Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Not To Run The Option - By: Darron Thomas

One of the things that has left the football blogosphere a little bewildered were the expansive use of new sets by Oregon during the BCS National Championship this past Monday.It was highly suspected that both Chip Kelly of Oregon and Gus Malzahn would have some new tricks up their sleeve seeing that they had over a month for preparation. However, Kelly's use of so much new "stuff" at the beginning of the game would have one wonder whether he tried too much, or whether his QB was just not coached up enough on some of the new looks.

Oregon QB Darron Thomas looked specifically uncomfortable and befuddled running a few different option plays towards the beginning of the game.

Inside Zone Triple Option

The first was actually the second play of the game. Oregon aligned with an H-back and tailback in the backfield, two receivers to the left, and one to the right. Before the snap the slot to the left will motion into the backfield.

On the snap the motion man will become the dive back on the inside zone portion of this triple option play. I've highlighted the hand off key that Thomas will be reading. The H-back will release to block the force defender, and the set tailback will become the pitch man on the triple option play.

Here we see the end zone view.

The defensive end will come down the line of scrimmage during the mesh and Thomas will make the correct decision and pull.

At this point in time Oregon has the numbers and Thomas needs to be attacking down hill.

Thomas actually has a clear lane and if he accelerates should be able to at least get a first down. He needs to get up the field now.

Instead, Thomas takes a left turn and begins running towards the sideline.

Now Thomas has taken a wrong turn, and is only going to make it worse when he attempts a free throw over the Auburn's defenders head to get the ball to LaMichael James.

The play ends horribly for Oregon, when it should have been a first down.

Lessons Learned:
1 - Take what the defense gives you, Thomas should have had a first down.
2 - Don't pitch unless you absolutely have to and should, neither of which Thomas was forced to do on this play.

The Shovel Option

A play that was made popular by Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen at Utah and Florida, and has been adopted by numerous spread offenses across the country is the shovel option. It can be run as either a double or triple option and is characterized by a back running laterally down the line of scrimmage and the QB forcing the defensive end to play contain and tackle the QB or sit tight and tackle the trailing running back who could receive the pitch.

Oregon lines up with a bunch set to the right. Before the snap James the tailback will motion out of the backfield and past the bunch.

On the snap of the ball Thomas will run laterally to his left, hoping to draw the attention of the defensive end. The right guard will pull and lead on the play and the #3 man of the bunch will become the pitch man.

I have highlighted the flat footed defensive end, as we notice the pulling guard leading the play and the pitch man trailing the play. Thomas needs to keep moving laterally as the defensive end has not committed to either him or the pitch man.

Here we see Thomas prematurely pitches the ball while the defender, who he is supposed to be reading is sitting and waiting. Note the corner back to the play side has fallen down.

Lesson Learned: Thomas should have kept pushing laterally and if the defensive end did not show an adjustment should have worked to the sideline. At some point the defensive end would have had to adjust or risk losing contain. It is up to Thomas to open the hole for his pitch man, not hang him out to dry like he did in this instance.

Outside Zone Read

The final play I will look at was another interesting new look for Oregon. In the set below Oregon aligns with a dual H-back look in the backfield. Before the snap of the ball the slot to the left will come in motion and become the hand off man for the zone read play.

Here we see at the snap of the ball, the defensive end towards the top of the screen will be left unblocked and will be the hand off key. Both H-backs will go opposite the play and look to seal the backside for a QB keep (and help set up the two naked pass plays Oregon will run later.) Note that the defensive end will have to come down pretty hard in order to tackle the running back who has built up some momentum from coming in motion.

Here we see after the snap that the defensive end has gained depth and has put himself in a position to make the tackle on Thomas who has kept the ball. James most likely would have been able to make something out of the play as it appears Oregon is pretty well manned up on the front side of the play. And while Thomas would not be tackled by the defensive end, he would not make anything of the play.

Lesson Learned: When in doubt give the football.

Darron Thomas looked uncomfortable running the option during the National Championship game. I can only assume so much, but it would appear that Thomas did not have as much time practicing these plays as maybe he should have. If that was the case then only that can be put on Chip Kelly, but for all I know Thomas could have been executing at a high level in practice and the National Championship could have been an oddity for him.

On the shovel option play particularly I would blame Kelly, only because I feel the threat of the shovel being a true triple option by adding a dip pitch back could have opened up the play more than it was and would not have placed as much pressure on Thomas.

Overall, we can speculate to all hell, the fact of the matter is that Darron Thomas has shown us how not to run the option...and just so happened to do it on the biggest stage of college sports.


  1. Coach, nice work. One of the best coaching points I have heard about the Triple Option was from the Ga. southern Clinic this past year. Once the QB pulls the ball from the Dive back, it now is a Keep or Pitch. He is not to attack a defender, he is to get vertical ASAP (you had a great screenshot of that) and let the pitch player come to him. You have to hammer your QB to get vertical, otherwise, you let the defense string the play out, like what happened, which led to one of the ugliest option pitches I have seen in a while.

  2. Exactly coach, watching that play live it was almost embaressing, we can only speculate what Thomas was thinking but it seemed as though he was told to get to that pitch portion if he didn't give the hand off. Granted, Thomas isn't the same runner Newton is, but it's not like he isn't athletic. Hopefully Kelly figures out what went wrong there.