on the line. This makes it easy for teams to identify where he is and if he’s off he is likely to motion or run a Bubble. As this offense has evolved, the 5-Man issue has been the one most OCs will find a way to switch up so not to give away tendencies. Since every WR has a specific position on the field it is important to identify if a normal WR is not in a normal place. This can be a way to alert the defense that something is up.

**Tempo: The Morris/Clemson system utilizes Tempo, but it doesn’t live in it. Like most Spread offenses are moving to, a fluid use of slow and fast paces allows the OC to call plays at an efficient rate. After big plays or a turnover are usually where you will see OCs put the gas pedal down or take a shot downfield. Understanding how teams use motion will help a defensive staff prepare practice plans and their players.

 

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8 thoughts on “The Morris/Clemson Offensive System”

    1. They don’t label a number the motion. Each motion has a specific name that is a hot word for that WR. For instance, “Utah” is only talking to the 2-man & tells him to run an Orbit motion from his spot in the formation given.

  1. One of the best football coaching blogs I’ve found!!!
    **But the boxes that should contain the video clips are just black and contain an error message, “Unknown Error”, in red font.**
    Any ideas how to fix this?

    1. I’ve had people comment on this issue. It seems to work from computers & tablets, but because there is so much film in the article, cell phone (mainly Apple) are having issues. I may have to call WordPress. Thanks for the compliment!

      1. Haven’t tried to view on my phone, but the error message happens on both my desktop and laptop computer and it happens in many of yours blog posts. Your content alone is really great; videos would be the icing on the cake. Thanks again for the great blog!!

      2. Issue should be fixed. Reload the article. Let me know if you have anymore issues. Sorry about that! Thanks again.

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