“Stupid Sweep” From Unbalanced Set Keeps Opposing Defenses Guessing

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By Bruce Eien, Quarterbacks Coach, Harrisburg High School, Harrisburg, Ore.

Don’t let the name fool you. “The Stupid Sweep” is a highly intelligent, unconventional, unbalanced set that confounds the core of defensive strategies with its abundant overloads and uncharacteristic philosophy.

Teams all over the country are using this play as a bonus to their offensive arsenal and utilizing it as an extra way to create cause confusion for defenses. As an added bonus, it forces extra defensive preparation time to an opponent’s practice schedule as they prepare to face your team.

Offensive preparation, conversely, is minimal, but when used over time, this unconventional offensive strategy becomes increasingly difficult for opposing teams to defend.

Best of all, The Stupid Sweep can be used within ANY type of offensive system and within a variety of different in-game scenarios to create mismatches that give your offense a potent attack.

History Of The Stupid Sweep

Our program had been running a version of the Single Wing Offense (which we call, “The Fat Formation”) for a number of years and, ultimately, The Stupid Sweep became just another extension of that offense.

The Fat Formation is a balanced Single-Wing Offensive attack, which I utilize because I like the idea of presenting opposing defenses with a balanced front so that they, in turn, align in a type of defensive front to match up.

After lulling the defense into a balanced-type of defensive front, we then hit them with an unbalanced formation to keep them on their heels and gain an advantage.

The origins of this play are deeply rooted in old-school football. One day, I was watching a documentary on the legendary USC coach, Howard Jones, and the program showed old black and white video footage of their offense and in some clips, it showed a few plays being run in situations where the ball was placed only a yard away from the sideline. (See Photo 1 Below.)

PHOTO 1: Howard Jones (USC Offense) With Ball Placed 1-Yard Away From Sideline.

Obviously, with the ball placed only a yard from the sideline, it created a confined space that forced the offense to line everyone up on one side of the ball. The reason that this was allowed back then, was due to the fact that it was before the hash mark rule was enacted into the game of football – meaning that the ball was spotted wherever a ball carrier was tackled.

Without a hash mark rule in place, it made for some crazy unbalanced formations and offenses needed to find ways of keeping the ball near the middle of the field so that they had different options to attack all areas of the field.

Once the hash mark rule had been formalized, these crazy unbalanced formations became a thing of the past.

The only thing similar to it in modern football comes when an offense uses a Swinging Gate. Our program had utilized the Swinging Gate attack as an optional attack since 1990 and I thought, “Why can’t we do something like this in the middle of the field, as well?”

So using the examples I’d seen in the Howard Jones documentary, combined with my experiences in using the Swinging Gate – The Stupid Sweep was born.

To create an unbalanced set, we started using our play calling verbiage to get everyone aligned to one side of the center. In our team’s terminology, the name of the play was called as “Double Over, Under, Outside Sweep Right.” (See Diagram 1.)

DIAGRAM 1: Double Over, Under, Outside Sweep Right.

The unbalanced set has become a great change-up for our offense. The simplicity of The Stupid Sweep, combined with the unconventional overload, causes several obvious gaps in the defense that you can attack (See Diagram 2), which helps you gain an offensive advantage.

DIAGRAM 2: Open Gaps.

Why Is It Called “The Stupid Sweep?”

The first time we ever ran The Stupid Sweep, was back in 2003 and the opposing coach yelled across the field at our coaching staff and he asked us why we were being so “stupid.” Players and coaches alike on both teams could not contain their laughter.

At that point, we really did not have a name for the formation – other than, “Double Over, Under, Outside Sweep Right.” So when we decided to keep it as an optional play in our offensive playbook, I asked my players about possible names for this play, so that we could shorten the huddle call.

One of the players recalled what the opposing coach had said and suggested that we name it “The Stupid Sweep.” The players loved the name, as the word “stupid” (or “Stoopid”) is also a slang term that defines something as amazing or cool.

As a coach, I loved that the idea of the players naming a play, as it gave them a sense of pride and ownership for something in our offense.

When we first began to run this play, the opposing defenses had no idea how to cover it. Our players broke the huddle, ran toward the ball, lined up and snapped on first sound. (See Diagram 3.)

DIAGRAM 3: Line Up Fast.

