Breaking Down Florida’s Triple Option

November 15, 2008

One play that has become a staple of the Gators’ offensive attack this season is a modified triple option. I’m going try to break it down in simple enough terms for anyone to understand what’s going on, so if you’re a seasoned EA NCAA Football pro, just be patient.

The triple option is named as such because there are three possibilities and the quarterback must choose which one to do based on the defense. He has options, in other words.

Traditionally, the three options are a hand off to the fullback, a hand off to the tailback, or the quarterback running it himself. Here is a diagram of the traditional triple option from the I-formation, so named because the quarterback, fullback, and tailback make the form on a capital I:

traditional-i-left1

The quarterback receives the snap from under center and begins moving backwards. He motions like he is going to hand it off to the fullback, and makes the first decision. If the defensive tackles in the middle start moving to the left to contain the play, he will continue and actually give the ball to the fullback for a run up the middle. If the DTs stay in the middle, he will pull the ball back from the fullback, keep it, and continue running to his left.

Now, a second decision must be made. The defensive end on the left will not be blocked by the left tackle in order to have an advantage farther up the field. If that DE attempts to go after the quarterback, the QB will pitch the ball out to the tailback who will be behind and to the left of him. If the DE anticipates a pitch and goes after the tailback, the quarterback will keep in and run with it.

This play can be run from a variety of different setups for the fullback and running back, and it can be done to the right or the left. Those different formations along with the wide variety of blocking techniques means that you can create a fairly complex offensive scheme off the basic principle setup described above.

It used to be quite popular in college football. Not many teams use it anymore because it requires a lot of practice to get it right and because the quarterback tends to take hits from defenders on the play. It has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years thanks to guys like Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez, and Paul Johnson.

Florida’s Modified Triple Option

With the way the Gators run it, they use a running back and a wide receiver instead of a fullback and running back. In addition, the quarterback is in shotgun instead of being under center. Here is Florida using it against Vanderbilt with the setup before the snap.

left-pre-snap

This is basically a 10-on-10 play as WR Riley Cooper (at the bottom) will take himself and the cornerback on him out of the play. Louis Murphy at the top will run down field as a decoy and deep blocker. The key players here are QB Tim Tebow, RB Chris Rainey, WR Percy Harvin, and TE Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is at the left edge of the offensive line.

Vanderbilt’s safety recognizes the formation as a running play, so he moves up and becomes a de facto fourth linebacker on the play. Just before the ball is snapped, Harvin goes in motion and runs behind Tebow and Rainey. He is playing the role of the tailback as pictured above. Rainey, all 5’9″ of him, actually has the fullback role.

Hernandez’s job is to go out and block the safety. The defensive end on the left will not be blocked. That leaves five offensive linemen to block the three other defensive linemen, so two (LT Phil Trautwein and RG Mike Pouncey) will ignore them and go farther up the field to take on linebackers. Here is a shot shortly after the snap.

left-postsnap

Harvin has run around back as you can see. Tebow sees the defensive end is coming to the middle to stop Rainey, so he choses to keep the ball instead of handing it off. Hernandez had to run around the DE to go after the safety, so he actually will arrive too late to properly get the block.

Vanderbilt did its homework and was ready for this one, with the safety assigned to the quarterback. The key was moving him up before the play; had he been back at the normal distance, he would have been easily blocked. The outside linebacker (to the left of Hernandez) is assigned to Harvin. Lets go forward a few frames.

left-seconddecision

As I said, the safety cuts in before Hernandez can get to him and the linebacker is covering Harvin. Recognizing that a pitch to Harvin would be a big loss, Tebow decides to keep it.

Unfortunately for the safety, the quarterback is pretty nimble for being a big dude. Tebow will do a spin move as the safety goes flying by, negating Vanderbilt’s proper defense of the play. He then runs down field between a couple blocks and gets nine yards after lunging at the end.

You’ll note that there are three white jerseys beyond the original line of scrimmage, not just the two guys I singled out above. C Maurkice Pouncey did the same thing his twin brother Mike (#55 in the picture above) did in that he let someone by to block in the second level.

The result is the guy he would have been blocking got right to Rainey as he hit the line. Either Rainey was really a decoy all along, or Maurkice got confused on his blocking assignment. It appears the latter might be the case because as you can see, he’s going right after the linebacker that Trautwein is already blocking and he looks somewhat confused if you watch him.

Here is the whole play at full speed. I would recommend going to the actual YouTube page and clicking “Watch in high quality” because it’s a lot clearer.

