By Jeff Thorne, OC, North Central College (IL)
North Central enters the D3 National Semifinals averaging 46 points per game and 2nd in the nation in 1st downs. Find out how this versitile scheme powers their efficient offense.
By Jeff Thorne
North Central College (IL)
Editors Note: Jeff Thorne is in his 11th season as North Central's offensive coordinator and his third year as an assistant head coach. In 2011, the Cardinals established single-season school records for rushing offense (3,383), rushing touchdowns (40) and scoring (524), and led the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin in rushing offense (281.9 ypg), total offense (451.1 ypg) and scoring offense (43.7 ppg).? Jeff, the son of head coach John Thorne, played for his father and was a standout quarterback at Wheaton Central High School, earning All-State honors in 1989. He continued his playing career at Eastern Illinois University, where he was a four-year starter, earning All-Gateway Conference honors as well being named to the 1993 NCAA Division I-AA Preseason All-American Team. Jeff has also assisted at Wheaton Warrenville South with the quarterbacks and receivers.
Special thanks to X&O Labs for allowing me to share some of our ideas in the running game and to the outstanding offensive line coaches that I have had the pleasure of working with over the last ten years, particularly Rick Ponx (2004-2009) and Stafford Davis (2010-2011)!
Ten years ago we were charged with the difficult task of turning around a program that had not won six games in any one season since 1987. Our resources were thin, both financially and athletically. In 2002, our first season, two full-time coaches were on staff, assisted by several part-time and volunteer coaches, myself included. From a physical standpoint, we did not have the athletes to line up against our conference opponents (College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, CCIW) and run the football without finding ways to gain a quick edge or create a quick vertical seam in the defense. Offensively, we plodded along week by week, struggling to find an identity. Our first and second string quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries within the first five games, leaving us with an inexperienced junior to finish off our final five games. Somehow, we were able to scratch and claw our way to a 6-4 season, giving North Central College its first six win season since 1987. In 2011, we won our sixth consecutive CCIW Championship!
Our first recruiting class brought us a dynamic quarterback that was physically able to throw the ball effectively and at the same time provide a threat with his feet. With limited depth and athleticism at the line of scrimmage, we felt that accounting for one less body at the LOS would be in our best interest. At that time we decided to make Speed Option our signature running play. We converted the only Tight End body we had in the program to Offensive Tackle and we have been effectively running the play ever since.
The following year we added a quick-hitting Trap play out of the Gun, giving us the ability to stretch the field horizontally with Speed Option and vertically with our Trap scheme. We have since continued to enhance our running package (IS & OS Zone, Power and Counter) and over the last three years have averaged 5.85 yards per rushing attempt (our 6.78 yards per rush in 2011 led the nation). In this report, I will detail how and why we couple these two concepts versus the varying fronts that we see with regularity.
Within our Speed Option concept, there are three absolutes necessary for success:
1. Leverage on the 1st box LB to the play-side from our P.S. Tackle or P.S. Tackle / TE Combination.
2. Equal or plus numbers to the play-side is essential.
3. Perimeter players must embrace the idea of being great without the ball in their hands.
Our Speed Option concept is a hybrid Man/Zone scheme and is designed to stretch the defense horizontally, similar to that of the Outside Zone play. However, we are able to get a stretch on the defense much quicker with the Speed Option concept as opposed to Outside Zone. On our regular Speed Option play (run to a two-man surface), we will be optioning the last man on the LOS. To run this concept, our QB must confirm that our PSOT can account for the first LB in the box to the play-side. The objective is to create a vertical wall outside of our tackle working up to the third level of the defense. It is imperative that our perimeter blockers take great pride in their work as blockers to make this play effective. It is critical for the RB to assist the perimeter blockers by setting up their blocks with a dip and bounce track, or by simply getting vertical quickly when the defenders are maintaining outside leverage on our perimeter blockers.
Formations and Surfaces
Running the play to a three-man surface forces our option key out to the 1st defender in the alley (generally a SS or Sam LB type) of the defense. The pitch-phase of the play will be delayed as we are pressing the play one gap wider with our QB. The PST/TE combination will work up to the 1st LB in the box. Again, the creation of a vertical wall extending to the third level of the defense is our objective. The technique of our TE and his resolve as a blocker is pivotal to the success of the play.
