Original Posting is in USA Football Coaches’ Notes

Having a player you can trust in any situation is a luxury for an offensive coordinator.

Last year, we had an All-America wide receiver who was our most consistent target and playmaker. This was a nice weapon to have, but going into this year, his senior year, provided us with the unique situation of getting creative to find ways to get favorable one-on-one matchups to continue to get him the ball when everyone knew that’s what we were trying to do.

Additionally, we had another group of playmakers on our team that we looked to get favorable matchups for.

Some of the things we did were simple. Some were creative. The difficulty lies with our dedication to high-tempo and not flipping receivers from side to side. I believe, if you are a huddle team or a team that is not trying to push the tempo, this can be a much easier job.

The three ways we tried to get the matchups we wanted were:

  • Unique personnel groupings
  • Unique formations and flipping positions in formations
  • Motion

Let’s talk about all three.

Unique personnel groupings

Being a high-tempo team, adjusting personnel groupings can work counter-intuitive to speed and can be obvious. However, when your spots are chosen correctly, this can be effective.

Our top personnel grouping was putting our fastest receiver in at running back when we were in a likely man-to-man situation or could isolate an inside backer in a zone situation. We used this personnel grouping when we saw a team that had a high propensity for man coverage or we liked or matchup with the inside linebacker in general or in certain situations (red zone, third-and-short, first play of the drive, etc).

Being a high-tempo team, we would huddle for our first play of the drive and inside the red zone, so those were the two spots we would look to go our receiver at tailback personnel. If we were looking to change tempos, we would also look to use it. Depending on who we were trying to isolate, we would look to flare, wheel, or run a running back angle with our receiver in the backfield.

It is also advantageous to run your top running play and a couple of your top passing plays with this receiver at running back just in case the defense does not run what you are looking for or makes a major adjustment to your personnel grouping.

In this clip, we put one of our best athletes who normally plays receiver in the backfield. We felt that against both zone or man coverage we could isolate the matchup with our tailback on their inside linebacker, and if we had a good athlete at that position, we could take advantage of that matchup.

You can see in the clip we run an angle route with our tailback to get him free in the middle of the field.

Unique formations and flipping positions

As a high-tempo team, we do not run many formations. This allows us to run one or two unique formations each week looking for very specific things and can cause confusion for a defense expecting only a couple of formations and seeing something they are not use to.

This usually leads to either a misalignment or a basic defensive look we saw on film and practiced. Both are advantageous for us.

One common thing to look at is the nub side tight end. The formation and personnel grouping are not as important as how a defense plays to the nub-side tight end. If a team stays with a corner outside the nub tight end, we put our receiver at the nub Y and high-low the corner with a flare from the running back. If we can force a defense into a corner over scenario – such as with an across motion by No. 1 – we can get our best receiver isolated on an outside linebacker or safety. This proved advantageous to us in the red zone when man was prevalent.

In this clip, we used a motion form our No. 1 receiver to create a 3-by-1 formation with a nub tight end to the single receiver side. Knowing we were in a man situation, we induced the corner over by the defense. This allowed for an isolation on an outside linebacker to the nub receiver side.

Knowing that we would likely get this defense, we put our All-America receiver at the tight end spot for this one play to take advantage of that matchup.


Being a high-tempo team, we tried to minimize the amount of motion we use to preserve the speed of our offense. However, there are times where tempo is not a high-priority. These times were usually to start a drive, after a time out and in the red zone when we typically would huddle up.

Teams will use motion for a variety of reasons. It can be used to identify man versus zone coverage. It can be used to free a receiver from press coverage. It can be used to set up man-beating rub routes.

We use motions for all three of those scenarios, but we also use it to set up our flipping of positions that I talked about earlier. It can be advantageous to run a motion from a 2-by-2 set to see how a defense will adjust when you become a 3-by-1. Will they lock up man to the single side? Will they bump to a cover 3?

If a team has a high-propensity to do one thing over another, this can become a huge advantage in play-calling and giving your quarterback a great chance to identify what the defense is going to do.

We used this motion and play to set up the previous clip later in the game. This play was designed to take advantage of a man coverage by forcing the defensive player running with the motion to have to work over the top of two receivers to keep up with his receiver running to the flat.

As often happens, this play worked but not exactly as it was drawn up. The defensive player responsible for the motioning receiver sees the inside slant and jumps it, leaving our receiver in the flat unaccounted for.

These are some simple things we do to try to get the matchups we want. Adding unique things to any offense can provide some great advantages, especially if a defense is not ready for them. There were times this year where our unique formations or personnel groupings forced the other team to take a timeout.

Although, it can be easy for a team or coach to get frustrated that they could not run their special play it is important to talk to the team about how forcing a defense to take a timeout is a win from a strategy and psychological standpoint.

Jared Hottle is the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Dakota State University. Follow him on Twitter @CoachHottle

Contact me for film or to talk more about these ideas.