The Other Way, Please

Let’s take another look at the same formation, but this time oriented to the right instead of the left.

right-pre-snap

The formation is the same only reversed. Deonte Thompson is the receiver at the top in the Riley Cooper role of taking himself and his covering cornerback out of the play. Kestahn Moore is the running back instead of Rainey, and Harvin is still the receiver in motion. Carl Moore is the receiver at the bottom in Louis Murphy’s stead, and his blocking assignment is the cornerback, #17.

Aaron Hernandez has switched over to the right side of the line since the play is going to that direction. Our friend the safety has already moved up here, and he is still Hernandez’s blocking assignment.

What is interesting is the offensive line assignments are the same as they were when the play went to the left. The defensive end to the offense’s left is still going to be the one unblocked instead of the one on the side where the play is. Trautwein and Mike Pouncey are still the guys who are going upfield to block. Maurkice Pouncey this time comes around behind Mike to get block the right defensive tackle while LG Carl Johnson must block the left defensive tackle.
right-postsnap

Moore is absolutely a decoy this time, and he immediately runs out to the right with no fake handoff to him. Therefore, there’s only one decision to make now. This is no triple option play, it is an option right disguised as a triple option in its formation and pre-snap motion.

If the linebacker goes for either Moore or Harvin, Tebow will keep it. If he breaks off and goes for the quarterback, then Tebow will pitch it to Harvin. The linebacker ends up taking an in between position, sort of covering Harvin as he stands in front of Moore. Tebow decides to keep it.

Since Hernandez doesn’t have to run a circular path around the defensive end this time, he gets to the safety quickly and takes out his legs. You can see Hernandez’s legs on the ground beneath the safety (#33). The #30 in black you see there is the middle linebacker, and he is Mike Pouncey’s man.

The unblocked defensive end (#90) is now in a footrace to try to beat Tebow to the hole between Maurkice Pouncey and other defensive end being blocked by RT Jason Watkins (#77). Tebow wins that race, so from here it’s a matter of downfield blocking.
right-hole-hit

Tebow is approaching the hole having beat the DE to it. Because Maurkice Pouncey pancaked his man though, Johnson is unable to slide over to block the defensive tackle. Watkins is moving the hole to the right, giving Tebow the chance to beat the DT to the hole if he’s fast enough.

The linebacker who couldn’t decide on whether to go for Harvin or Moore locked up and Moore is running past him to go block up the field. Harvin has run to the sideline completely out of the play as his job is done.

The safety and middle linebacker have actually collided, causing both to fall down. That frees Mike Pouncey to run past both of them and try to pick up additional defenders up the field.

right-final

Tebow had the wheels to narrowly beat the defensive tackle to the hole, so all that’s left now is to hold the downfield blocks long enough to get him to the end zone.

Mike Pouncey (not pictured) did his job, picking up the other safety who did not fall down. Otherwise, Tebow would have been tackled at about the 15 yard line. Left tackle Phil Trautwein is still blocking his linebacker (#6), who at this point has given up on being able to get to Tebow. Thompson (#6) has forced his cornerback to be off balance, so #14 is no threat.

Remember cornerback #17 from the beginning? He has returned and is threatening to take Tebow down before the goal line. Carl Moore either did not finish his block or he was unable to hold it, and that’s him (#16) jogging into view at the bottom right.

Tebow takes an angled path towards the front corner of the endzone, and the angle is enough as the cornerback cannot get a good enough grip on the speeding Tebow to bring him down. Touchdown, 14-0 Florida.

Here is a look at the full play. As with the last one, I recommend going to the YouTube page and clicking “Watch in high quality.”

Conclusion

I hope you now have an understanding of both the principle behind the triple option and the way that Florida has used it this season. I also hope the second example gives you a glimpse of the complexity that option offenses can present even though on the surface, it’s just the quarterback running and deciding whether or not to keep it or give it.

It is for that reason that we’re unlikely to ever see the option die in the college ranks. Tebow is faster than any of the Vanderbilt defensive linemen, so he was able to exploit that in both of these examples. There are other, faster quarterbacks out there who do this too, and there will be plenty more to come.


Vanderbilt Reserves Shut Out Florida Reserves 14-0

November 10, 2008

In what is assuredly a big upset, Vanderbilt’s backup players were able to shut out Florida’s backup players 14-0 on a chilly night in Nashville, Tennessee. QB Chris Nickson, filling in for injured starter Mackenzi Adams, led the way for the Commodores’ reserves with two touchdown passes and 39 rushing yards on 10 attempts.

“We just decided to throw them out there and see what happened,” explained Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson. “They did a heck of a job against a group of players that had some guys who could probably start for us.”