We are an offense that employs several different personnel packages as well as multiple formations. We continually probe to find advantageous formations to gain leverage on the defense. One of our favorite formations to use in this way is Tight Trips (nub TE to the boundary with open trips to the field), particularly against Over front teams. Defenses will keep a minimum of six defenders in the box against this formation, many times seven, creating advantageous numbers on the perimeter. In a split LB defense, the box LB to the trips side is put in a bind unless a safety is rolled down, allowing him to stay securely in the box. If they are a 2-High defense, he is on an island as he must widen to help against our perimeter run, but also be weary of our inside Trap play (as well as zone, counter, etc.). Over the last three seasons, we have averaged 8.21 yards per play from this set.
Another of our favorite formations has been TE Trips Open as it gives us the ability to run Load Option (and OS Zone) to the TE Trips side if the PSLB stays inside, or run our Trap scheme if he gets too much width to help on the perimeter. Additionally, if the defense leaves the backside alley unaccounted for, we have the ability to strike quickly with either Speed Option or Trap to the single receiver side. Our ability to run Speed Option to the weak-side of any formation forces the defense to honor the perimeter to both sides of all our formations. This formation has yielded us a return of 6.99 yards per play over the last three seasons.
Our Trap scheme was adopted as a means of forcing linebackers to honor our inside running game. In our early years, our Zone and Counter schemes were not very difficult to defend. We lacked depth and athleticism at the LOS and felt that we needed something aggressive and downhill in nature to force linebackers back into the box. Our Trap scheme did just that for us with its quick-hitting, aggressive approach.
As the years have progressed, Trap has become our #1 running play, averaging over 7 yards per attempt over the last three seasons. Again, our ability to get into several different personnel packages and formations gives us the ability to find the most advantageous angles to execute our Trap scheme. We will trap a "3" technique or a "5" technique against an Even front, and will trap a "4" or "5" technique against an Odd front. We have several different schemes that we use, all based on the leverage we have on the defense.
By formation, our quarterbacks are taught which defender we want to isolate and put into a no-win situation. We give our quarterbacks autonomy to make adjustments at the LOS to get us out of trouble and into something that gives us a chance to execute at a high level. Trap and Speed Option give him two easily identifiable checks as safety nets.
Leverage dictates how we will block our Trap play. Against a 4-2 Over front, our PSG will rip through the "3" technique and work up to the 1st LB in the box to the play-side while the PST base blocks the PSDE. Our C will block back on the BSDT as our BSG pulls and traps the "3" technique DT. The BST will release up-field for the 2nd LB in the box. Our QB will catch the ball coming downhill leading with his near foot to the RB, make the exchange to the RB and either carry out his fake to the weak-side or pop up and show pass (Trap Pass has averaged 14 yards per completion over the last three years). Our RB will explode out of his stance with his play-side foot, aiming at the play-side hip of the Center.
In all of our trapping schemes, gaps override people. In the above example, if the Mike LB walked up into PS "A" gap, our PSG would wash him down and the PST would work to the Will, who is the next LB in the box. Similarly, if the Will LB walked up into BS "A" gap, the C would abandon his combination block with the PSG and block back on the Will, accounting for his BS "A" gap responsibility.
Researcher's Note: To read the full-length version of Coach Thorne's report including his speed option blocking rules, assignments and adjustments against Odd and Even fronts log in to the Insiders. Plus, his trap blocking rules, assignments and adjustments against Odd and Even fronts. If you're not a member to X&O Labs' exclusive membership website - Insiders - click here to join.
Our most basic offensive philosophy lies in stretching the defense both horizontally and vertically. Speed Option, in addition to our Outside Zone scheme, give us the ability to force the defense to defend the entire width of the field. Coupled with a quick-hitting, aggressive, vertical trap scheme, we feel that these two concepts give us a great opportunity to successfully move the ball on a weekly basis. We run both of these schemes out of a myriad of formations and personnel groupings, forcing defenses to prepare for many different looks while our technique remains the same, giving our players a chance to play as fast as possible.
What do you think?
Have you used this type of concept? What twists did your employ? Share that and any questions that you might have for Coach Throne in the space below.