Handy to Have Options

On consecutive plays Saturday we lost our most dynamic running back to an inadvertent helmet to helmet collision, and then our starting quarterback to a minor (we hope) calf injury.

So our backup guys finished off the game and our opponent with a 32 yard touchdown drive.

I’m very comfortable with our depth on offense this season. It’s a little tougher on defense for us to lose two starters, but on offense, we’ve managed very well.

That might be counter-intuitive for those of you that believe an option offense can only work so long as your option QB is healthy. I haven’t really found that to be the case. Our backup is 2nd string not because he can’t run the offense, but rather because he isn’t quite the same sort of athlete as our starter.  It’s just a yards per carry difference.

When we run the option, we’re looking for yardage that helps us make first downs, and our backups on offense are perfectly capable of running the offense efficiently. When our starting QB went out, we were facing 2nd and 8 from our opponent’s 32 yard line. The series and outcomes are outlined below, with my notes italicized.

  • 2nd & 8, +32: Midline Right. QB misread, followed FB, and cut back for three yards. Not a bad play, just a misread. There’s a difference between a misread and a mistake. When you’re 11 years old, we don’t worry too much about a misread. If our QB misses a dive give, he’s taught to follow the FB. He did as he was taught, and he made three tough yards for us.
  • 3rd & 5, +29: Rocket 38. QB good power turn & pitch to our 3 back running right, outran the end and turned the corner for thirteen yards. Big play on the drive. The biggest key to rocket is to hit that running back in stride. Our backup QB made a perfect pitch.
  • 1st & 10, +16: Midline Left. Give read for seven yards. Right back to the same type of play as his first one, to see if our backup QB would read it right this time. He did, and we took seven yards right up the gut. That demoralizes the defense.
  • 2nd & 3, +9: Midline Left. Pull read, keep for three yards for first down. Called it again to try to get the dive read to come inside. He did, and we read it correctly, but their defensive end was very tall and got one long arm on our QB as he went past. Still a positive play for a first down.
  • 1st & Goal, +6: Option Left 17 Option. Unexpected give, touchdown. Crazy play. See the video and a detailed explanation below.
  • Extra Point, +3: Rocket 27. Short pitch, try good. Nearly as crazy as the touchdown play. Pitch left wasn’t out as far as it needed to be, but a big hole opened up straight in front of our back, and he walked in.

The touchdown play was a ‘force it’ call on my part. When I call Option Left, that’s our Inside Veer version of a true triple option. When I add “17 Option” to the tail end of that play call, I’m trying to force a fake on the dive, and leave it to the 1 back (QB) whether to keep or pitch to the trail back headed around the 7 hole. It’s basically a forced double option outside that’s run the same as the triple for everybody except the quarterback and fullback.

I’d called for the outside option because our opponent was in a double eagle 5-3. In that sort of alignment, the read is an automatic pull, since the tackle is already in an ‘under’ position. With a backup QB, I figured to give him one less decision to make, and just focus on keep or pitch out on the edge. The play and what I expected from the defenders is drawn below:

Option 17 Vs 5-3 Eagle

What I thought was going to happen

No one was more surprised than me when, instead of what I had in mind, we got this:

Instead of covering both A and B gaps, the dive read, the nose, and the backside tackle all slanted toward motion. (Maybe thinking midline?) That might have been OK for them, if the MLB had covered the playside B gap – but he didn’t, or couldn’t, since our tackle got out to him.

So drawn up, here’s what actually happened:

Option Left Dive

QB sees a great opportunity

Normally T4 lining up in a 3 tech or 2 tech (as above) calls for an automatic pull. Our young quarterbacks are taught that if the dive key is inside our tackle, pull the ball.  Further, if I tag an option play call with 17 or 18, I’m saying to pull the ball and run outside option.

Those were two very good reasons not to give the ball. Yet the dive was given, and we scored a touchdown.

The first thing I asked our QB when he came over to the numbers was “Did you call 17 Option?” He nodded yes. I smiled and asked him “Why in the world did you give it to him then?”  And he answered “Because the hole was so big!”

Teaching the option to young players has been an adventure. Often they don’t do it just the way you’d drawn it up or called it. I still don’t know why our lead A back jumped in front of the #2 man on that play. He doesn’t know either, but it helped the play.

I think this offense has created some fast-reacting brains. Different and unexpected things always happen on the field, presenting unpredictable problems as well as opportunities, and our kids aren’t phased. They play with confidence, and look to exploit those opportunities.

The opposing coach, by slanting inside away from motion, and bringing his OLB to the pitch, was taking away midline as well as the outside option. What he couldn’t account for was our kids ability to change things up on the fly, and to react to what they saw.

The fullback knew just what to do when he felt the ball seat. The quarterback knew he’d handle it. They took the wide open, simple football play and scored, despite my efforts to the contrary.

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