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case5leadBy Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs


Discover how various coaches are preparing to defend triple option concept and RPO concepts.

 



By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Defending RPO and Triple Option Concepts.”

Introduction:

It’s impossible to defend these schemes during the course of a game week, which is why most coaches don’t. We’ve found that the majority of coaches, 57 percent choose to start preparing for triple option offenses in the spring or summer leading up to the season (See Graph Below). So, we reached out to those coaches who have won at least half their games against these schemes to tell us exactly how they prep for these offenses.

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Practice Planning Flexbone Option:

Shawn Quinn, the defensive coordinators at Western Carolina University, adopted the following practice philosophies when defending triple option concepts:

  • Teach half/part/whole
  • Start half line than progress to full line.
  • Start with defensive line and back seven split up.
  • Start in the spring devoting time to defending the option every day.
  • Do a technique circuit which includes arc, load and cut work.
  • During the season, set aside time every day to practice basic option fits. We use ten minutes every Monday practice.
  • Work option fits during bye weeks.
  • Do as many drills without a ball to have defenders go to their responsibilities.
  • Rep every call verses one play. For example, use dive option weak vs. every defensive call you have.
  • Rep every play vs. one defensive call.
  • Use a perimeter blocking drill with cut blocking.

Half-Line Methodologies:

Jay Brophy, Buchtel High School (OH): “Set up half line group work on assignment football. Two half lines set up going left and right, rotating defense so they get looks going both ways on option.”

Jared Ocker, Sioux City East High School (IA): “We do half line fits all week against the various phases of the options. We use scout team cards and do not use a football. We will work on getting hands on and blocking down step down. This is also the time where we will script in our line stunts and blitzes.”

Jim Dawson, Trinity University (TX): “Split drills...a-b gap reads and games, c-d gap reads and play all before coming together in a team option drill or script.”

Team Defense Methodologies:

Gary Phillips, Conestoga High School (PA): “We practice a whole defense drill that works all phases of the option (dive/keep/pitch). We work on this for 10 minutes every practice in preparation.”

James Cook, Smithfield High School (RI): “Pursuit drills. Making sure our defense is running through the dive to QB then to the pitch.”

No-Ball Methodologies:

Michael McKay, Indian Trail High School (WI): “We have the LBs and perimeter guys practice responsibilities without a ball. Using bags as OL.”

Andy Guyon, Xavier High School (CT): “We always practice without the ball and on the last day all of the phases have the ball so we can work on takeaways.”

Miles Aldridge, Hough High School (NC): “Practice with out ball or use tennis ball.”

Tom Alward, Goodrich High School (MI): “Practice with tennis balls so no one on defense knows who has the ball. This forces every defender to stop all phases of the option on every play. We also take the best athlete we have and use him to run scout QB.”

Steve Schein, Spring-Ford High School (PA): “We use a nerf ball and practice and have our defenders tackle the dive, QB, and pitch on every play.”

Mark Brown, Carroll Jr./Sr. High School (IN): “Always have the QB pull the ball and carry out each phase to make sure every responsibility is accounted for.”

Three-Ball Methodologies:

Daniel Hopper, Tolleson High School (AZ): “Using no ball or three balls during different drills and team to make sure that all three phases have been taken care of.”

Nathan Aker, South Putnam High School (IN): “Three ball drill. Each back has a football: dive back, QB, and pitch back. Defense has to tackle their responsibility. This eliminates any "superstar" who wants to think they can read it and tackle whoever has the ball.”

Sam Bernardi, Valparaiso High School (IN): “In practice we will always have three balls in play on every play. The FB always has one, the QB has one, and a backup player will have one. The FB will always have ball and must be tackled on every play. QB will carry out the keep/pitch phase based on read. This will allow for the QB and pitch player to always have defenders tackling them on each play. The backup player with the third ball, will throw backside or pop pass on each play to help those defenders practice their responsibilities on play away.”

Technique Emphasis Methodologies:

Coach G, Lely High School (FL): “We also stress alignment and hands on with the defensive line. They are the key to having success against an option team. We have also found that making the scout teams have the correct splits helps us identify plays sooner.”

Kagan McClain, West Laurens High School (GA): “Really spending a lot of time working on using our hands to sprawl and beat the chop blocks.”

