What Is A Wishbone Offense In Football?

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What Is A Wishbone Offense In Football?

The wishbone offense is a formation used in American football characterized by three running backs that line up behind the quarterback in a triangular shape resembling a wishbone. This offensive strategy can be difficult for opposing teams to defend because of its unpredictability—it can lead to big plays on both passing and running plays.

Let’s take a closer look at this versatile formation and why it has succeeded.

The History of the Wishbone Offense 

The wishbone offense was first developed by Bill Yeoman, head coach at the University of Houston, from 1962-1986. Yeoman wanted to find an offensive scheme to give his smaller, less talented players an edge over bigger, faster opponents. He designed a system where three running backs lined up behind the quarterback in what looked like a “wishbone” formation—hence its name. 

This formation allowed for two main options: run or pass. When executing a pass, the quarterback could throw downfield or hand off to one of the running backs lined up directly behind him. On run plays, the fullback could choose between two different paths based on how quickly he read the defense and reacted accordingly. This gave defenses little time to react and allowed for more big plays than traditional offenses had typically yielded. 

How It Works Today 

Today, most NFL teams do not use this specific formation—but that doesn’t mean it’s not still effective in college football. Teams such as Oklahoma and Texas have enjoyed great success using this strategy due in part to its flexibility and unpredictability. The wishbone offense has also been successful because it allows teams to control the tempo and dictate how much time opposing defenses have to react before each play begins. 

Decline In Recent Years

Despite its success, the Wishbone has largely fallen out of favor in recent years. Many teams have moved away from traditional two-back formations in favor of spread offenses with a single running back or even no running backs. The rise of mobile quarterbacks has also made the Wishbone’s play-action passing game less effective. Nevertheless, the Wishbone remains an important part of football history and continues to be used by mostly high school teams.


The wishbone offense is an effective way for teams with smaller rosters or less experienced quarterbacks to gain an advantage over their opponents on game day. By utilizing multiple options on passing and running plays, this unique formation gives offenses more flexibility while taking away some of the predictability defenses rely on when preparing for games.