Watching Michigan playing Bowling Green today, I saw a formation that looked familiar. In that formation, Michigan’s backs were all in the backfield, arranged almost in a box. Any of the four backs could receive a direct snap from center, at least in theory. It wasn’t the only formation I saw RichRod use in the game and probably isn’t his primary formation. However, he did use it for multiple plays and for sizeable gains. After a few moments’ thought, I remembered where I had seen a similar formation before. I could be wrong about his formation due to not having a diagram of it, but it sure looked familiar on TV.
Page 113 of Pop Warner’s 1912 book, A Course in Football for Players and Coaches, begins a discussion of Warner’s Open Pass Direct Pass Formation (see bottom of this message). The diagram for this century-old offensive scheme is a bit different than the one RichRod uses but provides the foundation upon which his is based. Both offenses feature direct snaps to multiple backs as well as both pass and run plays from the same position in the formation.
A difference between the formations appears to be that Rodriguez moves backs 1 and 2 to behind the tackles where Warner had them behind the guards. One assumes that the wider position helps make backs 1 and 2 more effective blockers for off-tackle plays and end runs. They might even assist with protecting the passer. Warner included a note stating that experience showed that moving the ends closer to the tackles had proved more effective in blocking the defensive tackles than having them set wide as shown in his diagrams.
A difference between Warner’s plays and those used today is that today centers lob the ball back, generally to the quarterback, where Warner’s centers often led the back receiving the snap. Warner’s scheme requires highly skilled centers but gives the offense advantages over those in which the back receiving the center snap stands flatfooted waiting for the ball to arrive.