Scheme Emphasis Methodologies:

Hoff Schooler, Ruston High School (LA): “We also have periods vs. scouts where we remove the DT from the drill to assure the QB can get into the keep/pitch phase, allowing the backend to get the work they need.”

Designated Option Periods:

Joey Wiles, St. Augustine High School (FL): “We always have option periods built into practice. These periods are without a football.”

Matthew LePain, Dunedin High School (FL): “This is an everyday part of practice. We always cover option and zone read concepts day one.”

William Lund, Hope College (MI): “From fall camp every week we spend 10 minutes on base option plays, no football. By week 8, in one case, we hit the ground running.”

Gary Cowart, Pensacola High School (FL): “We have an option period every practice.”

Marcus Yanez, Ouachita Parish High School (LA): “Another thing I've done in the past is to have a full 9 on 7 inside option run drill and give all 3 phases of the option a football.”

Hazeez Rafiu, Polson High School (MT): “Match up scout with the athletes you will see on game day. If a team has an athlete at QB, our scout team QB will be our best athlete no matter what. Also prepare for the unexpected like passing concepts and trick plays.”

Scott Reid, Tomball High School (TX): “Lots of reps. Two huddles running the same play just flipped over.”

Jim Griffin, West Henderson High School (NC): “Have the DC stand behind the offense to watch the EYES of his kids = make sure they are focused on THEIR SPECIFIC KEY = eye discipline comes before assignment discipline.”

Mental Reps:

Patrick Mooney, Mountain Valley High School (ME): “White board work & giving the defense a formal quiz on area responsibilities.”

Clay Iverson, Mukwoango High School (WI): “Walk thru, walk thru, walk thru, very hard to duplicate in practice, so a lot of film and walk thru. Early, so they know what kind of option it is - mid, triple, veer, etc.”

George Richardson, Noxubee County High School (MS): “In practice, we do a lot of walk through before we go full speed. We teach each position how the offense will block you based on the alignments designated for that particular game. Now our guys come to expect who is coming to block them.”

Mike Giancola, Westfield High School (VA): “Option responsibilities are now part of the install of all our fronts, coverages, pressures and stunts. We also dedicate at least one practice period a week to option, whether or not the team we are playing runs any of it or not. By the time we start the season the players have fit option so much they can defend it in their sleep.”

Practice Planning RPO Concepts:

Segmented Teaching:

Andy Guyon, Xavier High School (CT): “We break up the plays running the run part and the pass part separately.”

Mike Gutelius, Lindsey Wilson College (KY): “Running the same play vs. multiple calls with each group.”

Storm Reeves, Brusly High School (LA): “Rep each phase separately in individual periods.”

Jason Brown, Dutchtown High School (LA): “Perimeter drill every Monday and Wednesday during the season. More volume on the drill during camp.”

Tempo Teaching Emphasis:

David Taylor, Ouachita Parish High School (LA): “Run two scout huddles.”

Schematic Emphasis Methodologies:

Hoff Schooler, Ruston High School (LA): “We focus on run fits and tackling for these teams especially. The nature of their personnel and alignments limits gang tackling opportunity and forces open field tackling.”

Designated Option Periods:

Casey Pearce, Longview High School (TX): “Devote 4-5 segments daily in game prep to specific RPO schemes.”

Clay Iverson, Mukwoango High School (WI): “This one is more of breaking down into phases, little less pod work since we are going to be more spread out.”

Practice Planning Zone Read Options:

Half-Line Methodologies:

Jason Winstead, South Pointe High School (SC): “During the week, we will do 1/2 line option drills. We try to get as many reps as we can vs. as many different block schemes as we think we will get. We will also do a team period everyday without the interior DL. They have dive and tend to get in the way vs. our scout team. We want our other players to get a clean look. The scout team OL will step to imaginary DL, so that the 2nd level players can see where they fit.”

Dave Pfeiffer, Kettle Moraine High School (WI): “Half line drill to make sure all crack replace is correct on different coverage to defend perimeter correctly. Practice against the option without a football.”

Richard Ponx, Aurora University (IL): “We practice 1/2 field pods to the action to double the reps we get. Do this everyday regardless of whom we are playing. Always have an option period built in.”

