Back in 1913, Notre Dame exploited the forward pass against favored Army for a 35-13 victory to give collegiate football a new plaything.
Football historians should credit Mizzou's Don Faurot with the next-best innovation - the Split or Sliding T formation. It was his brainchild back there in 1941 - the birth of the option play. With few improvisations, Faurot's revolutionary attack permeates the college game today.
More than 50 years ago, did Missouri's home-grown coach suspect that his better mousetrap would be this long-lasting?
"No, I really didn't," Faurot once said. "It's sort of a pleasant surprise that the option play has lasted so long - and has been used by so many prominent teams.
"It'll never go in the pro leagues, because they don't like to expose their expensive quarterbacks to being tackled."
Faurot dropped his Split T on an unsuspecting football world some three months before the Japanese perpetrated their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Quickly, backs named Bob Steuber, Harry Ice and "Red" Wade became national celebrities.
The Tigers blitzed to an 8-1 record, losing only to Ohio State, 12-7, in their opener. They led the nation in rushing, won the Big Six title - and lost a Sugar Bowl game to Fordham, 2-0, on a wet turf ill-suited to the Split T's magic.
All-American tailback/quarterback Paul Christman finished up in 1940, and ... "we'd tried the formation in spring practice," Faurot recalled. "Split T plays had a far better average than our single-wing plays.
"The option play and split line enabled us to run inside or outside the defensive end without blocking him. This technique was unheard-of prior to this time.
"Our basic plays included a handoff to the dive man, a keeper by the quarterback inside the defensive end, a pitchout to the halfback outside the end - and a running pass by the halfback either way."
Faurot once told Maury White of the Des Moines Register that basketball's two-on-one fast break influenced his Split T option concept. As MU's basketball captain in 1924, he said, "we ran a lot of two-on-one fast breaks ... forcing the defender to make a decision ... and that made me wonder if the same thing couldn't be done in football."
Today, virtually all of the nation's traditional powerhouses use some offshoot of the Split T option play. Labeled variously as the Wishbone, Wingbone, Veer, or I-formation - all versions exploit the option.
Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Air Force, Mississippi State ... over the years, the roll call of Split T disciples has been endless.
Football, then, really hasn't changed that much, has it, since Faurot quit coaching 40 years ago?
"More teams are throwing the ball from the pro set," he said, "because there is much more speed and quickness to the game. There are MORE good passers and receivers today."
Defensively, Faurot noted a greater trend to "more coverage and fewer down linemen - ends that drop off, and linebackers, too."
Up until his death, Faurot was a keen, contemporary student of football. He attended several Tiger practices each week - and occupied a press box seat for nearly every Mizzou home game on the field that was named in his honor in 1972.
The Tigers rushing prowess under Larry Smith - they've ranked ninth and sixth in the nation, respectively, the last two years in rushing yards per game - must have Don Faurot smiling down on them from above. A big reason for that success has been quarterback Corby Jones' deft ability to run the option play.
And for that, they can thank Don Faurot.
This story was written by the late Bill Callahan, MU sports information director from 1948-85, in 1981, upon the 40th anniversary of Faurot's Split T. It's been updated and edited, slightly, here.
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