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The University of Texas has a long history with option football, going back to the days of the wishbone offense under iconic head coach Darrell Royal. Even though the wishbone isn’t used much anymore, teams still use the bone’s base concepts and plays. The Longhorns, for example, still essentially use the same triple option plays with freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, just not with the same formations. Today, we will look at how the ‘Horns are incorporating the wishbone offense into their own offensive system.

The base idea behind any triple option is that there is a dive threat, a quarterback run threat, and a pitch threat. In the wishbone, the fullback was the dive threat, the QB under center was the run threat, and the trailing half back was the pitch threat.

Most of the concept stays the same — the back is the inside threat and the quarterback is the run threat; but now, the pitch threat has become the slot receiver, who is running a bubble route. Since this is a spread system, there is an added isolated route on the back-side of the play; in this case, it is the “Z” receiver running a curl.

So now, while the play is still a triple option, the added nuance of the spread system adds more options on top of the initial three. Let’s go through them:

  1. If the defense plays off the “Z” receiver, the quarterback takes the snap, ignores the hand off, and quickly throws to the open receiver.
  2. If the quarterback sees there are fewer defenders than there are receivers on the trips side, he takes the snap and throws to the slot receiver running a bubble.
  3. If the defense takes away these options, the quarterback takes the snap and reads the play-side defensive end — if the end stays put, the QB hands the ball off to the back up the middle.
  4. If the end crashes, the QB keeps it and goes to his next option.
  5. Then, if the slot defender jumps on him, the QB dumps it out to the receiver in the flat
  6. If the defender stays with the bubble, the QB gets up field in the vacated space.

So many decisions for just one play, right? In this example the end stays put; Heard hands it off to his back, and the offensive line paves the way for a long touchdown.

In this example the end doesn’t move, but Heard keeps it anyway. Heard ends up cutting up field for a five yard gain and a first down.

Against Cal, Heard did not throw to either receivers in this play, but the threat was there. Watch him take advantage of these receivers more as he matures.

Now let’s look at the other example of the triple option, but this time using the tight end as the pitch threat.

In this variation, the tight end becomes the tertiary threat, running a flat route. If the quarterback takes it off the keeper and the linebacker jumps on him, he can throw to the uncovered receiver. If the linebacker widens with the flat route, the QB can take it up field.

In this example, the end stays, leading to a hand off up the middle.

In this example, Heard keeps it on the goal line (although he probably shouldn’t have). Regardless, Heard eventually finds his way into the end zone, earning UT’s first touchdown of the game.

In this final example, Heard keeps it off of the initial hand off and throws late to the tight end. The defense closes in on Heard, leaving the tight end uncovered; Heard throws it to the open receiver, although he does so way past the line of scrimmage.

Well that’s another film study! While these plays weren’t executed perfectly, expect the Longhorns to improve every week with these base concepts. Coach Royal would be proud, and UT fans should be too.

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