[HydroTech wrote this post on Saturday night…]
So here’s a small analysis post to digest. Originally I had planned to do a lot more of these for the Armed Forces Bowl game, but enjoying my winter break got in the way. And I got caught up enjoying my winter break because unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, I did not fail out of school. Damn. That means I’ll have a lot less time to do football analysis type things. That also means I’m going back to having no life on Sunday. Why Sunday? Because I have to read all stuff for the first day of class on Monday.
So anyways. I was re-watching part of the Armed Forces Bowl again to see stuff that I missed while doing the live blogcast with CBKWit (is that what they’re even called?).
One thing I wanted to explain was Air Force’s triple option. Ragnarok wrote up a great post about how it works. I thought I might add a few photos to his wonderful explanation and also show how Air Force throws some wrinkles into the triple option too. One thing I did mention in the blogcast was that Air Force ran the triple option from shotgun to the same side as the fullback dive - which is very unusual. But first, I suppose we’ll start with the regular triple option from shotgun.
So here’s the pre-snap formation:
So Air Force is in shotgun with split backs. The split backs essentially not only allows Air Force to run the triple option (because you need two backs), but also allows Air Force to run it in either direction. If Air Force only had one back to either side of the QB, the play would probably be a regular option from shotgun to the side that the RB is on, or a zone-read play. So I think the big point here is that Air Force is keeping our defense honest because essentially their formation allows them to run the triple option in either direction.
Here’s the next picture showing immediately post-snap:
Now there’s a lot to see here. First, the triple option is being run to the offense’s left side. How do we know? Because Air Force’s QB is looking to the left. He’s reading Cal’s right defensive end (RDE) Mr. Alualu. Alualu is the unblocked Cal defender on Cal’s right side of the defensive line exactly on the 45 yard line to the lower left of the "A" in the "Armed Forces Bowl" logo. So as Ragnarok explained, the triple option leaves the defensive end unblocked. Notice that AF’s left tackle has not blocked Alualu and is looking towards the linebackers for his block (AF’s LT is the guy just below Alualu). If Alualu bites on the fullback dive, then AF’s QB will NOT hand the ball off the fullback, keep the ball and run the option to the outside. If Alualu doesn’t bite on the fullback dive, then AF will hand off the ball to the fullback. The strategy behind the triple option is to make the defensive end pay for his decision by taking the defensive end out of the play via running the play to the opposite direction that the defensive end goes. So what’s the defensive end supposed to do? Well, not take himself out of the play. So essentially stay put, wait to see what the QB chooses to do, then attack the ball carrier. Alualu seems to do a pretty good job at staying put and not biting on the FB dive. (The AF fullback is the the dude on the 39 yard line just to the upper left of AF’s QB. Notice how AF’s RB is running around behind the AF QB as the pitch man for the option should AF’s QB not hand the ball off to the fullback. The AF RB is the guy on the 37.5 yard line).
So here’s the last picture:
So in this picture, the AF QB takes decides not to hand off the ball to the fullback on the fullback dive and run the option to the outside (offense’s left side). I don’t think the AF QB made the decision not to hand the ball off to the fullback because Alualu bit on the fullback dive (and because Alualu didn’t really bite on the fullback dive), but moreso because he thought he could out-run Alualu and he knows that there is a higher probability for more yards on the option to the outside than the fullback dive. Notice all the green in front of the AF QB and RB. The only defender with a chance at stopping the play is the Cal defender on the 44 yard line and left hash. But he’s already getting blocked by the WR. On this play the AF QB pitched the ball to the RB and he scrambled for big yardage (20+ yards). Oh, and it sort of makes sense that AF would run the triple option to the left side. Why? Look at the first picture. The ball is on the right hash. The open side of the field (the side of the field with more room) is to the offense’s left. More room = more running room = more yardage.
So that’s the basic shotgun triple option. But as I said in the blogcast or whatever, Air Force was also running the triple option to the same side as the fullback dive which is unusual. Well, I think it’s unusual because I’ve never seen a team run the shotgun triple option to the same side as the fullback dive. In the photos above, AF’s fullback is diving to the offense’s right and the QB runs the option to the offense’s left. If Air Force ran the triple option to the same side as the fullback dive, then they’d dive the fullback to the right and run the option to the right… which is exactly what they do in the second play which I’ll dissect below.
So here’s the pre-snap look:
Notice again, shotgun, split backs.
Second picture, still pre-snap:
Here Air Force put the slot receiver in motion from right slot to left slot. Anything about this picture look familiar as the first play? Specifically, does this picture above look anything like the first picture of the first play? Yup. Besides the shotgun and split backs, notice the ball is again on the right hash. And notice the formation is essentially the same - more or less. I know in the first play there is a second TE off the LOS on the right of the OL, and in the second play there isn’t but instead a WR split wide right. But essentially, these are the same formations. And essentially this is the same play too. Just like Tedford runs many of the same plays from different formations, Air Force runs essentially the same plays out of different formations too.
Third picture is post-snap:
Wow, things look remarkably similar. The option seems to be going to the offense’s left side. Notice the AF QB is looking left and reading Cal’s RDE who is unblocked. The QB is looking to see if Cal’s RDE bites on the fullback dive or not.
But it’s a fake! Instead of running the option to the offense’s left as originally thought, Air Force instead runs the option to the right side. Notice the QB heads to the right with his pitch man in tow and slightly behind (AF’s QB is the guy on the 5 yard line, and the pitch man is the guy on the 8.5 yard line).
