Situational offenses succeed

Kefense Hynson just completed his third season on the staff of the University of Montana. In his first year, he coached tight ends and two seasons ago he was promoted to both co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Hynson came to Montana from Yale where he was the wide receivers coach. He has also coached at Minnesota State, Boise State, Quincy and Willamette College. Hynson was an Honorable Mention All-American defensive back at Willamette.

In this piece he discusses situational offensive gameplanning, management, and execution. Hynson originally shared the coaching tips in this article in a recent issue of American Football Monthly. For subscription information for the magazine visit its website,

Kefense** We teach our players to develop a thorough understanding of situational offense: its importance, its relevance, and the consequences of not recognizing and reacting to the many situations that exist and ultimately define our game. Here are eight main situations and how we develop our players’ understanding of them.

During the beginning of fall camp, as well as in the opening of spring practice, we implement a well-planned-out installation that will be the foundation of our offensive football for the season. Along with the Xs and Os however, we also install the situations that occur as they relate to these specific plays. We install situations to instill in our players the importance of execution with the situation in mind.


Our run downs are defined as 1st and 10 or 2nd and 6 or less. We call them run downs, but that doesn’t mean we only run in those situations. Because we believe in running the football and utilizing the play-action pass, understanding how to stay in run downs is imperative for our offensive success. There are three main points of emphasis we explain when we talk run-down football.

1. Ball Control – Allows our defense to stay rested and keeps potentially explosive offenses on the sideline.

2. Opens our playbook – By staying in run downs, we stay out of one-dimensional scenarios and keep the defense honest.

3. Because the majority of the game will be played on run downs, it allows us to run our base plays which inherently have the highest success rate.

When players understand the importance of playing in run downs, they will begin to understand how their decision making directly relates to this as well. The QB understands how important the check down pass is, the wide receiver understands why he must get vertical after the catch, etc.


Anytime we get the ball inside our own 10-yard line, we are in a backed up situation. We have a specific set of plays we go to when this situation occurs, but more important than the Xs and Os is how our players react to the challenge of facing this adverse situation. Some of the coaching points we address:

1. Our first goal is to allow our punter his normal spacing for operation (His heels are at 15 yards).

2. Never give up the ball – a turnover equals automatic points.

3. Utilize the snap count. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain (false start vs. off-sides).

4. By game plan, we will have a way to try and flip field position (vertical throw).

5. Commit to our base runs – these runs will have answers for defensive stunts and pressures.

During the season, we practice our backed up offense every Tuesday. It is important the players have an idea of the play-call library so that a hostile situation like being backed up in an opposing stadium doesn’t create any anxiety.


The next situation we will cover is our Red Zone Offense. In terms of situational football, the success or lack thereof of your offense in the red zone is arguably the biggest difference in winning and losing. Great offenses score touchdowns in the red zone. Our key reminders in the red zone are as follows:

1. The red zone begins when we see the defense change their demeanor (i.e., a zone team plays more man, a non-pressure team brings heat).

2. We stay committed to our run game. Don’t let being on the fringe of scoring make you an impatient play-caller.

3. Understand how defensive force patterns change with the reduction of field space.

4. Have an answer for zero pressure.

5. We cannot take a sack – we have three points virtually on the board.

6. In the low red zone, we have to utilize the backline, which is sparsely defended at times.

Based on these reminders, it is imperative that you have a solid plan for the red zone. Whether it is the high red zone or low red zone, the reminders and coaching points of the situation will contribute to your success rate if your players understand them. You cannot practice your red zone offense enough.


Along the same lines as the red zone, scoring touchdowns when you reach the goal line is also a must. Goal line offense is a phase of the game that must be acknowledged and practiced. We install our goal line offense with these points of emphasis:

1. We will be in a goal line offense mentality when we reach our opponent’s 3-yard line.
We will run two run-game schemes.

2. Defensively, they will always be +1 in terms of blockable defenders – our runs must account for this.

3. We cannot take a sack or force a pass that could potentially be intercepted. It’s either a touchdown or an accurate incompletion.

4. We will not go on exotic cadences – we have nothing really to gain and a lot to lose (false start vs. off-sides).

5. We are diverse in our play calling – we don’t put play call patterns on tape.

6. While game-planning for the goal line situation, make sure that you are not wasting time. The GL situation can be the most over-planned situation relative to how often it shows up. Knowledge of the situation and execution of familiar concepts has helped us become more efficient in this area.


The scramble drill is always an emphasis in offensive football, and at the University of Montana it is no different. We have included the scramble as a situation and have tried to choreograph that situation as best we can. First and foremost, we explain to our players that the scramble is not a frenetic, unorganized situation but rather a “second chance” opportunity to sting a defense when they think they’ve defended our initial play. We coach the scramble (See Diagram) as follows:

1. The WR to the side of the scramble must work toward the ball. If he is low, he can sell a take off and then come back to the QB. We want first downs.

2. The WR farthest from the ball must work parallel to negative to the QB. If there is no one in the post, he can take a post angle.

