Option Play FAQ by pnewport77

Version: 1.0 | Updated: 07/21/04 | Printable Version

Running The Option
For NCAA 2005
By pnewport77
July 21, 2004
Version 1.0

The option is one of the most exciting plays in football, for both the offense
and the defense.  We will focus first on the offense, and we'll start here with
the job of the QB from a generic option perspective.  The QBs initial role is
to get outside of the line blocking and start the ball upfield.  Your initial
instinct is going to be to run the QB parallel to the line, which is correct
most of the time.  You need to watch out for any of your linemen losing the
blocking battle and being pushed down field.  If this happens, you'll need to
run your QB downfield as well, in order to get around them.  If you run into
them, the defender will magically shed his block and tackle you (although
truth be told, this is probably pretty accurate.)  You'll also need to watch
this with any TEs or WRs pulled in tight.

Once you get around the line/TE, you'll have your first decision to make.  You
should either have zero, one, or two more blocks to get around (from WRs on
the side you are running the option to.)  If there are zero, the decision is
automatic... keep running with the QB and skip down to the Pitch/Don't Pitch
section.  More than likely, however, you'll have at least one WR with a block.

With one WR blocking, you need to look at three main factors: how tight is the
block to the line, is there a DB to the outside of the block, and is there an
LB close on either the inside or outside of the block.  Here are the general
theories.  If the block is tight to the line, this favors the option of going
around the block before cutting upfield.  The reason for this is to maximize
the chances of a safe and successful pitch option to the HB.  If the block is
farther from the line, you may want to consider cutting upfield with the QB.
This will temporarily eliminate any pitch option (as the blocking players will
be in the path of the ball), but it will help in gaining yards, as well as
reducing the time that the defense has to close in on the ball.  Once you go
upfield and to the outside a little bit with the QB, the option pitch will be
back in play, although the HB will probably have dropped a couple yards
further behind the QB.

The next item to look at is the position of any free DBs, primarily to the
outside of the block.  If they are far outside, it increases the promise of
cutting the ball upfield prior to the WR block.  If they are towards the
inside, you can go around the block and use your QB as a blocker after the
pitch.  This is pretty much the same thing to look at with the LBs to the
inside.  If they are very far inside, you can cut the ball upfield prior to
the WR block, but if not, you'll want to cut upfield after the block.  One of
the best parts of the option is that you can always use your QB as a blocker,
after the pitch.  He'll most likely be tackled, but he'll interfere with the
defender long enough for you to get past him.  More of a "blockle" than a block
or a tackle.

                              1 WR blocking

Since it is difficult to show in any detail how these plays work without the
use of graphics, I'm going to try to illustrate with time lapse ASCII photo-
graphy.  In these examples, X will represent any linemen, tight ends, or WRs.
Q is the quarterback, H is the halfback, and F will be the fullback.  The |
character will represent the sideline.  Any dots represent defensive players
trying to get to the ball.  All of these illustrations are very generalized,
and the specifics may change from play to play.

Here's some examples of a one WR block.

    .       . |  This is a pretty bad position to be in.  You've got the
...      .    |  block back even with the line, and a guy both inside and
XXX      X    |  outside of the blocks.  You could try to take this outside,
   Q          |  but in this situation, you will probably run out of room.  Cut
     H        |  the QB up on the inside and try to break a tackle or two.

    .   .     |  Slightly better position.  The right side CB has moved towards
...      .    |  the inside of the block.  Take this around the block and use
XXX      X    |  your QB as a blocker after you pitch to the HB.  If you're
   Q          |  lucky, the LB on the inside will be rendered somewhat mute,
     H        |  and he'll get caught up in traffic, unable to make the tackle.

    .         |  This is an option which should be run around the block.  The
...  .        |  LB on the inside is the only free guy... he may get to the
XXX  X        |  QB, but the QB can blockle after he pitches, so your HB will
   Q          |  have daylight until he hits a safety.
     H        |

           .  |  This is pretty easy too.  You'll need to cut up before the
...     .     |  block, and do a QB keeper run.  There won't be a likely
XXX     X     |  chance to pitch this out, since the block will get in the
   Q          |  way of the path of the ball, but you should get some
     H        |  decent yardage.