The two schools’ starters played a little more than a half of football, resulting in a resounding 42-0 win for Florida. It could have been 49-0 as a controversial review of a goal line plunge by Florida WR Percy Harvin appeared to show him breaking the plane of the end zone before the ground caused him to fumble, but replay officials determined it to be a lost fumble and Vanderbilt possession.

Florida starting QB Tim Tebow exerted his will in a manner reminiscent of his Heisman-winning 2007 campaign, accounting for five touchdowns and leading the team with 88 rushing yards. He easily could have had seven touchdowns if he had been used in goal line scenarios as normal, but the Florida offensive staff chose to use Harvin instead. The win catapulted the Gators into the SEC Championship Game for the second time in head coach Urban Meyer’s four seasons.

Still, the Florida head coach did not seem pleased after the contest between the reserve players.

“I was real disappointed by their play out there,” said Meyer. “They did not play Florida football, and that’s why we got shut out. The twos and threes have a lot to think about going into this week’s practice.”

Despite the disappointment in the way the Gators fared in garbage time, the segment with the starters provided many positives. The Gators blocked two punts to once again give the offense several short field situations to work with. The defense got three-and-outs on the Commodores’ first three possessions, and it picked up a turnover with S Ahmad Black’s fifth interception of the season.

The shutout was a disappointment for the Florida backups, however, after scoring in each of Florida’s past three games. The 14 points allowed were also the most given up by the backups this season, surpassing the previous high of 10 allowed against Hawai’i. The main consolation for them is that Nickson has been a starter on and off throughout his career.

The overall Florida team remains on course to play for the national championship if it wins out from here.


Florida-Vanderbilt Preview

November 7, 2008

Trap Game?

This game for Florida has a lot of the hallmarks of a trap game.

First of all, it is a Vanderbilt game in Nashville. When the Gators won the national championship in 2006, UF only won in Nashville 25-19. When they won the national championship in 1996, they only won in Nashville 28-21. Ron Zook’s first squad in 2002 won only 21-17, and his 2004 team trailed at halftime.

I was at the 2004 game, and it’s easy to see why it can be a difficult site for a visiting team to get up for a game. The stadium is tiny by SEC standards, there were some empty seats, and it seemed like half of the filled seats were occupied by visiting fans. It was the least threatening road game I’ve ever attended.

Things have changed for the better of course, as anyone who saw Auburn’s trip to Nashville earlier this season could tell you. It will also be a night game tomorrow, which will amp things up even more.

It will be cold though, with an overnight low of 43 degrees, and Florida generally only plays one game a year at most in that kind of weather. It does get that cold in Gainesville regularly from late November on, so it’s not a huge deal, but it’s one more thing to think about.

Throw in the fact that Florida just won the game it’s been focusing on for the entire last year by 39 points plus the fact they can lose and probably still win the division, and you’ve got a recipe for a letdown. After all, the Ole Miss loss came directly after defeating their rival Tennessee handily.

What’s In It For Vandy

Not a lot of people probably remember or have looked it up, but thanks to one of Vandy’s losses being to Duke, the Commodores can force a three-way tie atop the SEC East with Florida and Georgia with a win on Saturday. They won’t win any three-way tiebreakers, but they can cause some chaos and pick up the win they probably should have gotten in 2005.

Not only that, but Vanderbilt would become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 with a win. They’ve been close a couple times over the past few years, but haven’t quite gotten there. Nothing could be more emphatic than getting that sixth win by defeating a team that many are already starting to pencil into the national title game.

A win would also complete the trifecta of beating top-three teams from the division, since they defeated Tennessee in 2005 and Georgia in 2006.

Could Vanderbilt Win?

Well, it you want to play the football chain game, Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss who beat Florida. That logic is reprehensible and doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny, but it serves a purpose here. I would say Ole Miss is a little better than Vanderbilt is, but they are in the same ballpark and UF obviously has lost to someone from that ballpark.

If Florida comes out flat, gives up big plays on defense, gets a bad game from Tim Tebow, and turns the ball over a lot, then they could lose. If that sounds unlikely to all happen in the same game, consider that it has already happened this season on September 27th.

If it sounds to you like I’m not giving Vanderbilt the chance to force the issue and take this game, then you’re right. That’s exactly what I’m saying. If Florida and Vanderbilt both play their A-games, the Gators will win by a couple scores after it being uncomfortably close all game. In other words, it will be a standard Florida-Vanderbilt game.