Joey Mariani, University of Redlands (CA): “We run ‘pods’ for each phase of the option, so our players will see the play in a Part-Part-Whole teaching. Also, practicing option plays without a football. This way we work each players responsibility without them being distracted by where the ball is. We also work on our players ‘caging’ the ball carrier, making sure each player has proper leverage to the ball.”

Segmented Practice Periods:

Dave Gan, O’Fallon Township High School (IL): “We do a cut or keep drill where we work wrong arming and option responsibilities in one drill.”

Eric Smith, Dyer County High School (TN): “We have a perimeter fit drill we run twice a week no matter what offense we are facing, which really helps against teams that get most big plays there.”

Zachary Dreher, Council Grove High School (KS): “We run a 15 play period where it is nothing but these concepts. During this period we consider the first 5 plays teaching plays, meaning we will immediately jog through a play if it gains more than 5 yds. to make sure that everyone knows their fits. The last 10 plays however are full speed and no reruns.”

Todd Agresta, Montclair State University (NJ): “We drill all option plays, regardless if its Double Option, Inside/Outside Veer, Zone Read, Zone Read Triple, or Zone Read RPO, we break it down into 2 groups. Interior Drill and Perimeter drill. Interior Drill will be NG/DT and ILBs vs. OGs, OC, QB and RB. They learn their fits and assignments together. While interior is going on, we have a perimeter drill going on with the DEs OLBs and Safeties. They are working vs. OT, TE, WRs, QB and RB. Same plays as interior drill, but they are doing their responsibilities. After this, we come together as a unit for 9 on 7 drill, to put everything together.”

Jim Dawson, Trinity College (TX): “We do an A/B gap drill and a C/D gap drill and run the plays these offenses use in the A/B gap (midline or QB follow) and a C/D (outside veer, loaded on QB player or lead option). We rep those at a fast tempo without cards. We just point from behind the defense. It’s rapid fire. Before we go full team, we will go half-line.”

Defending the Option:

RPO & Flexbone

 

The dynamic of defending option football has shifted. The "stop the fullback" mentality has shifted to a "get two on the quarterback" mindset. The emergency of dual threat signal callers has changed the premise of defending option football. The pitch element of triple option has been supplanted with the quick game of RPO concepts. 

Due to the new trends in the option, defending these concepts became our #1 course of study this off-season. 

But, it certainly wasn't easy... 

Since many of these offensive concepts are still being developed, we were not surprised with how many coaches were still grasping for answers. Naturally, we did our due diligence to identify and find those that believed in what they are doing and had the credibility to put their name to it. In fact, we enlisted the help of only those coaches who won at least 75 percent of their games defending these schemes. 

We broke down our research into two distinct areas: 

  1. Defending flexbone triple option football 
  2. Defending the new triple option football, run/pass option concepts. 

We segmented our research by breaking down defending the triple option by front structure and defending RPO concepts by coverage structure. 

And the good news is we have released all our research into our brand-new special report... 

The Defending RPO & Triple Option Study

This in-depth study takes you inside the programs who have had success in stopping these option concepts. These are proven strategies at defending RPO and triple option concepts. 

The truth is... many coaches have a plan, and most of them are preparing to implement that plan now. Its no secret, 61 percent of coaches start preparing for option offenses in the spring and summer leading up to the season. 

But the question is... 

  • Is your plan the right plan? 
  • Has it proven to stop RPO or flexbone concepts? 
  • Can it hold them to 3rd and medium? 

If you can't answer "yes" to all of these questions, you must read The Defending RPO & Triple Option Study. 

What's important to note is that above all else, this project is a study in defending first and second down. As Trinity College (TX) defensive consultant and secondary coach told us, "you have to limit these offenses to four yards or less on second down." 

Run/pass option is option football and the threat of the run equally dissipates in third down situations, the same could be said about flexbone offensive stuctures. So, the purpose of this special report is to provide defensive coordinators with sound structures and adjustments to put these offenses behind in the chains. 