  .   .       |
        .     |  This one should be run outside all the way.  You'll be able to
...     X     |  go at a diagonal somewhat, so you'll be going up field until
XXX           |  you blockle and pitch back to the HB.
   Q          |
     H        |

         .    |  Here's one where I would cut inside.  Once I get around the
  .           |  block, the LB will probably get the tackle on the QB, but I
              |  should be far enough ahead where the pitching option comes
...   .       |  into the play.  Pitch and blockle the LB, then your HB just
XXX   X       |  has to shake that CB.  Very good setup that can have very
   Q          |  big gains!
     H        |

                              2 WR blocking

If you have two WRs blocking, your option just got a lot more complicated.
You'll have to decide whether to cut before the blocks, cut after the blocks,
or cut between the blocks.  These can primarily be determined by position.

    .       . |  This is a pretty bad position to be in.  You've got two
...  .   .    |  blocks back even with the line, and a guy both inside and
XXX  X   X    |  outside of the blocks.  You could try to take this outside,
   Q          |  but in this situation, you are pretty much out of room.  Cut
     H        |  the QB up wherever you can and get a couple of yards.

    .   .     |  Much better position.  The right side CB has moved towards
...  .   .    |  the inside of the last block.  Take this around both blocks
XXX  X   X    |  and use your QB as a blocker after you pitch to the HB.  The
   Q          |  LB on the inside will be rendered somewhat mute, as there will
     H        |  be too many bodies in the way for him to get to your HB.

    .   .     |  Again this is an option which should be run around the blocks.
...  .  X     |  The LB on the inside is the only free guy... he may get to the
XXX  X        |  QB, but the QB can blockle after he pitches, so your HB will
   Q          |  have daylight until he hits the safety.
     H        |

     .     .  |  Much more frustrating.  The WR to the inside has upfield
...  X  .     |  penetration.  You could try one of two things: either cut the
XXX     X     |  ball up between the blocks, and try to get far enough in front
   Q          |  to pitch it (or just take the tackle), or you could run this
     H        |  outside and look for a blockle.  I'd probably do the former.

  .   .       |
     .  .     |  This one should be run outside all the way.  You'll be able to
...  X  X     |  go at a diagonal somewhat, so you'll be going up field until
XXX           |  you blockle and pitch back to the HB... this is the kind of
   Q          |  setup that can go a long way towards the goal.
     H        |

     .        |
     .        |  This is one where you'll want to split the blocks and head to
...  X    .   |  the outside.  Even though you'll be pitching about four yards
XXX       X   |  backwards by the time you have to blockle, you'll make that up
   Q          |  very easily with no defenders.  If you had to run this around
     H        |  the blocks, you'll run out of real estate pretty quickly.

             Types of Options

There are several types of options that can be run in NCAA 2005.  While there
are small differences within these categories, there are just four primary 
groups. Triple Options involve a FB who can take a handoff running straight up
the middle, or if the QB chooses to hold on to the ball, the QB and RB will 
roll out to one side to run the option play.  Power Options involve a FB who 
runs out to the side of the option in order to block for the QB and RB.  Speed
Options typically run from a backfield of just the QB and RB.  The last style
is the Option Pass, which is a passing play, used to confuse and trick the 

              Triple Option
=========================================                    F
  ......   .    ......   .   ... ...    .   ...F...   .   ... ...   .
    Q             QF             Q                Q                Q
     F       ->            ->            ->            ->             H
    H              H               H                 H

This is the most "traditional" option play available.  It can be run out of
any formation that has a FB and a RB in the play.  After the snap, the FB will
run up the middle awaiting a QB handoff, while the HB will run out to the side
in the backfield.  The QB has the option here of handing the ball off to the FB
to plunge upfield through the line, or holding onto the ball and running out
to the right, along with the HB.  They call this the triple option because
there are three things that can happen: the QB hands the ball off to the FB,
the QB keeps the ball in a bootleg run, or the QB pitches the ball off to the