This is the essence of the option right here: making one defender choose between two offensive guys. Notice there is only one Cal defender in position to really make the stop. That’s Zack Follett on the 3 yard line. He has to choose between AF’s QB (the guy on the 4 yard line and the guy that Zack is looking at) or AF’s RB (the guy on the 7 yard line). If Zack chooses the RB, the AF QB will keep the ball. If Zack chooses the QB, then the QB will pitch the ball and the RB will run to the outside for a score. Either way, Follett is pretty much screwed by no fault of his own. In this picture the AF QB actually fakes the pitch to the RB. This gets Follett turned to Follett’s left towards the RB (see picture below).
Follett is totally fooled by the fake pitch. Notice Follett has turned towards the RB who doesn’t have the ball. The AF QB has the ball (he’s the dude on the 1.5 yard line with the fat OL dude in front of him to clear the way). Air Force easily runs in for a score.
Okay, I know I kinda blew through that really fast so I’ll try to explain a little more. The first play was a triple option to the left side of the offense. The second play looked to be the same thing. The ball location was the same (right hash), the formation was essentially the same, and the immediate post-snap look was the same (the AF QB reads Cal’s RDE). But the huge difference is that Air Force throws a twist in the second play by showing a triple option look to the left side but then running to the right side.
Now, I hesitate to even call the second play a triple option. It sure looks like one. And that’s the point. It’s designed to look like a triple option. And more specifically it’s designed to look like a triple option to the left. But I think it’s more of just a regular option to the right. Let me try and explain. I don’t think AF’s QB would ever hand the ball off to the fullback on the second play… ever. Why? Because the decision to hand the ball off to the fullback or not should come from what the QB reads to the offense’s right. The right because the offense is running to that side. But the play has to *look* like it’s a triple option to the left side. So the AF QB has to look left at Cal’s RDE. So if the AF QB is looking left to sell the fake triple option to the left, he certainly can’t be looking right. Did that make sense? So that’s why I hesitate to even call this a triple option. I think this is more of a fake triple option counter option. Wow. That’s a confusing name. It’s a "fake triple option" because I don’t think the AF QB is really reading the RDE at all, but merely selling the fake. And it’s not a "triple option" because there are only two options: the AF QB keeps the ball, or pitches the ball to the RB (the fullback dive doesn’t count because it’s just a fake). And it’s a "counter option" because it appears to go in one direction (left) but goes the other direction (right) and is just a regular option (two options and not three).
One thing about the second play is that it punishes the RDE for being a good boy and not biting on the fullback dive. Let’s think this through. The RDE thinks this is a triple option to the offense’s left side. So he has to stay home and see if the QB hands the ball off to the fullback or takes the option out wide. But in fact, it’s a regular option to the right side (the other side of the field away from the RDE). So by staying put and not biting on the fullback dive, he essentially sort of gets out of position and takes himself out of the play because the play is going to the other side of the field and he wasted time by just waiting there expecting the play to come to his side. So while normally the RDE did a good job of staying home to defend the triple option to his side, when it’s an option to the other side, his proper decision to stay home makes him late to the play. You’ll also notice that in the second play (in picture four) that the AF LT does block Cal’s RDE but only after leaving him unblocked for a second and pretending to head towards the linebackers to sell the triple option look.
One thing about these two plays is that they are both from the same drive and in order. The first play happened first, and the second play happened later. Significance of this? Well, you can see how the Air Force offensive coordinator was setting up the defense. The first play is a shotgun triple option to the left. The second play is a fake shotgun triple option that appears to go left but goes right. Not only that, but essentially out of the same formation (more or less). Cal’s defense was really really caught off guard in the second play and it might have been possibly because they were expecting the play to go left. Afterall, the open field was to the offense’s left, they had seen Air Force run a triple option from shotgun to the left earlier out a similar formation, AND Air Force motioned a slot WR over from their right to left. I mean, all pre-snap clues seemed to suggest a run to the left… which is probably what Air Force’s OC wanted the Cal defense to think. And think they probably did.
So last night as I was thinking about these two plays, I was wondering if there was a tell. You know, any way that the offense may give away what direction they are running? Well, like I mentioned earlier, there is the fact that the open side of the field is usually the more attractive side to run to because there is more room. But I looked at these pictures again and there is a tell. Did you see it? I’ll be honest, I didn’t quite see it at first but it’s there. And the quality of these pictures doesn’t help either, I know, sorry. But look at picture two of the first play and picture three of the second play. The tell is in those pictures.
Come on. Give it a look. It’s there.
If you happened to notice that there is a pulling blocker in both of those pictures, then good for you. That’s the tell right there. That is the one thing gives away which way the run is going to regardles of the fullback dive and any fakes the offense may throw at the defense. In the first play, the second TE that starts off at the end of the right side of Air Force’s OL pulls left (AF’s second TE is the guy on the 42.5 yard line and the right hash). In the second play, Air Force’s left guard pulls around to the right and actually becomes the lead blocker for AF’s QB (AF’s LG is the guy on the 2.5 yard line looking and running to the right).
Okay, I think I’m gonna have to call this a post and stop here. I need to get some sleep and get crackalackin on my reading. I hope you enjoyed this and I was moderately understandable. I know I’m not the clearest and concise blogger of the bunch, and I rush through these posts and leave them full of bad grammar and typos, but hey, this is my hobby and it’s supposed to be fun and not a chore.
Anyways, (and I do realize I say "anyways" a lot) when I get the time I hopefully will get around to another post analyzing how/why our offense’s air attack suddenly shot down Air Force, a post analyzing the theory of playcalling using the bowl game as an example, and another post showing the evolution of Tedford’s offense (new stuff he’s added over the years). Afterall, I live, breath, bleed, and die Cal Football. And just because it’s the off-season doesn’t mean we can’t stop talking about it. Right?