Below is the list of successful programs that contributed to this study… 

Contributor List:

  • Henderson State University (AR): Finished 4th in Division 2 in scoring defense, surrendering 15.8 points per game. Led the country with 29 interceptions in 2015.
  • Trinity College (TX): Finished 3rd in Division 3 in rushing defense, surrendering 60.5 yards on the ground in 2015.
  • University of St. Francis (IN): Finished 11-1 in 2015, surrendered 121 rushing yards per game.
  • Georgia Military College: 8-4 record in 2015, birth in JUCO national championship game.
  • Dodge City Community College (KS): Finished 9-3 in 2015, surrendering 93 rushing yards per game.
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN): Finished 8-2 in 2015. Had a defensive efficiency of 66% defending RPO concepts.
  • As well as a number of successful high school programs from Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Florida and South Carolina 

Here's what you'll find in this brand-new study... 

Case 1: Odd Front Stuctures to Defend Flexbone Triple Option

It's not an aberration that when the Naval Academy and Army compete against each other in December, they are utilizing odd front structures. In this case, we will present various viewpoints on using the odd front, it's important to note that many odd front coaches continually change their assignments when defending triple option concepts. Part of the complexity of defending triple option is having the discipline to play your assignments properly. We all know that. The successful option offenses will continually monitor how you are defending them and adjust accordingly. In this case, we studied pure triple option concepts from the flexbone formation and how odd front defenses are defending them. 

Some of the research we uncovered in this case includes:

  • Why 64 percent of coaches use a phase base system (dive, pitch keep), while 19 percent use a gap based system (A gap responsible, B gap responsible, etc.).
  • Base run fits to defend the flexbone triple option in both the 3-4 and 3-3-5 defensive structures.
  • An analysis with video of Central Arkansas Christian High School's Rebel package from its 3-4 structure and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis with video of Henderson State University (AR) 3-4 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis of Fairfield Central High School (SC) 3-4 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis of Noxubee County High School (MS) 5-3 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • Analysis with video of odd front pressures used to defend flexbone triple option schemes including the Wide Dog Pressure used at Fairfield Central High School, the Grizzly pressure used at Mukwonago High School (WI), the Saw Pressure used at St. Joseph High School (CA), the Smoke Dog Pressure used at South County High School (VA), the Pinch Fire pressure used at Woodmont High School (SC) and the Razor Pressure used at West Laurens High School (GA). 

Case 2: Even Front Structures to Defend Flexbone Triple Option

We found that the majority of coaches, 44 percent, choose to use four down fronts to defend the flexbone option. The reasoning is molded around the ability to cover up offensive linemen to prevent them from getting to the second level. We've also found that many defensive coaches are choosing to use a single gap control system (rather than those two-gap principles tied to odd front teams) to defend option. They are in the opinion that your assignments are clearer when you have one gap to control. While those might be the base ways to defend triple option concepts in the even front system, we wanted to single in on some specific programs to research how they were defending pure option football. We selected six programs from all levels who had a winning percentage of .750 or higher in defending option football. We presented a synopsis of how each of these systems defend option football. 

Some of the research we uncovered in this case includes:

  • Base run fits to defend the flexbone triple option in both the 4-2-5 and 4-3 defensive structures.
  • An analysis with video of Northwest High School (OH) 4-2-5 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis with video of Trinity College (TX) 4-2-5 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis with video of Dodge City Community College (KS) 4-3 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis with video of Ponchatoula High School (LA) 4-3 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis of West Carolina University 4-3 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • An analysis with video of Sayreville High School (NJ) 6-2 defense and how it is used to defend flexbone triple option including base fits of the first, second and third level defenders as well as the changeups it uses to vary responsibilities.
  • Analysis with video of event front pressures used to defend flexbone triple option schemes including the Saw Zero Pressure used at Ponchatoula High School (LA), the Shark Pressure used at Western Carolina University and the Lightning Pressure used at Miami East High School (OH). 

Case 3: Zone Based Coverage Structures to Defend RPO Schemes

By now, the RPO (run/pass option) game has arrived at a ball field near you. According to our research 80 percent of defensive coordinators have experience defending RPO concepts. While these types of concepts are proliferating, we wanted to research how defensive coordinators were using a holistic approach in defending them. Were they treating them as triple option elements? Where they using a certain coverage or front to contain them? We decided to segment our research in this case to certain coverages that coaches are using to defend RPO concepts. We also detail which types of RPO concepts or constraints (stick draw, zone bubble, zone pop, etc.) that these coverages are efficient in defending. In this case, we focused on zone-based configurations, whether it be split field variations or whole field variations. Our research shows that the majority of coaches, 32 percent, will use split field coverage principles to defend the RPO game. 