Vandy simply does not have the playmakers to keep up with a healthy, focused, and prepared Florida team. If they get a lackadaisical Florida team that thinks it can win simply by showing up and wearing orange helmets, then the Commodores can win. I give them a much better shot than I did Kentucky because the Wildcats were simply too ravaged by injury to win in any reasonable scenario.

It’s a road game. It’s a night game. It’s in the SEC. Nothing is guaranteed, but if the Gators live up to Tebow’s promise that he made after the Ole Miss game, then Florida will cruise to victory.


SEC Power Poll Roundtable #2

October 10, 2008

This round is hosted by Georgia blog Hey Jenny Slater. The compiled roundtable will come sometime next week.

1. What’s your prediction for the matchup in the SEC championship game, and has that changed at all from what you were predicting in the preseason?

Sorry Commodores, but I see the winner of the Florida-Georgia game winning the East even if both lose another conference game. I also see the winner of the LSU-Alabama game winning the West. Today I’d give those games to Florida and ‘Bama, though I could easily see any combination of those plausibly in the game.

My preseason pick was Florida-LSU, so it hasn’t changed a whole lot. It all depends on which Alabama team shows up to play the Tigers.

2. Knowing what you now know about your team, how have your expectations for this season changed? What would constitute a successful season in your eyes, and what would be a disappointment?

The offense has not been at the level I expected it to be at, but I think my expectations were probably a bit high. I discounted the fact that the offense would be changing, and the offensive line has not been near what I expected it to be. I figured with three redshirt seniors and the Pouncey brothers it would be nearly impenetrable, but that has not been the case. Trautwein has been rusty after being out injured last year, Tartt has been injured on and off, Watkins has been inconsistent, and the Pounceys have taken some time to get used to new positions.

There is an elite team under the perceived issues and fans’ pessimism, and I think we might see it yet. I said before the year that since the schedule is easier than last season’s and the team would be better, the expectations begin at 10-2, a game better than 2007’s 9-3 regular season record.

If they go at least 1-1 against LSU and Georgia, they can still meet that expectation with relative ease. The catch is making sure whatever team happened to wear the orange and blue against Ole Miss never surfaces again.

3. If your team has Vanderbilt coming up at some point on its schedule, are you worried? If not, which team should be the most worried?

I personally am not because I cannot imagine the Gators losing to Vandy. The Commodores could have easily won a couple years ago if not for some calls favorable to Florida, but that just adds to it. I probably shouldn’t say things like this considering Auburn lost to them for the first time since the 1950s, but I’m just being honest here.

Florida should be worried since the Vandy winning formula so far is similar to what the Rebels used to win a couple weeks ago. Even so, Vanderbilt has a history of collapsing after hot starts, and the Gators get VU at the end of the season.

4. Other than perhaps Alabama’s season-opening win over Clemson, the SEC doesn’t really have any marquee non-conference wins thus far, and a couple of traditional powers (Auburn and Tennessee) are struggling in high-profile fashion. Is it too early to call this a “down year” for the conference?

I felt like the conference would experience a down cycle before the season began, so no, it’s not too early. Everyone except Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have had to deal with either big changes on offense or general ineffectiveness issues, and then the Gators and Bulldogs go and have lots of injuries.

The defenses around the league have been good overall, though it’s difficult at this point to truly be able to determine the precise good defense/bad offense ratio.

I have tried to phase out battling in the Conference Wars over the last year, since it’s about as useful and fun as banging my head against a wall, but I would give the Big 12 the edge of the SEC for 2008. There’s no shame in that considering how many amazing things are going on out there. It’s just a down year, and everyone gets them from time to time. At least the SEC is not owned by a mid-major, like with the Pac-10/MWC dynamic, and it’s comfortably ahead of the Big Ten, ACC, and Big East.


Vanderbilt, Auburn Headed in Different Directions

October 6, 2008

I’m not sure if I’m ready to live in a world where Florida is on the cusp on being in the top 10 and Vandy is still just two spots back of them.

Yes, Vanderbilt is off to its best start since 1943, and a win in Starkville this weekend means their best start since 1928. Of course, that was back when Vandy did things like beat Alabama in Birmingham (1927), defeat Texas in Dallas (1928) and blowout Auburn 41-2 (1929). Though they struggled some in the 1940s and 1950s, they didn’t become a perpetual doormat until the 1960s.

It sure looks like I was right to put Vandy on bowl watch after all. They should be able to pick up at least one win among games against Mississippi State, Duke, Kentucky, and yes, Tennessee. None of those teams looks better than any of the five Vandy has defeated so far. Of course they’ve played Florida and Georgia close in recent years, and if Wake Forest is capable of losing to Navy, the Deacs can lose to Vandy.