The first choice that occurs with this play is whether or not to handoff the
ball to the FB.  The FB handoff should only occur in a couple of situations.
The ideal situation is when your opponent is in a dime formation and has
the middle LB already off to one side, ready to stop all of your options you
have been running.  Hand it off, and the middle of the field is wide open,
getting you at least ten yards.  Another good time to do this would be on
second and semi short yardage (3-5 yards or so), when you could pick up the
first down or you just want to mix up your game a little bit.  I find the FB
handoff mostly useful if you have been running nothing but options all the
time, as the D can't keep cheating to the outside.  Personally, I like to mix
up a few other plays (I probably run 50% option, 30% runs, 20% passing), so
it isn't as big a deal.  If you do hand off, remember to follow any blockers
that you have, as they'll change a 3 yard play into a 10 yard one for you.
Most blockers (if any) are going to be WRs who have cut upfield before the CBs
had time to react.  Note that you cannot pitch effectively after you hand this
ball off to the FB.

              Power Option
  ......  .       ......           ......          ......        ......
  XXXXXX          XXXXXX   .       XXXXXX   .      XXXXXX  .     XXXXXX  .
    Q                Q                 Q   F              F              F
     F       ->        F       ->              ->        Q    ->            Q
    H                 H                  H                H                  H

This option can be run out of a weak side splitback, strong side splitback,
I formation, pro set, or any other set that has a fullback in the backfield.
The role of the fullback in a power option differs from a triple option in that
the FB is in for blocking purposes only.  In the above diagram, after the snap,
the FB is going to try to block that right side defensive guy, while the QB and
HB set up to run the option.  Once the FB is engaged (the third "slide" above),
the QB and HB are ready to really let loose.

There are a couple of tips to make this option effective.  One is to watch for
defensive penetration on your FB.  If the FB doesn't get far enough upfield on
the block, your QB is going to have his progress impeded by the block.  You
can't simply run into the block since the game will likely have the defensive
player break his block and tackle you immediately.  You basically have one of
two choices.  If you don't see any more defenders to the right of the FB (as
will be the case often times in a Trips formation), you can have the QB run
the standard play where he goes behind the FB and around.  The disadvantage to
this is that it will take time to go downfield before heading up, but the
advantage is that you'll again run a normal option play, which is very
comfortable for pitching.  Alternatively, if you see defenders to the far
right, you may want to try to cut upfield with the QB before you reach the FB
blocker.  This can be done by speed bursting through the gap between the FB
block and the TE or RG block.  The disadvantage of this is that all big play
potential is pretty much gone, and your options of pitching the ball will be
extremely risky, if not completely eliminated.  One advantage though is that
you limit your potential for loss by doing this; you won't be tackled 8 yards
back (or even worse if you pitch it to your HB!)

Another helpful hint on the power option set is to do a motion misdirection.
This helps often in an I formation, or any option set to go to the strong side.
Take your strong side TE and move him in motion to the weak side.  What you'll
be looking for here is to see how the defense reacts.  If they are playing in
a man coverage, most of the time the defender assigned to the TE will go to
the weak side as well.  This is good news for you, since you've basically
taken one extra block out of your way.  You'll still have the FB who can pick
up another defender, so if there is still a LB or CB hanging around, that does
not spell the end of the world.  If the LB on your TE does not follow him over,
you can always send the TE back to his original location in order to pick up
his block.  This also can work on weak side runs where you move a WR over,
although I find this to be less effective.

Power options seem to be generally useful against teams that are running a 4
LB formation like the 3-4 or 4-4 defense.  The TE can only pick up one of the
LBs on your side, leaving a free LB that would normally be picked up by a WR.
WRs, as a group, aren't known for their blocking skills, and often will get
knocked down in their attempts to block.  That rarely happens with a FB, since
their primary reason for being is to block for the RB and QB.