Half the opposing defense lined up to defend no one, as they had never seen such an overload. The first time we ever ran it, the play went for a touchdown, as the overload only had to block half the defense. (See Photos B and C.)



Later on, over time and after teams had scouted us, they would align their defense to match our overload – which gave birth to another, optional play we created, which we called “Sucker.”

In the early years, we only ran The Stupid Sweep as a change up to give the defense something else to practice during the week, or as way to force the other team to waste a timeout (only to run a normal play afterward).

In our second year, our Junior Varsity started running the play regularly and he used the play to his advantage and ran it 10 to 15 times a game. (See Photo D.)


It’s important to note that the Junior Varsity did not utilize a quick huddle with The Stupid Sweep, and they allowed the defense to lineup. (See Diagram 4.)

DIAGRAM 4: Line Up.

This allowed them to see that the defense could not effectively cover all the gaps and opened up some huge holes for the running game.

These huge holes gave the running backs different options to read and gave them keys to run toward open grass. This dynamic made the play even more devastating. (See Diagrams 5 and 6.)

DIAGRAM 5: Running Game (Hole 1).

DIAGRAM 6: Running Game (Hole 2).

In future seasons, we would occasionally shift to the formation just to see how defense will react. (See Diagram 7.)

DIAGRAM 7: Shift (To Analyze Defensive Reaction).

Our main priority on the Stupid Sweep is to break contain and run to the overload.  Once the RB has determined that he has numbers to the overload, he will try to break contain and run around the corner.

Note that this is the main objective of the play – to run outside!

Another option is to cut the sweep up when he sees open grass or a hole in the defense. (See Diagram 8.)

DIAGRAM 8: 18 Sweep.

If the RB determines he can beat the defense on the weak side, he has the option to run that way. Defensive fronts that try to match the overload, often leave themselves susceptible to this play and the RB’s speed and athleticism becomes a terrific weapon in the open field. (See Photo E and Diagram 9.)

PHOTO E: Sucker.

DIAGRAM 9: Sucker.

Defenses soon made adjustments and became proficient in rallying toward the ball. As such, the Counter became a great option to make them pay for their pursuit. The added bonus to this play is the power component with the two leading backs. (See Diagram 10.)

DIAGRAM 10: Counter (45 Wham).

No matter the offense you use, the passing game is always needed to keep the defense honest so they cannot load the box.

Whenever a defense has that dual conflict of run-or-pass, they cannot pursue and get numbers to the point of attack.

The first obvious pass is a run-pass option from the RB to the overload.  (See Diagram 11.)

DIAGRAM 11: “Roll” Run-Pass Option.

This put the Contain player on the opposing defense in a bind, as he had to stay deep on the pass or get burned when their assigned opponent ran past him.

Another option we used was to make the Center an eligible number – similar to what we do in our Swinging Gate attack. (See Diagram 12.)  

DIAGRAM 12: Center Eligible (Center Flat).

This added option also gave the Sucker play a great run-pass option that created defensive hesitancy.

The Stupid Sweep is the ultimate unbalanced formation and can be used by all levels of football. Whether you use it as a change up to your normal offense or as integral part of your formational philosophy, the Stupid Sweep is a versatile weapon that creates mismatches with the defense.

Use it on occasion, or go “Stoopid” in its application, the odds are great that the Stupid Sweep will soon become one of your favorite plays. It adds a unique weapon to your playbook that players love, opposing coaches dread and your fans get super-excited to watch.

Bruce Eien is currently the Quarterback’s Coach at Harrisburg High School (OR). A veteran coach of 31 years, including 17 as a head coach and 26 as an offensive coordinator, in 2016, his Harrisburg squad won the Oregon 3A State Championship. Visit his website for more information, as well as to check out his books and DVDs.

Website: www.bruceeien.com

Email Bruce Eien at: eien@aol.com

Follow Bruce Eien on Twitter: @bruceeien

Comments 2

  1. I love this! For years, I ran a variation of this “unbalanced, first-sound” offense at times, and, just like you say, it worked! Too often in today’s game, coaches want to install “new” offenses and only run things that the pros and colleges run. This “old-school” philosophy still works, especially on the high-school level. I especially love the tag plays that you can easily add to this.
    My compliments on a well-written and well-thought out article and philosophy.

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