Auburn at Texas A&M Preview


Auburn at Texas A&M

Auburn travels to the home of the 12th man in hopes of notching another SEC road win. Since conference realignment and the addtion of Texas A&M in 2012, this game has proven to be a pivotal point in both teams seasons. In 2012 A&M came to Jordan Hare Stadium and took Auburn to the woodshed and dealt the Tigers a beating they won’t soon forget. That loss signified to the world that Auburn’s program had collapsed. Auburn fired Gene Chizik after a 3-9 season. The 2013 game was the exact opposite. Nick Marshall lead the Tigers into Aggie Land and Auburn came away with a win which told the college football world that Auburn was a force to be reckoned with. The Tigers went on to win the Western Division, SEC Championship, and came within 13 seconds of a BCS National Championship. In 2014, Auburn collapsed and lost focus in the 4th quarter and the Aggies left Jordan Hare Stadium with a win. Auburn went on to lose all of their remaining SEC games.

So, is the winner destined for greatness and the loser doomed for failure? It’s certainly not written in stone but the little piece of history we have to go on says otherwise…

Below, we’ll take a closer look at Kevin Sumlin and what makes him tick as an offensive guru and the seldom talked about One Back Spread Offense.

Kevin Sumlin and the One Back

Kevin Sumlin’s indoctrination to the spread offense began with his very first coaching job as a Graduate Assistant at Washington State and continued through his first head coaching job at Houston and has followed him to Texas A&M. Watching him at Houston and Texas A&M it may be a little surprising to know that Sumlin’s first exposure to the spread offense wasn’t an iteration of Hal Mumme or Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack. Instead, Sumlin was schooled in the more obscure One Back spread offense.

So, what is the One Back offense and where did it start? The first discernible version of the offense we have is from Granada Hills High School under head coach Jack Neumeier. The idea was pretty simple…Neumeier wanted to open up his offense a little more so he started splitting out extra wide receivers on each play. Of course, we shouldn’t over look the fact that Neumeier’s quarterback, John Ellway, was a future NFL hall of famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Regardless though, the offense worked and John Ellway’s father, Jack Ellway took the offense his son ran in high school and used it at Cal State Northridge and then to San Jose State.

In terms of formations, One Back offenses typically operate with the QB under center which is a stark contrast to the modern spread offense. Aside from the QB being under center there are 5 basic principles in which the offense operates:

  1. Base formations include at least 3 wide receivers, one running back and one tight end.
  2. The running game utilizes inside/outside zone and the inside power
  3. The short and intermediate passing game puts a heavy emphasis on the three step drop
  4. Option routes are the base of the five step drop passing game
  5. A systematic approach to play calling (this last principle is very similar to “sequence football” which should be familiar to some of you that have read two part series on Gus Malzahn)

Now we’ll look at some play diagrams and how they incorporate the 5 principles of the offense and the quarterback’s reads on each play. It’s important to understand a couple of things before we continue: 1) the play call (run or pass) is dictated by the number of defenders in the box – this is very much a “take what the defense gives you” offense and 2) post snap reads for five step drops and deep routes follow conventional quarterback teaching which means the quarterback reads from high – low, or deep – shallow.

One Back vs Single Safety

We can see that the defense is playing with one high safety and there are six defenders in the box. Each receiver is covered by a defender plus the high safety for added support. So what does the QB call?


If we remember the basic responsibility of the QB (number of defenders dictates play call) then the QB would call a pass play. Why pass? Six defenders in the box versus five O-linemen doesn’t bode well for the running game so the numbers dictate a pass play. So, what pass play is called? We’re assuming that the defense is playing “soft” coverage or giving the receivers some cushion. In this case, the QB would audible to his receivers for quick hitch routes to the outside with his inside receivers running vertical routes. After the audible is made, it’s up to the QB to decide which receiver-defensive back match up is best.

One Back Option Routes

In this example we’re still seeing a defense with one high safety and six defenders in the box. The difference here is that the defenders are playing “tight” with the receivers or in man-man coverage. This is where “option routes” come into play.


