Editor's Note: This article was originally published several years ago when Wake Forest played Georgia Tech and Navy in consecutive weeks. It has been modified to reflect this year's opponent, roster and defensive scheme. I didn't post it for the Tulane game, so figured I would post it ahead of Army.
The Intricacies of the Triple-Option
What most people do not understand about the triple option (flexbone/spread option/wishbone/whatever you want to call it), is that is very similar to the spread offenses run at Arizona and Ohio State. The biggest difference of course is that it is run under center, while Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer operate almost exclusively out of the shotgun.
After reading this article hopefully you will have a better understanding of the triple option be able to be the life of the party at your tailgate and during the game as you disperse your new football knowledge.
The triple option is part of a system that is called the Veer System. If you recall from "Remember the Titans", Denzel exclaims about his playbook "I run six plays. Just like Novocaine. Give it time it always works." He is referring to the Veer System and the variations that he runs out of it.
Bill Yeoman is often credited with the Veer system and he ran it at Houston for over 25 years extremely successfully.
The system works very effectively when executed well. it allows the offense to burn a lot of the clock and keeps the defense on the field to fatigue them. It can also be a very good offense for a team that is overmatched athletically and physically. When it is not executed to a T, problems can arise from mis-communication, most frequently resulting in fumbles or big losses of yardage.
The Veer offense can be run out of many different formations. The shotgun (Arizona, Ohio State), the I-Form/Power-I/Maryland-I, the wishbone, and the flexbone, (a variant that Fisher DeBerry took from the wishbone) just to name a few.
Army runs the Veer out of the wishbone/flexbone for most of the game. This is effective because they have a very disciplined team and also have the personnel to fit the system.
The key to running the option smoothly is for all the players to be on the same page. On any given play there can be many different options, usually three though (QB run, FB dive, pitch/option with the runner). This is disguised by Army by lining up in the flexbone as seen here:
Most option teams call the SB position the "A-Back", and the FB position the "B-Back."
The play can go either to the right or the left, usually to the side with more field (if the ball is lined up on the right hash, the play will usually go to the left). Before the snap the QB (as well as the FB in most situations) will read the defense and see how they are setting up. This is where it is important for the QB/FB and SB's to be on the same page. If they see the same thing in the defense, the potential for a big play is pretty high because there is likely a lapse in the defense.
The QB takes the snap and then must again read the defense very quickly to see where the defense is attacking from and where the holes are. If there is a hole up the middle (blitzes from the OLB's and the DE's), the QB can either hand the ball off to the FB, or he can keep it himself for a QB Isolation/Draw play. If the pressure is up the middle, the QB will then stay in front of the SB coming from the weak side, while using the SB he is running towards as a lead blocker. The QB must then read the defense for a third time in deciding whether to keep the ball and how long, and when (if at all to pitch it to the SB behind him).
Executing this can be very difficult because often times the QB and SB may not be in the right place at the same time, which can lead to a fumble or a big loss of yardage.
Defending The Triple-Option
The best way to defend the triple-option is to take away something that the offense does. When you limit the number of things that the offense does, it makes it much, much easier to anticipate what they are doing it, as well as where it will be run.
It doesn't really matter what it is that you take away. It can be the dive or the pitch, but I would recommend the dive for Wake Forest because that is what is going to be the hardest for us to defend, and the defensive end position is really, really good this season. In the past Wake has been undersized in the middle (especially when Nikita Whitlock was here), and have had a lot of trouble in the past stopping Dixon, Kettani, Murray, Allen, etc. The FB dive also sets up the entire offense. If there is no threat for a play to go up the middle, it means the tackles can spread out, the middle linebacker(s) can rove, and the ends can just move outside.
The best way to stop the dive is to get the linebackers into the holes in the middle, and control the line of scrimmage. Our defensive linemen are going to have to stay disciplined.. As the ball is snapped, the defensive tackles have to win the line of scrimmage and cannot get pushed back. The ends have to move toward the middle and force the play to go to the outside as well. This makes the linebackers and the secondary make a decision to attack the middle of the field or play the pitch.
A way to anticipate what the offense is going to do is to see what the center and the guards do. If the guards pull out for a trap play (where they become a lead blocker), this opens a hole where the guard will move, but it also changes the point of attack for the offense. If the defense reads the play incorrectly and does not see the guard trap, or does not stay at home when the guard does, it gives a numbers advantage to the offense.
