While the veer option is the bread and butter play of every option based pistol offense, adding effective counters provide big play potential and force the defense to consider additional options when defending the base play.
In both fall scrimmages, the Hokies first team offense has had great success running a counter option, as both Martin Scales and Logan Thomas had long runs on the play. The play pressures the defense at four different points which causes the defenders to sit back, read the play rather than aggressively attack, and be pulled out of position. Let's watch the play on video first.
Now, let's break down the play.
The Hokies line up with a tight end right, a flanker (who could be a receiver or J.C. Coleman) about 7 yards wide, and a split end left. In the backfield, Logan Thomas is in the pistol, with Michael Holmes behind him and Joey Phillips to his right. It looks almost like a power I, but without a quarterback.
Upon Logan's signal, Phillips will flex from his fullback position to an H back position, one yard behind the tight end, with the inside foot even with the tight end's outside foot. When Phillips gets set, the flanker will then rocket motion with an aiming point of one yard behind the tailback. The snap should come as the flanker gets even with the fullback.
At the Snap
The offensive line will zone block to the right (against the motion) with the right tackle and the tight end working to seal the defensive end to the inside. One of the two will roll off to get the outside linebacker to the tight end side. The quarterback takes the snap and turns to his left, creating a mesh point with the tailback who is diving quickly towards the line on the left. The fullback will be coming across the formation looking like a pulling guard. The defensive end on the play side will be unblocked UNLESS he stunts inside the left tackle. If that happens, the linebacker to the left side of the offense will be unblocked, as he will stunt forward and outside to get contain responsibilities.
Let's stop at this critical moment and put ourselves in the defenses shoes. The dive is going left. The H-back is pulling left. The quarterback turned left to form a mesh point with the fullback. The motioning flanker is moving left. Which way does the defense think the play is going, especially after seeing everything that looks like the straight veer option over and over again? Hmmmm, I'd say, LEFT! The natural instinct of the defense is to flow with all the motion, which sets up the zone blocking of the offensive line (preventing penetration) and allowing the tight end and tackle to seal that end.
Back to the mesh point. The quarterback doesn't have a read to determine giving the ball to the tailback, so if the tailback gets the ball, it was a called handoff in the huddle or at the line. At the mesh point, the tailback takes the handoff, and bends sharply against the grain back to the right, just like a counter trey. He will break up the field just outside the tight end and tackle's double team.
If the quarterback fakes to the tailback, he reads the defensive end who has not been blocked. That end, who likely has contain responsibility, will likely be going wide, away from the quarterback. If this is the case, the quarterback will keep, turning up just off the outside of the left tackle's zone block. If the end forces (crashes down on the quarterback or chasing the tailback fake) the quarterback pitches to the trailing flanker.
In addition, the Hokies can build in a quick throw on the move by Logan to the split end instead of having the split end block. If Logan fakes the dive, and sees the corner playing soft coverage, he can pop up and zip the ball wide.
This play forces the defense to account for three-quarters of the field on every single snap, rather than being able to load up at the point of attack (as we have seen teams do to the Hokies in the past). It get's every player on offense involved with touching the football, and as long as the quarterback makes the correct read, the defense has to react to the offense rather than attack.
We have seen the Hokies run this 3 times in scrimmages. Martin Scales had his best run of camp on this play in the second scrimmage. Logan Thomas had a 10+ yard keeper (where he only needed to be touched to be tackled) and on the same play, the counter dive by Holmes had a hole almost 5 yards wide if Logan had given him the ball. Holmes also had a nice 7 yard run in the first scrimmage that was called back on a hold by Randall Dunn (which was the last snap we saw with Dunn on the first team.) If the Hokie offensive line can prevent penetration, expect this counter/option look to be a big play producer for the Hokies this season.