Quarterback Communication Before The Ball Is Snapped

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: March 6, 2024

Blue 42, Blue 42 set hut! A quarterback can often hear this number and color cadence during a football game.

What does blue 42 mean in football? Blue 42 is a cadence and tells the offense when to start moving. Quarterbacks will typically say “blue 42 set hit” to start the play.

In this article, we’re going to break down what quarterbacks say and how it gets the offense moving.

What Do Quarterbacks Say Before The Play?

The quarterback can often be heard yelling numbers before the ball is snapped.

These numbers and words are part of the quarterback’s cadence. If you’re unfamiliar with a cadence, watch this video before you continue.

These numbers can relate to a multitude of things. For this article, we’re going to break down what each number could mean and why the quarterback says his cadence nearly every play.

Keep in mind that every offense is different to change based on the different systems.

Each coach has its system and could use the numbers or colors to dictate different things to different players. Below is simply a collection of calls we’ve gathered from different coaches.

The cadence can be different from team to team, but it starts with the quarterback yelling numbers and letters.

Timing Of The Cadence

Teams will often use color and a number to time up the cadence.

The offense is similar to an orchestra; everything must fire simultaneously and be on the same tune.

One messed-up note can make the entire orchestra sound out of whack. It’s no different in football.

We’ll often hear the term “White 80, White 80 set hut!” in the NFL. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton use this cadence to signal for the football.

Some may argue that using the same cadence every play hurts the offense. In retrospect, it helps them. For example, if the defense is used to hearing “White 80, white 80 set hut”, the quarterback can bluff the play call.

Instead of going on “set hut,” the QB can change the call to 2 and go on the second hut.

This is where you’ll see Rodgers or Newton get a free play or get the opposing team to jump because of their consistent cadence.

Calling Out The Coverage

This is a newer concept to offenses as the spread offense continues to evolve.

When the quarterback says a number in the cadence, it could pertain to the coverage.

This is a mechanism used for youth, high school, and college quarterbacks.

Teaching them how to understand and break down defenses will make their life easier.

For example, if the opposing team is in cover 2, the quarterback may say, “Blue 42, blue 42 set hit!”.

If the opposing team is in a cover 1, he might say, “Blue 31, blue 31 set hit!”.

The second number ( or first), depending on the system, can help the quarterback verbalize what he sees.

It may not seem like a huge deal, but understanding coverages will help you understand what area of the field will be open.

Audibles & Checks

A quarterback may call out a number before the ball is snapped to audible the play.

Now that offenses are so diverse, the number system is a way to check the play at the line of scrimmage.

Most college and high school teams will go “no-huddle,” meaning all the plays are called at the line of scrimmage. Coaches have created systems where they yell “Yellow 18” and dictate the whole play.

Yellow = Formation

18 = Inside Zone Run

It’s that simple. The quarterback will then echo it to the entire offense and then run the play.

cam newton cadence

This system has made it extremely easy for coaches to get out of the current play they’re in and get to a play that’s best suited for them to score points.

Coaches who huddle and don’t have checks at the LOS must live with the current play call. This is why it’s a good idea to have a check system in place at the LOS.

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Identifying The Mike Linebacker

As mentioned here, the Mike linebacker sets the middle of the blocking scheme for the offensive lineman. Often, we can hear the quarterback pointing to a number and identifying the Mike as the middle linebacker.

In the video above, Cam Newton can be heard yelling “White 80” before the ball is snapped, as he’s using that as a rhythm cadence.

We can also hear him talk to his center to identify who is the Mike.

This is to ensure he’s on the same page as the center to ensure he’s protected in the passing game and the running back is protected in the run game.

The snap count is like code words for the offense, that way the defense can’t decipher them.

Why Do Quarterbacks Yell Colors Before The Ball Is Snapped?

Similar to the number system, the colors are also used to have a rhythmic cadence.

As mentioned in the video above, Aaron says “green 19” pretty much every play.

The flexibility of this cadence allows Aaron to change it every week with a different color and a different number.

The term “Blue 42” is often used when people are trying to mock a quarterback’s cadence. There’s no significance to this cadence, just a string of words before the quarterback receives the ball.

If you’re creating a cadence, it’s good to have colors and numbers in the cadence for many reasons:

  • Instead of the quarterback just getting to the line of scrimmage and saying “GO!” it allows the offense to prepare for contact.
  • It allows the offense to make adjustments to blitzes at the last second
  • The cadence is flexible – can snap the ball on “hut,” first color, or even the first number to throw the defense’s timing off

Why Do Quarterbacks Point To Their Helmet Before The Ball Is Snapped?

When the quarterback wants to change the play at the line of scrimmage, he will use what we call an “alert” system. Using the hand signal of pointing to his head and yelling the word alert means the offense changes the play.

For instance, the offense will call two plays in the huddle. If the quarterback doesn’t like the first play that the coach called, he can run the second play in the huddle.

This gives the quarterback the freedom to put the offense in the best possible position to run the correct play.

Why Do Quarterbacks Clap Their Hands?

Quarterbacks, especially at the college level, can be seen clapping their hands before the snap. The quarterback clapping is either a sign for the center to snap the ball or hurry the center up to snap the ball.

Clap As A Cadence

More and more teams across the country are going to a spread offense to spread the ball around the field and get their best athletes in space.

Crowd noise has become a factor as you can barely hear with 110,000 screaming fans going crazy.

To counteract that, teams have implemented a clap cadence.

The clap cadence cuts through crowd noise and allows teams to react off of a piercing clapping noise.

Here’s a great explanation by Jon Gruden and Cardale Jones on the clap cadence.

Clap To Tell The Center To Hurry

This is more so seen at the NFL level. Teams that use the leg as a cadence will often use some clap system to tell their center; there are 3 seconds on the play clock, and they better hurry up.

This could be if the play came in late or if the quarterback took too long to adjust the play.

It’s to signify to the center I need the ball as soon as possible, and we can’t wait.

The offensive line is typically looking forward to blitzes and not looking back at the quarterback. All offensive players have to be able to adjust and rely on the cadence for when to move.

Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning or other spread-style quarterbacks who have complete freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage can often be seen clapping frantically to tell their center to hurry and snap the football.

Keep Learning

Playing quarterback is one of the most challenging positions in all sports.

All NFL teams have cadences, whether that be a verbal signal with number combinations or lifting their leg in the air. The most common phrase to use is blue 42 because it rhymes and has been featured in many movies.

If you liked learning about football communication before the ball is snapped, we recommend you check out our Ultimate Football Guide below.

Learn more about the quarterback position by reading the articles below.

How To Play Quarterback In Football

Why Quarterbacks Slide When They Run

Why Does The Quarterback Lift His Leg?

Quarterback Drops: 3,5,7 Step and Quick Game

Adding a color and numbering system to your cadence can help with flexibility in both play-calling and keeping the defense on edge.

Make sure the quarterback is loud and consistent with the cadence. This will help your offense when you eventually want the defense to jump offsides.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

How do you use colors and numbers in your cadence? Do you use them strictly for rhythmic purposes, or does it mean something? We’d love to hear your strategies in the comments below!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.