These plays are out of the shotgun, but watch how the tackles and the guards will pull to a certain side of the field. The defense does not read it very well on either play, and it gives the offense a brigade of blockers to lead the runners through.
One remedy to stop the dive that in all likelihood will not work, is stacking the box at the line of scrimmage. If a defense brings everybody inside, it puts immense pressure on the OLB's and the CB's to get off their blocks and make a tackle if a pitch play is run. Since the offense reads the defense on every single play, this usually spells out doom for the defense.
Although this is not the best example because of the lack of the ability to see the defense, and also the offensive formation (shotgun with a singleback), it is a great demonstration of what can happen if the defense stacks the box and then over-commits to the run up the middle. The QB gives a great play-action, and the line does a very good job of selling it as well. The defensive ends are sealed off and maybe even pancaked to the left. This leaves the cornerback on an island and he gets rocked by a downfield block from the WR. This counter draw QB run was perfectly drawn up and executed.This is what cannot happen to us and we have to be disciplined.
This brings me up to my next point: everybody has a guy and they stick to him, no matter what. Each position on defense has a certain thing that they are trying to stop.
Their main priority against the option attack will be to make help contain the fullback and ensure that he does not get the ball. If it is a FB dive, they go to the ball and help the tackles make a play. The end position is so difficult against the option because of the sheer number of things that they are accountable for on one play. On the snap, they have to get a leg up on the line of scrimmage to either get the FB or get to a position where they force the QB to show his hand before he is ready to. This means, either make the QB commit to the run, make a pitch, or make a big hit on the QB to blow up the play on the backfield. This takes excellent footwork, speed and strength to do correctly. The body has to be in a position to stop the QB in his track, the speed is used to beat the tackle/TE off the line, and the strength is to get off blocks and hopefully make the tackle.
This season Wake Forest has Duke Ejiofor and Wendell Dunn manning the defensive end spots. Obviously this is a strength of the Demon Deacon Defense, and I don't expect that to change on Saturday.
If Elko wants to drop the defensive ends back in a QB Spy type defense, this is also an acceptable way to help the ends read the play better. Taking a 2-3 step drop into a shallow zone will give the DE a better chance of seeing where the play is going and help sniff it out in any way possible. Given the personnel this year, I don't think this will be as big of a reliance for the D, as Ejiofor and Dunn are both strong enough to blow up plays on the perimeter and make good decisions.
One of the primary purposes of the NT against the option is to blow up the FB dive, and or hit the QB. If the play goes to the outside, they should try to get off their blocks and go in pursuit of the ball. They also need to dominate the line of scrimmage and try to push the center/guard that is on them back on his feet to cause more confusion in the backfield. The good thing is that Banks and Stewart have good size to clog up the middle of the field effectively.
The linebackers have a difficult job as well on the field. They read the play and react from what they see. Their eyes should always be on the guards to see how they react. If they pull in to a trap option, they can follow and get extra bodies there. If they see the FB get the ball (which is very difficult because of the amount of bodies in the backfield), they should swarm there and try to jam up the middle. If nobody on the offensive line charges, (i.e the guards take the d-tackle across from them, and the tackles take the ends) the linebacker must look for a gap near where the ball is and swarm to the ball. If the guards pull, the linebackers have to go with them because that is where the ball is headed (unless it is a misdirection play, in which case, the linebackers will not be at fault there).
Much like the defense end positions, the Wake Forest linebacking corps is a very strong sector. It is anchored by Marquel Lee, and he will be joined in the starting lineup this week by Jaboree Williams and Thomas Brown. All three of these guys are versatile, quick to the ball, and can attack the line of scrimmage.
Wake will more than likely run a lot of Cover One and bring another safety up to help out with the rushing attack This will be interesting because Bates and Janvion are both good at identifying where the ball is going. The safety that is not in coverage just finds the ball and goes to make tackles. This could lead to another big tackle day for Janvion (as he has been known to do while at Wake). The corners obviously cover the WR if there is one lined up across from them. Their primary goal is to get off the blocks to help make a tackle or make the QB pitch the ball. At least 2-3 times on Saturday the corners will be alone out there with the QB or the RB after the ball has been pitched and they will have to make a play or it will be a big play.
In general, the defense has to be aware and on their toes at all time. The point of any option attack is to get 3.5-4 yards per play for 3 plays and then get a new set of downs. If there is any lapse on the defense at any time, a big play can, and will, get sprung.