When the QB recognizes the tight coverage of the defense he audibles for the option routes to the inside receivers. At the snap, the outside receivers run vertical routes while the inside receivers sprint 8 yards up and either cut back inside or cut outside depending on the alignment of defensive back. Again, once the audible is made it’s up to the QB to find the best match up.

One Back Crossing Concept

The Crossing Concept has been a favorite of spread offenses for quite a while but this version is a little unique. Most offenses that run a crossing pattern in their plays typically use either a deep cross or a shallow cross but this version uses both in the same play.


Incorporating both the deep and shallow crossing pattern in the same play along with a post route and a vertical route gives the QB multiple options especially against a blitz. If we remember that the QB is reading from High – Low then his read when facing standard defensive fronts, or non-blitzing fronts, start with either the vertical route or post route > deep cross > shallow cross > running back (check down). More than likely, the favorable option will come from the side of the play that creates a triangular read for the defense. In this case the triangular read is created by the vertical route, deep cross, and running back (three points for the defense to defend – “triangular” read).

When facing a blitz and still following the High – Low progression, the QB read starts with the deep cross > shallow cross > running back with the idea that one of the crossing routes will find the vacated zones of the blitzing defenders. In this scenario, the blitz determines which route is considered the hot route or alert route. Basically, if the blitz is coming from the secondary then deep cross is on alert and if the blitz is coming from the linebackers then the shallow cross is on alert.

So, how does all of this translate to Kevin Sumlin and the offense he currently runs? Well, Sumlin has spent a lot of time with spread offense gurus throughout his coaching career. In fact, I don’t think Sumlin has coached at a school that didn’t run some version of the spread offense. Sumlin has been an assistant coach under Mike Price, Joe Tiller, Dennis Erickson, and Bob Stoops. Everyone of those coaches has run either the One Back or Air Raid offense. Not only was Kevin Sumlin an assistant coach under spread offenses but he also participated in the yearly One Back clinic that was hosted by Dennis Erickson and included guys like Dana Holgorsen, Mike Leach, Larry Fedora, and Sonny Dykes.

It’s pretty easy to see that the spread offense has had a huge impact on Sumlin as a coach.

Obviously, Sumlin doesn’t run the One Back in it’s original form but the principles and some of the plays are still there. He still uses a systematic approach to play calling, his formations ALWAYS include at least three wide receivers (usually 4 or 5), and his passing game incorporates option routes on virtually every play. The Crossing Concept is very much alive in Sumlin’s offense as well.

Game Outlook

Obviously this is a huge challenge for Auburn. Even though A&M has had their QB issues they seem to be hitting their stride and their freshman QB, Kyler Murray, played an outstanding game against South Carolina. Texas A&M’s defense has shown noticeable improvement under John Chavis and it certainly helps having two future 1st round draft picks at defensive end in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. These two will certainly cause disruptions in the passing game but may be able to be neutralized by running straight at them as they haven’t been very effective in stopping the run.

As always, Texas A&M is in no short supply of wide receivers and Auburn will have issues with Christian Kirk, the swiss army knife of the offense, and Ricky Seals-Jones, the intimidating 6’5” 240 lbs vertical threat. With Auburn having Carl Lawson back on defense they should be able to generate a pass rush and disrupt the passing game. Keeping QB Kyler Murray contained will be an entirely different challenge though.

Auburn’s offense will need to establish the ground game and will have to do a better job of protecting Sean White considering he’s still banged up with a minor knee injury. White will also need more consistent play from his wide receivers and if he gets it, Auburn should be able to put up some points against A&M’s defense.

Ultimately, I think Auburn is just outmatched and they’re still banged up at some key postions. I believe Auburn can keep it close until the fourth quarter and then A&M will pull away. Auburn’s best chance at beating A&M will be with a successful running game and forcing Kyler Murray to turn the ball over 2 or 3 times. Aside from that though, I think A&M comes away with the win even though Auburn fights to the end.

Texas A&M 38 – Auburn 28




Play diagrams can be found through the following links:


This document is not to be sold or used for profit in any way and is not to be copied and/or distributed without the consent of the original author. The original photos and diagrams contained in this document can be found in the sources listed above this statement. This document is to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only.

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