The roots of the Flexbone attacks seen in today’s Georgia Tech and Navy teams can be directly traced back to the work of Missouri University coach Don Faurot and his Split-T offense. The same can be said for all Wishbone, Veer, and other option-heavy offenses. Faurot’s biggest contributions were widening the T-formation and then “optioning” defensive players, which allowed for a fast, flanking attack.
Faurot was a high school star in football, baseball, and basketball—no easy feat, and even more impressive considering he’d lost two fingers during a childhood farming mishap. He had already been coaching college football almost twenty years when the idea of the option play struck him. His inspiration was basketball, more specifically the defender’s dilemma during a two-on-one break. A proper two-on-one essentially forces the defender into making a mistake. Barring a screw-up by the players on the break, the defender has to leave someone open for an easy bucket.
Transferring this idea to football required an unusual approach: leaving a high-threat defender intentionally unblocked and then running right at him. If the defender (usually a defensive end) went for the quarterback, the QB would toss the ball to a trailing running back. If the defender went for the running back, the QB had a clear path upfield. While the optioned defender was left in a bind, his teammates weren’t much better off, since the tight end on that side was free to block a linebacker or DB.
Faurot also had two plays that specifically complemented the option play. First, Faurot had a basic fullback dive that went straight up the gut while the rest of the backs carried out an option fake. The dive prevented the defense from loading-up the edges. Second, if the deep defenders rushed the line of scrimmage without respecting the pass, Faurot could call an option-pass that looked nearly identical to the option play, but had the halfback throw downfield after taking the toss. Finally, the option play faked the fullback dive and had its tightends fly downfield to block, so the three combined plays looked almost identical just after the snap. That little fake dive ultimately evolved into part of today’s veer and triple pitch-option plays where the fullback can actually be a ball carrier.
While Faurot had tinkered with the Split-T during practices at Missouri, it didn’t become public until the absence of a good throwing QB forced him to employ it. This was in 1941, and it nearly led him to an opening day victory over Paul Brown’s Ohio State squad. Faurot’s teams frequently led the country in rushing and achieved several top-10 finishes that helped reinvigorate the entire MU athletic program.