FOOTBALL is a miniature war game played under somewhat more civilized rules of conduct, in which the team becomes the military force of the school or university which it represents. In fact most of the combat principles of the Field Service Regulations of the United States Army are applicable to the modern game of football.
As in combat, decisive results are obtained only by an aggressive offensive, and success follows the combined participation of every available man, particularly in the critical stages of the contest. The fundamental object of the offense is to select a point of attack which, theoretically, is always the weakest position of the defense, and to assault that position with fullest strength, at the same time engaging as many as possible of the defensive players elsewhere to prevent their strengthening the point assaulted. In other words, the quarterback continually endeavors to attack a defensive position by a numerically and consequently physically superior offensive force.
Of course the importance of this power advantage has been greatly reduced by the introduction of the forward pass, which has materially increased the complexity of the game even as the use of the airplane has changed the whole character of modern warfare. The forward pass definitely increased the element of surprise, in that the possible positions of men eligible to receive the pass added a substantial measure of offensive variety to the old single idea of power superiority at the selected point of attack. Even so, the fact remains that football alone of college sports permits of hard bodily contact between two groups of players, each striving by its power superiority to force the other to give ground at a point of weakness.
As has already been stated, there are three salient weapons of attack - the rush, the kick, and the forward pass. There are also many and various types of offense.
Some teams predominate in the number and strength of their line plays. This type of offense is termed a "gruelling" attack, because it has the effect of wearing down the opposing linemen; and although the gains are apt to be small, yet the consistency with which they are made materially affects the strength and morale of the opposing team. Other teams adopt end running as the principal form of attack, while still others place great reliance on the forward pass. Again, if a team is possessed of a great kicker, it may be able to punt its way out of its own territory and when it reaches scoring distance utilize the drop kick as the scoring play.
Since 1912, when the present rules with some modifications went into effect, there has been a tendency to decrease the number and type of offensive formations. However, there can still be a great variation in the arrangement of the offensive team. Considering the line alone, perhaps the simplest form is to have three linemen on either side of the center. This is called a balanced formation. Another arrangement places four men on one side of the center and only two on his other flank. The question may be asked why not carry this idea still further and put all the men on one side. The answer is that because the center must give his attention first of all to passing the ball accurately to his back-field, he is not as effective in other respects as the rest of the line, who are devoting all their attention to their opponents. The territory, then, in his immediate vicinity is theoretically not as strongly held as elsewhere. Therefore, in order to have a strong screen behind which to start plays and both flanks properly upheld, a great majority of teams adopt the four and two formation. Harvard alone has a peculiar method of changing its formations from right to left. Instead of shifting the line along, the long side wheels around behind and the short side in front of center so that each player ends up in the same relative position in respect to his neighbors that he held before. The advantages gained are that each player has the same relative assignments in all plays, whether the formation is right or left.
The offensive backfield is also subject to great variety of arrangement, but with respect to the influence upon the defense certain standardized formations, i. e., open, close, loose, wide (see diagrams), are used by the majority of prominent teams. Of these, the first permits of great variety of sweeps, passes, and kicks, and still retains the inherent strength of the close running attack, in which plunges and slants predominate. In this formation, the defense must pay particular attention to the player who takes position some ten yards from the scrimmage line. Experience has taught that this distance is best adapted to either a punt or drop kick. It has also been found that from this position a speedy halfback can flank the enemy better than from a point nearer the line. Further, in order to gain the proper element of time necessary to deploy the possible receivers of a long forward pass, the passer must be well removed from interference by the opposing linemen. Therefore, if the player in question is adept in kicking, running, and passing, whenever he assumes this ten yard position he constitutes a "triple threat"; and the defense must so arrange themselves as to be properly prepared for a kick, run or pass.
Mention has been made of loose and wide formations, which are effective because of the confusion created among the defensive players as to the proper positions they should assume. Still another type is called the shift formation, because the offensive players suddenly change position just prior to the snap of the ball. In this way they hope to obtain an advantage over the defense by denying them an opportunity of sizing up the situation before the ball is put into play. This type of offense has two disadvantages. In the first place, a great amount of practice is necessary for its proper execution. Second, the plays are "blind," for the reason that, as they have to be decided upon before the offensive players shift, the ultimate positions of the opponents who change position to meet the shift cannot be determined at the moment the ball is put in play. This type of offense may be termed haphazard, because it may strike the defense at its strongest instead of its weakest point.