Some of the research we uncovered in this case includes: 

  • An analysis with video of the Deuce coverage concept that Henderson State University (AR) uses to defend 3x1 stick draw and 3x1 stick skinny RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Read Solo coverage concept that Henderson State University (AR) uses to defend 2x2 zone bubble and 2x2 zone pop RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Read Solo coverage concept that Henderson State University (AR) uses to defend 2x2 zone bubble and 2x2 zone pop RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Cover two read coverage concept that Grand Island High School (NE) uses to defend 3x1 smoke, 3x1 fire and 2x2 bubble RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Robber coverage concept that the University of St. Francis (IN) uses to defend backside pin and pop RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the "X out 3" coverage concept that the University of St. Francis (IN) uses to defend 3x1 stick draw and 2x2 zone out RPO schemes.
  • An analysis of the Squat two coverage concept that the University of St. Francis (IN) uses to defend 2x2 zone bubble RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Steal coverage concept that Longview High School (TX) uses to defend backside X RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Spy coverage concept that Longview High School (TX) uses to defend 3x1 vertical RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of Field 3 Porch coverage concept that Trinity College (TX) uses to defend field side 3x1 RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of Field 3 Sky coverage concept that Trinity College (TX) uses to defend field side 3x1 RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of Field 3 Cobra coverage concept that Trinity College (TX) uses to defend backside bubble, smoke and fire RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video on how Georgia Military College uses Thirds coverage concepts to defend Empty RPO schemes. 

Case 4: Man Coverage Structures to Defend Run/Pass Option Concepts

We decided to segment our research in this case to certain coverages that coaches are using to defend RPO concepts. We also detail which types of RPO concepts or constraints (stick draw, zone bubble, zone pop, etc.) that these coverages are efficient in defending. This case will focus on zone-based configurations, whether it be split field variations or whole field variations. Our research shows that 14 percent will use man coverage principles to defend the RPO game. In this case, we studied programs that will exclusively use man coverage concepts to defend RPO schemes. In this particular case, the coverage is not as important as the fundamentals that these programs are teaching to those players who are put in conflict with run/pass action. We selected four sources that have had a win percentage of .750 or higher in defending these offenses to explain how they were successful. 

Some of the research we uncovered in this case includes: 

  • The run first/pass first methodology that is used at prep powerhouse Westfield High School (VA) which tags a specific "pass first" defender to take away RPO schemes depending on the coverage/pressure called
  • An analysis with video of the "Tampa" coverage concept, which tags a second level defender to be a "pass first" player if an RPO develops.
  • An analysis with video of the "Alert" coverage concept, which tags a third level defender to be a "pass first" player if an RPO develops.
  • An analysis with video of the "Bronco" coverage concept, which tags a second level defender to be a "pass first" player if an RPO develops.
  • An analysis of the Conversion coverage concept that Bucknell University uses to defend 2x2 and 3x1 pop pass RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Dallas coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend 3x1 stick and 3x1 pin and pull RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Round Rock coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend 2x2 zone bubble and 2x2 pop pass RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Frisco coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend 2x2 zone bubble and 2x2 pop pass RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Austin coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend tight end attached, 11 personnel RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the Waco coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend 21 personnel, two-back RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of the El Paso coverage concept that Rose-Hulman Institute uses to defend Empty personnel RPO schemes.
  • An analysis with video of how Blair Oaks High School (MO) defends 3x1 and 2x2 RPO schemes with man coverage from its 4-2-5 defensive structure.
  • An analysis with video of how Dodge City Community College (KS) defends 3x1 and 2x2 RPO schemes with man coverage from its 4-3 defensive structure. 

Bonus Case: Practice Planning for the Triple Option 

It's impossible to defend these schemes during the course of a game week, which is why most coaches don't. We've found that the majority of coaches, 57 percent choose to start preparing for triple option offenses in the spring or summer leading up to the season. So, we reached out to hose coaches who have won at least half their games against these schemes to tell us exactly how they prep for these offenses. This case details how various coaches are preparing to defend triple option concepts including:

  • Half-line methodologies
  • No-ball methodologies
  • Option period methodologies
  • Off-field preparation methodologies
  • Segmented teaching methodologies

 

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The Defending RPO & Flexbone Study

 

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