Understanding UCLA Single Wing Football – The Basic Strategies

First String Backfield of 1939 UCLA BRUINS (left to right) — right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON, quarterback NED MATTHEWS, fullback BILL OVERLIN, left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON

The origins of the classic Carlisle Single Wing formation from the early 1900s are well documented by a wide variety of fine sources entirely too various to be mentioned here. Suffice to say, although this new offensive alignment sought to make use of the forward pass more and more as the years progressed, advancing the football via the ground continued to remain the dominant strategy for decades thereafter. However, what made the Carlisle Single Wing truly revolutionary was the fact that this was the very first offensive formation that sought to make use of deception and trickery in the backfield as compared to simply relying on just sheer brute force up front at the line of scrimmage.

Aside from this all the ball-handing and misdirection going on in the backfield that was specifically designed to confuse and delay the defense, the other prominent tactic that was fundamental to the basic offensive strategy of the Single Wing formation involved flooding the actual point of attack on any given play with overwhelming manpower. In order to achieve the prime objective of “double-teaming” any given defensive player at the point of attack, “pulling guards” and other “lead blockers” preceding the ball carrier “into the hole” played a most prominent role. These two particular facets of classic Carlisle Single Wing football, pulling offensive linemen and lead blockers originating in the backfield, are still very prevalent in today’s contemporary game.

In direct contrast to what is typically seen in modern times, one preeminent tactic that was a major part of many a Single Wing football team’s strategy game in and game out was the old “quick kick” play. By punting the football away on third and sometimes even second down, the kicking team hoped to catch the defense with no player positioned far enough down field to receive the pigskin. And a favorable bounce of the ball could radically affect the immediate fortunes of any given team backed up close to its own goal line or, perhaps, seeking to put its opponents in a similarly awkward position.

1938, UCLA BRUINS vs WASHINGTON HUSKIES at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum ……… the four players in the Bruins offensive backfield shown here are junior left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13), sophomore fullback BILL OVERLIN (# 5), sophomore quarterback NED MATTHEWS (# 55) and right halfback HAL HIRSHON (# 33) while anchoring the right side of the UCLA line is pass-catching end WOODY STRODE (# 27).

One facet of classic Carlisle Single Wing football that was critical to the success of any given offensive play was the direct snap from the Center, which could be aimed at either the Left Halfback or the Fullback but might also go the Quarterback, as well. Oftentimes, the snap was not intended for a stationary player but would go to a designated area for an intended receiver who was expected to be arriving. In any case, the Single Wing relied upon a good pass from the Center and a clean catch from the primary ball handler on every single solitary play from scrimmage.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the defense facing the Single Wing was meant to be left back on their heels and hesitant at all times. Several different players, each pretending that they are the one who actually has the possession of the football, might head off in a variety of different directions with the direct snap that starts any given play. Several different players might act as if they are the one who now has the pigskin after taking an alleged handoff — it was up to the defenders to sort it all out while simultaneously dealing with oncoming blockers bent on neutralizing them.

It was not uncommon for defensive players and referees on the field as well as spectators and motion picture cameramen in the stadium, alike, to all lose track of the whereabouts of the actual ball carrier.

1937, UCLA BRUINS vs SOUTHERN METHODIST MUSTANGS at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum ……… UCLA fullback BILLY BOB WILLIAMS (# 55), the bruising homegrown senior who led the Bruins with 423 yards rushing and was selected as the team’s Most Valuable Player by the Los Angeles County American Legion as a junior in 1936, acts as a lead blocker as Bruins left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13), the talented homegrown sophomore who led UCLA with 530 yards rushing and was named the school’s MVP by the same American Legion post in 1937, decides how to best take advantage of the rest of his teammates’ interference at the point of attack … Note the ambitious SMU Mustangs defensive player (# 41) who has already gotten around the left flank of the UCLA Bruins’ offensive line and seeks to chase the running play down from the back side.

Among other very interesting activities, the following UCLA football blog is doing very fine work to take full inventory of exactly what jerseys the Bruins were wearing in which particular years :



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