Inside the Film Room: Options without a Mobile QB

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to step inside the film room and it’s high time that I fixed that.

Today we are going to look at how Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin solved one of the problems presented by Tommy Rees starting instead of a more mobile Everett Golson. As we’ve seen from previous games, this offense can be a nightmare to defend if the read option must be honored.

Just the threat that the QB can pull the ball down and run forces defense to tone down their aggressive behavior and make decisions on which option to play. But what happens when someone like Rees is in and that dimension is gone?

Now, I’m not trying to knock Rees here. The read option is not a part of his game nor does he appear all comfortable with it — even when he could practically walk into the endzone.

To see what I’m talking about, let’s examine the rather confusing third and goal call in the third quarter.

Above, the basic read option play is diagrammed. The two options in the play are to hand the ball of or for the QB to keep it and run it himself in the opposite direction. In order to decide which option to take, the QB must read the defensive end (in this case an CB, circled in read) that he would be running at. Toma, who is in motion on the play, will intentionally leave this player unblocked forcing him to commit to one of the options.

If the CB crashes the RB option, the QB must keep it. If the CB stays at home, the ball should go to the RB.

In this case, the CB sells out completely for the RB option, but Rees fails to read it. Well, failing to read it probably isn’t right — to be honest, Rees is likely so used to handing the ball off that he simply didn’t bother to read it. However, this result is disastrous as the entire defense will swarm to to the RB option and not even consider Rees a threat.

The frame above shows the unblocked CB crashing down onto the run. As the O-line and Toma move up to the second level, it is clear Rees has made the wrong decision as there will be nothing but wide open green in front of him as shown below:

Now again, I’m not really trying to harp on Rees here. This isn’t part of his game, but it illustrates the problem that Kelly and Martin had to overcome in this game. BYU was actually doing a decent job defending traditional power runs from the Irish. Some form of misdirection was needed to punish BYU’s over-aggressive defense.

That additional option came in the form of the jet sweep.

A jet sweep is simply a straight handoff to an in-motion wide receiver who will then take the ball to the outside and try to turn the corner on the defense. Think of it as the reverse without the initial handoff to the RB.

Much like the read option, the threat alone of another possible runner can cause a defense issues. To see a great example of this, let’s go back in the same drive just a few plays prior.

Above, we see George Atkinson III, a known outside speed rushing threat, in motion. He is simply a decoy in this play as the ball will go to Riddick.

After the snap, the two defenders circled in red have to freeze and figure out if they need to attack the line with the rest of their teammates or contain GA3 on the outside. To make matters worse from them, their vision is obscured and it’s piratically impossible for them to tell who Rees handed the ball off to.

The two defenders have no clue who has the ball and play it safe and move to contain the edge. This allows Riddick to bounce to the outside with no resistance.

Yep, this was that play. Thanks to GA3’s decoy, even though Riddick is tripped up, he has plenty of time to plant his left hand and keep moving forward. In fact, the defense is so fooled that you can see clearly that #44 isn’t even looking at Riddick — he’s still trying to find the ball.

Now that he’s regained his footing, it’s off to the races for Riddick. The two circled defenders at the top of the frame are completely out of position to have any chance of stopping him and the circled defender closest to Riddick thinks the play is over. This gives Riddick all the daylight he needs to break off a big run.

Faking the jet sweep was so effective that the Irish almost ran it exclusively for most of the second half. After the Rees read option failed, the Irish had 15 more rushing plays and 11 of them featured a jet sweep element, one of which involved an actual jet sweep for a TD.

In this play, the circled BYU defender will be blitzing and will completely sell out for the RB handoff, figuring that the Irish would never hand off to their decoy. Unfortunately for BYU, this was the one time the Irish decided that they would keep them honest.

The blitz causes some issues and both the blitzer and a defensive linemen break through. However, they have zoned in on Riddick who doesn’t have the ball. Eifert moves in to take out the blitzer to ensure he won’t be able to adjust to the eventual handoff to GA3.

Both defenders behind the line are now dead in the water and only the circled defender has any prayer of stopping GA3 from finding paydirt.

From here, it’s just a simple juke to beat the defender and GA3’s speed takes care of the rest.

Thanks to using the jet sweep as a decoy, the Irish were able to make use of their incredibly talented backfield to create two very dangerous options that BYU was forced to account for. All of a sudden the lack of a potential QB keeper wasn’t an issue (save for the missed TD opportunity that started this post).

It is just another example of how both Kelly and Martin have been able to adapt to the Irish personnel and adjust to opposing defenses in order to secure victories.

It’ll be interesting to see if this element remains in the offense upon Golson’s return against Oklahoma as such plays could be fashioned into a modified triple option that could seriously give the Sooner defense fits.

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