              Speed Option
  ......  .       ......  .         ......  .      ......  .     ......  .
  XXXXXX  X       XXXXXX  X         XXXXXX  X      XXXXXX  X     XXXXXX  X
    Q                Q                  Q                 Q               Q
             ->               ->              ->             H ->          H
    H                 H                  H

This is like a triple option without the FB.  You don't have any FB the QB
can hand off to or any FB to block for you.  The theory on running this is
primarily the same as above, but you have a few options which can help.

The motion misdirection can still be used, with the same effect as before.
Also in a speed option, the offense is usually spread out a little more due
to the number of WRs in the play.  I like to call the audible which changes
the running direction (not flips the whole play, just the running) if I can
see that the defense is favoring one side or the other.

The Speed option is best carried out against a defense playing Nickel or Dime.
This causes a lot of CB to be on the field, which WRs have a better shot of
successfully blocking.  With only one or two LBs, the QB can blockle for the
HB and lead to some good gains.  The speed option should only be used on
offense if you typically run spread out passing plays, as this can get the
defense to play off the line, expecting pass.

              Option Pass
The option pass is a great weapon for teams that run the option on a regular
basis.  The option pass will start out looking like any other standard option.
The QB and HB will roll out to the side, but instead of turning upfield, the
QB will throw the ball to one of the WRs.  The hope here is that the defense
is anticipating the option so much that they come up to tackle the QB/HB and
leave the WR open downfield.

When this play works, it usually works for a big time gain.  The QB needs to
be in sync with the WR for this to work.  The WR should be blocking his man
until the QB drops back to pass.  At this point, the WR should disengage the
block and starting sprinting upfield.  The CB that the WR was blocking will
now either have to rush in on the QB or try to keep up with the WR (which is
very difficult since he will be momentarily stunned by what is happening.)

The key to running this play in NCAA 2005 is to make sure you hold onto the
ball as the QB before bringing up the passing icons.  You want to sell this
play as a run.  If you're playing against another human (either in person or
over the network), check to see what position he is controlling.  If it is a
LB or CB, try to figure out either the zone or man he should be covering.
Humans will most likely read this as a run right away, and decline their
defensive responsibility.  You should be able to read this and target the open
receiver.  One important note: you cannot use speed bursts in the backfield
while running this play, as it will bring up the passing icons.

          Defending the Option
The option is a very difficult play to defend.  Since there are so many
options at the QBs disposal, you need to make sure you can shut down as many
of them as possible.  Here are some simple rules that should help you defend
this tricky play.

If you find yourself alone in open field between the QB and the HB, almost
always take the QB first (assuming he hasn't pitched yet.)  Say you try to
play down the middle to "break up" any pitches.  The QB only needs to juke to
the inside, and he's got another 5-10 yards on the play.  You need to get the
man with the ball as your first priority.  Sure, he may pitch it out to the
HB, and the HB may go for 5-10 yards, but at least you are buying your team
an added second or so to get over to that side of the field during a pitch.

If you are in a situation where you have two defenders, and you are the one
to the outside, you should take the HB.  If you are the one to the inside, take
the QB.  Do not try to pull of a double team tackle and leave one of them
alone.  While it is possible for a player to break the first tackle, usually
this takes enough time where one of the safeties can come over and put the
guy away.  You just want to ensure that there will be no offensive player
left alone to run free and clear.

As for the player you control, I would recommend going with a lineman or a
blitzing LB.  This will allow you to keep the coverage in the event of an
option pass, but also, you'll be able to roll to the outside instead of
immediately trying to barge through the line.  Hopefully by the time the QB
gets to the outside, you'll have two or three defenders ready to whoop some

If you're on offense, of course, use the opposites of all of these.  For
instance, hold onto the ball with the QB, especially if the defender is
trying to play "between" the QB and HB, and then just run right past him!

"I love the option!"

Well, these are my theories... I'd love to hear yours.  I'll add them into
the next FAQ!

Good luck with your new knowledge, and I hope you find that the option can
be an effective and important piece of an offensive plan.


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