I would expect 7-9 wins on the season from them. Eventually, they will run into a game where the ball doesn’t bounce their way all of the second half, and two or three of the remaining opponents are just plain better teams. The floor on that range is if Vanderbilt remembers it’s Vanderbilt, and the ceiling is if the dream continues.

Meanwhile, Auburn fans are seriously melting down over Tony Franklin. Even though they aren’t actually running the Tony Franklin system.

On the drives that ended in scores, Auburn basically Tuberballed down the field until the red zone, and then spread things out to get open receivers near the goal line. That worked remarkably well. Vandy caught on to this, however, and started taking away the power running game. Neither Chris Todd nor Kodi Burns could make the Commodores pay.

The actual problems Auburn is having are not any different than the ones they had with Brandon Cox, it’s just that Cox was a better quarterback than Todd and Burns are. Drop in a better passer, and many problems go away. In that sense, the offensive mess is as much Tuberville’s fault for not recruiting a better quarterback as it is Franklin’s fault for trying to shake things up a bit with new formations.

The Tigers seriously need to pick an identity and stick with it, because this is two weeks in a row they’re promising big changes. You can’t just keep making big changes every week because that will only ensure they never find the rhythm they’re looking for. The defense can’t bail the offense out every week.


SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 2

September 9, 2008

1. Georgia

I have a few quibbles about their performance, but really they’re nothing more than nitpicks. CMU got more pressure than I thought it would, which happens to be “any at all,” and the defense lost focus early in the second half. This game would have been closer for longer if Dan LeFevour actually ran the ball before the final drive of the second quarter.

They played like they should have played and won like they should have won.

2. LSU

Will Hurricane Ike let them play next week? It’s looking better now than it did Sunday when I originally drew up these rankings and comments.

3. Florida

The 26-3 final score doesn’t give a fully accurate impression of the game. The UF offensive staff got outcoached, but fortunately the Miami offensive staff did too. The Gator defense looked really good against a vanilla Miami attack, but they didn’t look as dominating as the stats make them out to be.

4. Auburn

They started strong and kind of let off the gas a bit, but the passing game had a pulse and the defense and running were still there. Without some uncharacteristic fumbles, Auburn’s margin of victory would have been much greater.

5. Alabama

Welcome back down to earth, and how. Without some great special teams plays, the Tide might have only won this one 7-6.

6. Ole Miss

Jevan Snead is Matt Jones, Jr. and Ole Miss would qualify as about the third best team in the ACC. They battled the whole game and easily could have won. This one portends good things in Oxford.

7. Tennessee

They better show something against UAB. And by that I mean the Blazers better not be anywhere near contention in the fourth quarter.

8. Vanderbilt

This year’s Mississippi State? A definite maybe on that for now.

9. South Carolina

They had their chances, but the offense stunk without McKinley. Then again, it wasn’t exactly putting up fireworks with him. They didn’t play like they wanted it as badly as Vandy did, and the defense fell apart to a degree in the second half.

I never thought I’d see Spurrier lose twice to Vandy, much less twice in a row.

10. Kentucky

Maybe Cobb is the answer at quarterback, but how much can you really learn against a I-AA team?

11. Mississippi State

You beat SELA. Congratulations.

12. Arkansas

Another close call against a bad team. They will be fortunate to win more than one conference game.


Vanderbilt Bowl Watch?

September 5, 2008

With Vandy now sitting at 2-0, it’s worth a minute to look at the Commodores’ schedule to see if they have a shot to break their 25-year streak of not having a winning season and actually become bowl eligible.

Rice on 9/13, Mississippi State on 10/11, Duke on 10/25, and Kentucky on 11/15 appear to be the most winnable games from here on out. Ole Miss on 9/20 and Tennessee on 11/22 aren’t completely out of the question depending on how good Nutt’s Rebels turn out to be and whether the Vols play like they did against UCLA all season. I mean, Vandy did only lose to Georgia by three and Tennessee by one a season ago.

One of the biggest problems in Nashville has been a lack of confidence. They just have that feeling like, “OK, what’s going to happen this time?” Reports from the game indicate though that the Commodores expected to win this one, and they certainly played like it.

It’s important not to get too carried away by one game. South Carolina played much of the game without its best playmaker, Kenny McKinley. However, instead of going all conservative with a second half lead, Bobby Johnson kept pressuring the Gamecocks to extend his lead from 17-10 to 24-10. That is something new and different that hasn’t always happened.

There was no fourth quarter meltdown. There was no critical special teams breakdown. Maybe a bowl could happen after all.