What Is: A Wham Block

Submitted by Seth on November 16th, 2016 at 10:00 AM

I found this incredibly annoying this weekend:

Michigan has 8 1/2 in the box, and yet Iowa is able to get 8 yards on 1st down. Even more galling is they did it with a nifty trick that hadn’t been seen much of in the Big Ten until Harbaugh brought it back last year. It’s the wham. And it had no right to go this well.

Wham Defined

A wham is a first level block by the fullback or TE, freeing up an offensive lineman to release to the next level. It’s a type of Trap, which is a when you leave an interior defensive lineman unblocked before hitting him from another angle. But when you think of a “trap” it’s usually pulling an offensive lineman to blindside the DL you left unblocked to roar into the backfield.

A wham is less about catching the defense overreacting and more about winning a one-on-one matchup they didn’t expect, in this case between a fullback or H-back and an interior DL. The block is a kick-down, and happens within a second of the snap. If executed, you’ve erased the defense’s most important run defender with your fullback’s block, and your center (who’s often your best run blocker) gets a free release into the linebackers.


Wham block in red

Often a wham block starts with that fullback or tight end in motion. This keeps him out of view of the DT he’ll end up blocking until it’s almost too late, and can give him more of a head start, since the fullback is bound to be giving up some weight on the DT, and will have to make up for it with momentum.

BlueGraySky put together a great video compilation of Notre Dame’s wham blocks from a decade ago:

If you’re mad about watching Domers, know that Michigan’s ‘06 defense appears twice and does a pretty good job against it.

[After the JUMP: What they win, what they risk, and how it goes]

Why Do It?

For the offense the risk is a fullback-vs-nose-tackle matchup right in the middle of your running play.


All it would take is for that fullback to bounce off of Mone for this to turn into 2nd and long. To help your fullback win that you want a bigger guy—250 or 260 pounds at least—and you’re giving him a little head of steam on the right angle for a seal. That could go well—pop a surprised NT back a bit and the hole gets wider. Get away with a little bear hold and stand him up, and it’ll be enough. It’s the kind of risk you don’t take against Ryan Glasgow, and which unfortunately worked against Mone right now.

What they’ve won for it are offensive linemen for both middle linebackers.


In this case the fullback block went as well as it could have. Mone got stood up at the hash. Iowa has a center to block Peppers and a guard on Gedeon. Linebackers with interior OL releasing into them that quickly are in a bad way. It would take a great play from either of them to make this play.


It’s up to the DTs to win this, and they still can if they can manage the hole. If Mone had good pad level he’d have the leverage to shove the fullback into the hole. Godin meanwhile is trying to fight back and squeeze the hole shut.

But nah. Mone got totally stood up. Godin read the play to late. He fought back to get a diving tackle attempt in…


…but that guard (who was legitimately impressive in this game) still had an arm on Godin’s chest and such strength to throw Godin backwards.

Now it’s up to the linebackers.


They both get swallowed, Peppers losing ground because he’s 100 pounds lighter than that center and has no space to avoid him.* Gedeon gives up 50 pounds and got shoved out of the running lane before fighting off that block. This is what what Iowa won with their fullback-vs-Mone gamble.

The defense does still have a couple of ways to win this though. Remember, there were almost 9 defenders in the box, and with the quarterback handing off and running away from the play, that means there’s only 7 blockers for those guys. Stribling is playing strong safety, and if he’s more aggressive he maybe shoots into that gap and ends this. But he’s a cornerback, and the last line of defense if Gedeon can’t get off his block, and that’s not his game.


Last is McCray, who might react quickly enough that the slot receiver can’t affect him. This almost happens, but McCray is held outside just long enough by the threat of a bounce, and Iowa’s slot dude is just fast enough to shove McCray downfield a few yards.


* [Ideally Michigan has McCray at SAM and Peppers the spacebacker on the weakside. Michigan’s opponents have been playing with the Peppers/McCray sides all year and in this case they got something out of it.]

What If the Mone Thing Goes Right?

Say for example that Mone plowed that fullback deep into the backfield and the Iowa RB (LeShun Daniels) had to cut back behind it. The slot receiver’s got a crack block on McCray, so if the defensive end’s blocked well there might be a bounce-out to the edge.

That’s not the goal though. A wham is a quick-hitter and isn’t likely to last much longer than the initial impact. It’s supposed to puncture a hole in the line and create those OL-LB matchups downfield. When these break for long gains it’s usually the running back cutting off one of those LB blocks.

The best way to stop this is a smart NT who recognizes what’s happening to him and instead of standing up and panicking, can maybe delay the center’s release some, then dominate the fullback.



November 16th, 2016 at 1:44 PM ^

I played against CC back in the 70s and he ran that play all the time. Back then he ran it more as a power isolation where the onside guard would double down on the noseman and the fullback and blocking back (He ran a power I) would double the linebacker. I played inside linebacker and I went about 190 lbs and his two blocking backs were at least 220- 240 pounds each. Not much fun. 

