Understanding UCLA Single Wing Football : Man-In-Motion Offensive Scheme

One important item overlooked in the “UNDERSTANDING UCLA SINGLE WING FOOTBALL – THE POSITIONS” article posted at this blog previously is the fact that, in the Bruins’ case with respect to their “Man-In-Motion” offensive scheme, the Fullback was actually stationed two yards behind the Left Halfback (Tailback) in the backfield of the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation …….. (to review, the above diagram’s error of showing the two Tackles stationed side by side in the unbalanced line has already been discussed in the earlier piece).

The problem at hand for newly promoted head coach BABE HORRELL was how to best maximize the combined talents of both incumbent left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON, equally dangerous running or passing the football and ready to have the kind of senior season befitting of a consensus First Team All-America selection, as well as JACKIE ROBINSON, the very highly touted junior college transfer with not only blinding speed but also mesmerizing moves, too. But a successful solution manifested itself with the deployment of Robinson at right halfback and the installation of the so-called “man-in-motion” offensive scheme. And, in the end, the impressive results from the Pacific Coast playing fields in the fall of 1939 simply amounted to what was the single most spectacular season in the then 21-year-old history of UCLA BRUINS football.

Not only did the Bruins go unbeaten for the first time ever, the left halfback (tailback) Washington would conclude the 1939 NCAA campaign recognized as the nation’s official total offense leader while the right halfback (wingback) Robinson established an enduring UCLA single-season record for average yards per rushing play that will probably never ever be broken.

As the name clearly indicates, the distinctive feature of UCLA’s new offensive scheme in 1939 was the “man-in-motion” tactic. On a considerable number of plays from scrimmage, before the actual snap of the football, the right halfback (wingback) on the flank turned around and started jogging back towards the left halfback (tailback). When the Bruins used this tactic, regardless of whether the direct snap was fielded by the left halfback (tailback), the fullback or perhaps even the quarterback, the right halfback (wingback) would always continue on a course that saw him race around the left end.

Most of the time with this “man-in-motion” tactic, the UCLA left halfback (tailback) received the direct snap from center and then either executed a real or fake handoff to the right halfback (wingback), who was, by now, sprinting along his designated route. However, even when the Bruins fullback took the direct snap and plunged up the middle on a “line buck” play, for example, the left halfback (tailback) would still pretend to have the football and go through the phony handoff to the right halfback (wingback) routine all the same. Obviously, it was hoped that such consistent maneuvering would manufacture abundant as well as chronic chaos and confusion among the opposing defensive players.

After faking handoffs to both the unseen right halfback (who is now out of the picture over towards the left sideline) as well as well as fullback BILL OVERLIN (# 5), who cradles his arms as if he actually has the football, multi-talented UCLA Bruins left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (center) looks for a running lane at the line of scrimmage while heading up the middle versus the California Golden Bears … As has already been reviewed here at this blog (“1939, UCLA vs California”), Washington rushed for 141 yards (6.4 avg) and scored one touchdown while throwing passes for two others in this particular contest versus Big Brother From Berkeley … Truth be told, the photo’s caption does have matters a bit confused. First of all, UCLA junior right halfback Jackie Robinson did not appear in this noteworthy game against the Golden Bears on account of injury. Also, sophomore fullback Leo Cantor adorned jersey # 2 on behalf of the Bruins during the 1939 NCAA campaign.


Furthermore, responsible opponents facing UCLA would have to be cognizant of the fact that even if Robinson did not take the football on a handoff and embark on the “reverse” play, the possibility that the rocket-armed Washington might drop back and then launch a long pass to the Bruins’ quicksilver right halfback (wingback) running a pattern down the left side of the field still always existed … as has already been reviewed here (“1939, UCLA vs Oregon”), such was the case against the visiting Ducks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In addition to that 66-yard touchdown reception at the expense of Oregon, Robinson also ran the reverse play no less than 83 yards to score another six points for UCLA against the Ducks that late October day in 1939. Nevertheless, it was always the primary strategy of the Bruins’ rookie head coach Horrell to mostly utilize the transfer from Pasadena Junior College as a decoy because it was believed that, no matter where Robinson went on the football field, a minimum of two defenders were sure to be following. The central goal of UCLA’s man-in-motion tactic was to create more running space in the middle and along the right side of the unbalanced line other players in the Bruins’ backfield, the All-America candidate Washington in particular.

There is no question that Washington’s senior season for the Bruins was, by far, the most productive campaign of his three-year varsity career at UCLA. After averaging 3.8 yards per carry (530 net yards) in 1937 and then 3.9 yards per carry (573 net yards) in 1938, the Kingfish’s numbers increased considerably in 1939 (4.8 yards per carry, 812 net yards). There is also no doubt that the use of the ever-dangerous Robinson at right halfback in conjunction with the adoption of the the “man-in-motion” tactic had a very positive impact on this jump in productivity from the left halfback Washington.

Robinson, for his part, only carried the ball from scrimmage for the undefeated Bruins 42 times in 1939 but gained a net total of 514 yards for an astounding average of 12.2 yards per carry.



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