I love triple option football! When I coach against it, not so much. Defenses love to swarm and get lots of people to the ball. Problem is, against a triple option offense, you can’t play that way. If you do and they pitch it, goodbye! Start learning their Fight Song because you’re going to hear it a lot.
There’s a couple of different styles of triple option offenses, but the one style that had some of the greatest success this past season was New Mexico’s. In this article, I want to show you why New Mexico’s triple option offense was so deadly. If you have anything to add in the comments, I’d love to hear it.
The first way the triple option forces defenses to account for is tackling three backs with two unblocked defenders. This is the essence of the triple option offense. Leaving defenders unblocked. The first unblocked defender is the Defensive End, or in New Mexico’s terms, the first player in a 4i or outside. If you have a 4-3 defense and the first player 4i or outside is the DE, that’s the #1 or First Read Key. You don’t block him! Either go outside him or inside him, but leave him alone. Running a zone running game and leaving him unblocked forces him to either go for the RB very aggressively, or sit patiently waiting to see if the QB keeps the ball.
If you’re new to football alignments and not sure what a 4i is, let me explain it here. In this diagram, where the defensive lines up against the offense is labeled by numbers. 1, 3, 5, 7 are where they shade outside, 2, 4, and 6 are where they line head up and 2i, 4i, and 6i are the inside shades.
The second unblocked defender is the first man outside the box or deep. That could be a linebacker or a Safety. You don’t have to block this man either! In fact, you will only see him when the QB pulls the ball and sprints outside. Then he can either pitch the ball to the second RB or he can keep it for a gain. The defense has to figure out how they are going to get enough players to where you are optioning the ball to stop you.
Deception Is A Vital Strategy
A lot of football offenses are still pretty basic in their levels of deception. In other words, what you see is what you get. The Quarterback hands the ball off and it’s a run. Period. Defenders easily key where the ball is and get there quickly. Here’s a short summary of triple option deception.
In the triple option offense, the first hand-off is called a “mesh”. When the QB and RB mesh, the QB places the ball into the belly of the Running Back early, and then holds it there or “rides” the back while making the decision to give it or pull it out and keep it.
This skill is practiced every day because the dividends are worth it. The QB watches the unblocked defender (called “reading”) and determines if he can tackle the RB if he gives it. New Mexico runs a mesh from the shotgun or pistol formation where the back lines up either to the side of the QB or behind him in shotgun. According to their coaches, the Pistol mesh is more difficult then the shotgun, which is why I advocate picking one or the other and sticking with it.
When teams are really good at the mesh, they can fake out even the best of defenders. In fact, that’s the whole point, to render their best defender useless! The remaining defenders must delay until they are absolutely certain where the ball is located giving running backs more opportunity.
Talent In Space
This is why New Mexico’s offense is so deadly. Their triple option is very effective at getting any one of their three highly talented running backs lots of room to run the ball – four if you count the Quarterback. A talented running back in space is unstoppable no matter how good a defender. And while each play is happening, the jury is still out who is going to end up with the ball!
Triple Option Video Examples
Here’s a simple breakdown of the triple option play New Mexico hangs their hat on!
In this next clip is a called Quarterback keep with an extra blocker on the perimeter. I love this formation because the deception is wicked and has to be confusing for defenses to see where the ball is going.
Finally, here’s New Mexico’s version of a Zone Slice, which is a called give to the running back and an extra blocker on the read key.
There’s a lot more they love doing and I’ve broken it all down HERE with a ton of free slo motion video included.