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Breaking Down the Tulane Offense

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A quick glimpse at the option attack of the Green Wave

NCAA Football: Tulane at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially 1 week away from game day! In all my excitement for the season I have already found myself watching Tulane highlights from last year in preparation for the opener. Since I love all things having to do with the triple option, I thought I’d just give you guys a little glimpse of what’s to come on the 30th of August. As a quick disclaimer, I am definitely not an expert on the Tulane offense or college football offenses in general. These are just some things I noticed watching highlights and looking at the stats.

The first point to make is that this is a different style of option attack that we have seen against Georgia Tech and Army in the past couple of seasons. The Yellow Jackets and the Black Knights run the option from under center and play with a conservative tempo to eat as much clock as possible. The Green Wave, on the other hand, run the option attack from the shotgun and pistol formations, using a no huddle style to keep opponents from subbing. There is also a difference in personnel. While traditional option teams will mainly use a fullback and 2 running backs in the backfield, Tulane seems to prefer a tight end, a running back, and then either a wide receiver in motion or a second running back in the back field. You can see an example of that below.

While Tulane uses a zone blocking scheme (I am definitely not well versed in the blocking schemes of college football, but Willie Fritz said it, and he probably knows), the basic principles of the triple option are still the same. The quarterback reads a specific player on the defense (typically a defensive end or the guy on the end of the line). If he goes inside, the ball goes outside; if he stays outside, the ball goes inside. Below, #42 (end of the line on the near side) is the man being read since he is left unblocked. He stays wide to contain the qb, so the qb simply gives the ball to the guy going up the gut for a nice gain. Again we see that same TE/RB/WR-in-motion backfield.

This time, #31 is the read (end of the line on the far side). He slides in to stop the dive and the QB takes off for the endzone.

Then, of course, there is the pitch, which can always lead to some huge plays if the defense isn’t careful. The near side defensive end slides into the backfield to play the dive, and #6 sprints towards the qb, leaving the pitch guy all alone to pick up a nice gain on the outside.

This is why the option is so difficult to stop. The defense can’t just use their superior size and athleticism to stop the offense. They have to play with discipline and focus or they’re in danger of getting gashed. Florida vs Georgia Southern in 2013 immediately comes to mind. Florida’s recruiting classes from 2010-2013 ranked 1st, 11th, 3rd, and 3rd in the nation. Obviously, at the time, they had a ton of talent on their roster. And yet Georgia Southern, an FCS school, ran the ball for 429 yards (they didn’t even complete a single pass) and beat the Gators 26-20. Last season, the Green Wave had no trouble scoring touchdowns on their first 2 drives of the game against Oklahoma, an eventual playoff team.

I’ve watched enough football in my life to know that you’ll probably hear the phrase “assignment football” an unsettling number of times during the broadcast. It sounds cliche, but their is a reason the experts bring it up so much when covering option teams. In order to successfully stop the option, each player has to know who their responsibility on the offense is. Who is covering the pitch? Who has the QB? When everyone sticks to their assignment and is in the right place at the right team, the result looks something like this:

The pitch man is taken away, the QB is covered, and there is absolutely no where to go.

Last year, the Deacs had a bit of trouble stopping Georgia Tech’s triple option, giving up 427 yards on the ground and a whopping 6.5 yards per carry. If that happens against Tulane, it’s probably not going to turn out very well for us.

The last thing I’ll mention about the Tulane offense is that looking at the stats for last season, it seems they started to pass a lot more in the back half of the season. The Green Wave averaged around 15 passes per game through their first 6 games, and then increased that number to 25 passes per game in their final 6 games. Some of that may be due to game situations (they threw 31 times against Memphis after falling behind 35-0 in the 2nd quarter), but some of that may be due to an evolving offense. As SF mentioned in the Tulane preview, Willie Fritz did mention the team would start using the RPO more this season, so that is something the Wake Forest defense will hopefully be aware of going into Thursday’s game.

Hopefully the Deacs will be ready for the challenge when opening day rolls around. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.