3. The QB has to have a throwing lane or he cannot throw the ball.

4. All eligible receivers are never to move from uncovered to covered.

5. When working the back of the end zone, save two yards.

6. Be prepared to make a legal block if and when the QB runs.

7. Stay in bounds when working the sidelines.

The Scramble Drill as diagramed at Montana.

The Scramble Drill as diagramed at Montana.

The scramble situation can be a deadly tool for your offense, and should be practiced and coached like any other route concept. We practice this by assigning a scramble on a certain number of plays in our team periods including 7-on-7, and by telling the QBs to never concede a sack in practice (one of the many benefits to not having your QB live in practice).

The last three situations all relate to how you finish games on offense. They include the Two- Minute Offense, Four-Minute Offense, and Overtime. I have put all three together because I think there is merit to installing them at the same time in your offense. Understanding how to finish games, whether you have a lead or need to gain the lead, is a mindset that has to be developed. Both situations require extreme confidence, and belief in what you do.


When we install our two-minute offense, we adhere to these coaching points and principles:

1. We establish and consistently teach and reinforce our two minute identity – route concepts, screens, runs, and protections that our athletes know they can anticipate running.

2. We appoint an offensive lineman that is always in the huddle to remind everyone of the situation – down and distance, timeout situation, and time on the clock. The assigned player realistically may not know the answer to all of these questions, but it is his job to ask the question so everyone is alerted to the situation.

3. When killing the clock, every WR lines up on the LOS. We will never be called for not having enough players on the LOS.

4. Our execution needs to be, at worst, 25% in terms of getting a first down based on the fact we have four downs.

5. We must know our kickers range if we are playing for a FG.

6. Practice your 911 plays (plays you run when the clock is running and you don’t have time to get something called and signaled to the field. These plays can be different by field zones. We designate ours by field zone as 911 red-field/white-hi red zone/blue-low red zone).

At some point during the season, your offense will be called upon to perform when the clock and score are against you. The coaching points that you instill in your players will play a direct role in the success or failure of your attempt at finishing the two-minute drill with a score.


The four-minute offense, like the two-minute offense starts with a mindset that has to be established. The margin for winning and losing is most often so small that the inability to close out a game with a physical, efficient four-minute drill is often the difference. We start our four-minute philosophy with the mindset that we must defeat our opponent and leave no doubt that we did so. From there, we talk to our players about the following:

1. We MUST be able to run the ball against an 8-man front.

2. We will slow our operation down by spending too much time in the huddle and at the LOS.

3. We absolutely cannot have a penalty – show poise under pressure and no retaliation.

4. Ball security is a must – never sacrifice the ball for extra yards.

5. Keep the clock running and don’t run out of bounds.

6. The QB aborts all naked fakes and tracks the runner (extra eyes and body on a fumble).

7. If we throw it, the QB has to be ready to take a sack. We cannot stop the clock willingly.

8. QB has to be ready to run the ball on pass plays.

9. First downs are winning plays – everyone should know where the sticks are.

10. Have blitz answers in the run game.

11. Take pride in finishing football games with the ball.

The coaching points and reminders mentioned above are essential, but make no mistake about it – the four-minute offense starts with a physical mindset.


This situation is unique in that it really encompasses many of the previous situations directly and the coaching points that exist within them. On any given overtime situation your two-minute, red zone, and four-minute situations will undoubtedly show up. These are some of the key points of emphasis in our overtime situation:

1. Our captains must know that we always want to defend first (this could differ from our decision on what to do on the opening kick-off).

2. Our captains must know where we want to play football. Know your stadium and its advantages/disadvantages and have an idea of your opponents as well.

3. When we get the ball first, remember:

• Ball security – we have three points already.

• Red zone philosophy – no sacks, no penalties, touchdown-check down mentality, commitment to run game.

• Worst case scenario – get the field goal.

4. When we get the ball second:

• Everyone must understand what we need to win (FG or TD).

• If we need a FG to win, possibly use the four-minute philosophy.

• If we need a TD to win, use the two-minute philosophy in that you’re playing with a four down mentality. Execution on third and fourth down will be the difference in the game.

• We do not need to score on one play – don’t press, and just execute the offense.

The overtime situation is one that has to be practiced. You could go years without playing an overtime game, but when it happens you must be ready. During the 2013 season, we played two games that went to OT. I firmly believe the emphasis we put on practicing overtime situations benefitted us and helped us win both contests.

The way we practice OT is that we start with a coin toss where our offensive and defensive captains simulate their roles. We explain to them what we would like for them to do when we win the toss or lose the toss, and how we go about deciding what end of the field we want to play on based on whether we are home or away. Once this phase is explained and simulated, we have our #2 offense start the OT drive against our #1 defense and when the drives ends, our #1 offense takes the field and works against our #2 defense with the results of the previous series serving as a barometer for what we need to do to win the game. This simulation is really an unscripted team period in your practice, as well as a functional way to illustrate the subtleties of playing an overtime game.

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