During the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s certain schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Alabama ran the triple option to precision, dominating the college game at certain points. In your daddy’s version of the triple option, the ball either goes to the diving fullback, QB, or pitch man, and this is dictated by the defense, whether they like it or not. Much like if you’re over 30 and actually played pickup basketball or football for fun, you know like a normal human, you might recall getting caught on the wrong end of a fast break in hoops for example. You are in conflict, and if the player with the ball “reads” you correctly, you will always be wrong. If you have done that, you have eliminated that defender from the play, because now you’re playing 11 on 10. Oh boy!
Nowadays, the only reason millennials know about the triple option, is because Nebraska’s corn fed behemoths and fast athletes ran rampant over the rest of the country in the mid-90’s with it. With them being the last bastion for the option, it made it tough to plan for them as an opposing coach, especially when they are the only team on the schedule still running it. Military schools are really the only ones using the triple option for this very reason. Also, since they don’t have the best athletes, it helps that it can be installed easily and repped to precision. However, most big time schools eschew it because prime time athletes don’t want to run stuff from 1978.
Those poor defensive ends
Why all this review on the original triple option? Because it involves the QB as a runner, if of course, you create a conflict defender for him to read, as opposed to him being the designated keeper in the play call. In the old timey triple option it was usually the frontside (playside) defensive end that the QB read, but in this millenium with most teams running inside zone, where the lineman all take an angle in the same direction, it is now the backside end that is left unblocked, and here is where the fun ensues.
In a good defensive scheme, defensive ends are taught to squeeze horizontal down the line of scrimmage, and not rush upfield, unless it’s an obvious pass. In high school football, a lot of ends run upfield every time, leaving a giant gap where they were at, especially if they are the strong side end. You know what the QB is thinkin? “I’m just gonna scooch right by ya here, and grab a first down”. So even a disciplined end that squeezes, will actually be screwed over by the QB that pulls it and runs backside as well.
Fun fact real life example
I started coaching in 2016 when our school got a new coach, and have learned a ton in 4 years as a late bloomer. The football IQ when we took over was exceedingly low, so we needed something easy and efficient. We didn’t run inside zone stuff and read the backside end like the above example, but instead ran trap with a pulling guard, and “read” the linebacker that was left unblocked. Our QB was a tall lanky athlete, and if the linebacker chased the running back and left the “box”, the QB would pull it, or “keep” it and gallop through the gaping hole where the linebacker was for many yards.
That happened a lot that year, and he was second in the conference in rushing. We really had no other choice, and somehow teams couldn’t figure it out. Yeah, I’m sure some of you are like, “Your conference finally saw an “option” or “read game” offense in 2016? We’ve been doing that since 2010! Well, East Central Illinois isn’t exactly a hotbed for football so concepts take a minute to trickle down yonder. Now, two other teams in our conference that have been noted power running teams for probably the past three decades, started running spread last year. Weird, right?
Let’s get down to brass tacks
So what in the hell happened around the turn of the millennium to the option after the mid 90’s Huskers stopped being juggernauts? There was seemingly a decade long stretch where everyone forgot a QB can “read” defenders. It was so weird. The spread offense was becoming en vogue in the late 90’s as we learned last week, but ole Ryan Leaf and Drew Brees weren’t juking guys on QB keepers either. Henceforth, the two guys I would credit as taking the initial spread concepts, and adding a QB to the mix would Urban Meyer and Rich Roidriguez in the mid-2000’s.
After making Alex Smith famous in his spread option scheme at Utah in 03-04, Meyer leapfrogged from Utah to his Florida gig, and in the late 2000s turned Florida into a power house. He did this by primarily sending Tebow’s ass heading downhill on Power read. The running back the defense had to account for if Tebow didn’t keep it? Percy Harvin. Rodrgiuez had a similar scenario in around 06 at West Virginia, except he used a fast as hell combination with the duo of Steve Slaton and Pat White, who would just outrun everybody. There bread and better was the inside zone play from above, where White would read the backside end and dip out the back door, as opposed to Tebow’s front side bulldozing.
**Side Note: I always wonder, why we’re D coordinators 15 years ago so flummoxed by this initially? I mean, they grew up watching the old timey triple option. It’s still a damn option. West Virginia and Florida amongst others were literally torching people. I don’t get it.
Other iterations and twists
You may also remember Chip Kelly at Oregon tearing shit up around circa 2010 with good running QB’s and shifty little burner running backs darting through the inside zone running schemes that are prevalent today. Kelly was only there from 09-12, and the Ducks were even kicking ass for a year or two after he left. Kelly’s contribution to the spread option was playing beyond fast as hell, so the defense couldn’t make substitutions. Also, there playbook wasn’t enormous, they just repped their stuff so much they could do it blindfolded. And fast.
There are other big name QB’s that had astounding seasons like Newton had. RG3 comes to mind in 2011. Baylor’s coach Art Briles’ little contribution to the spread handbook was sending his receivers way the hell out wide, like past the numbers. defensive backs had to honor that, which left wide open lanes for Griffin to wiggle through. Heck you might remember 2005 Vince Young absolutely annihilating the college football landscape with these same concepts. However, we know them for having a short burst of NFL success, then bottoming out because they read defenses like Mitch Trubisky. If only there was a way where college guys could easily acclimate to the pros. Like if, the pros ran RPO’s too. Wait a minute…..see you next week.