Yard Dog

November 16th, 2016 at 10:26 AM ^

The wham block is tough to defend, especially if the D line isn't ready for it as noted in the analysis.

NFL teams seem to love this same play.  If you have a decent H back/TE type who can block, it's a great way to keep the D honest by running up the middle.


November 16th, 2016 at 10:28 AM ^

job and fill immediately on this play. If you look at how the play starts our LB's are 3 yards off the line of scrimmage. Then when they are engaged with the blocks they are still 3 yards from the line of scrimmage. Neither one of them plugs a gap on this play. They need to be running down hill as soon as they read their keys, they are way too slow in reacting. They read their keys and attack and this play gets plugged up at the LOS....


November 16th, 2016 at 10:30 AM ^

Seth-- you leave the reader wanting more.  Did they try this at all against Glasgow? Have you noticed this with other manball teams this year against UM?  I'd imagine you'd need some particularly smashy types at FB and TE to pull this off with much consistency.

Great stuff. Thanks.


November 16th, 2016 at 10:38 AM ^

This is well done. 

You point it out above but do you feel that McCray and Peppers often seemed flipped. Seems far to often that Peppers, like on this play, ends up in the box and McCray is in space over the slot or lined up to the field. 

I don't think it would have mattered on this single play but I would have liked to see Peppers used much differently in this game. Instead of having our 240+ LBs attempting to run with their quick back it would have been nice to see Peppers in that spot... Not that Peppers didn't get shook on a great juke at one point. 


November 16th, 2016 at 10:45 AM ^

This play worked because Mone lined up in a 2i. The tackle releases to the second level and the guard does a "fold" type block and blocks Taco. This freezes Mone allowing him to be trapped by the FB. If Mine lines up in a 3 then the guard will release to second level with the tackle blocking Taco and Mone getting trapped by FB. Mone being lined up in a 2i is actually beneficial to the D but the fold block by the guard is basically a false pull to freeze him.

Naked Bootlegger

November 16th, 2016 at 10:45 AM ^

Was Iowa regularly whamming before the UM game?  If not, great adjustment by them.  

Ferentz truly went out of his comfort zone in this game.   Fake punt early in the game (should've been stopped, but punter tumble excitement got a 15 yard PF penalty).   Went for it on 4th and goal early.   Etc., etc.   Was the wham blocking another coaching adjustment win for Iowa, or just a consistent execution fail by us?


November 16th, 2016 at 11:15 AM ^

Ohio State "whammed" the crap out of Oregon in the national title game. Heuermann was crushing undersized DL all day. It was one of OSU's adjustments to the Bud Foster "Bear Front" approach that so flummoxed them in early 2014.

steve sharik

November 16th, 2016 at 7:56 PM ^

I'm a big Don Brown fan, but a defense that asks Peppers to line up over the strong A gap and puts McCray in an overhang alignment is extremely poor.

EDIT: I also don't see the reasoning behind having an overhang and a wide 5, especially on 1st/10 against a pro-style, run-first team like Iowa. Of course, that could've been an error by Taco and not a schematic choice by Brown.


November 16th, 2016 at 12:24 PM ^

let you hold at the point of attack, what are you going to do? I know, don't let yourself get held, but Godin got himself back into the play, the OG was essentially off the side and behind him and pulled Godin down. That is a hold and should have been called.


November 16th, 2016 at 12:42 PM ^

Interior blocks have holding all the time, and putting a hand on a defensive player's chest then throwing him down is legal as long as you're not using the other hand to, like, tackle him. I chalked that up to the guard being skrong.

If someone else wants to write a "What Is: The Point of Playing Football When the O'Neill Crew is Officiating" they're welcome to do so. This article was to explain the wham blocks that iowa used against Michigan to good effect.


November 16th, 2016 at 1:27 PM ^

Seth, I wasn't trying to be critical just pointing out a play that should have been flagged. I played OL in high school and college and understand holding occurs on every play. The difference is, when I am facing you chest to chest and my hands shoot up to your shoulder pads, I can get away with grabbing between the pectoralis area and armpit and stay there as long as that grab does not impede the defender. Once I get extended and the DL tries to disengage, if I prevent that because of my grip, it is a hold. So, if the guard were driving Godin in that position, fine, however; he used his hand placement to pull Godin backward while he himself was behind to the side...that is a hold...even if he is skrong.  Just one man's opinion.


November 16th, 2016 at 12:44 PM ^

May be in another year or two he will have the techniques down to prevent the wham. Did this only happen when Mone was in the rotation? Or did Glasgow get whamed? I would have had Glagow as NT with Hurst, Wormley and Charlton on the line in the final 5 minutes of the game.

I know rotation is important to keep our line fresh.


November 16th, 2016 at 1:18 PM ^

I try to keep in mind that I'm biased... I've got maize & blue spots in front of my eyes... but it did seem to me that there was imbalance in the penalties that were called.  At least a few holds & a few PI's.