Stopping the Triple Option

It almost seems surreal that, given Virginia Tech's long standing rivalries with Miami and UVA, that over the last 5 years the ACC game which has caused many Hokies the greatest worry has been the Ramblin Wreck of Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson has successfully been able to implement a true flexbone offense in a BCS Conference, and despite a clear drop in his offensive recruiting talent, Johnson has been able to adapt his lesser athletes into a system that works.

A moment of full disclosure, I am a football purist. I believe in the fundamentals, and the premise that repetition and technique can make up for a lack of athleticism. This matchup features a Virginia Tech defense that uses a slanting, gap control model which compensates for lesser athletic ability against a Georgia Tech offense which harkens back to the days of Darryl Royal, where the offensive line veer blocks, coming off low and fast the way many of us were taught in high school.

Often, Georgia Tech wins that head-to-head matchup. The flexbone veer requires defenses to abandon designer blitzes, slanting, and defensive line stunts. They simplify the game and force each defender to play straight ahead gap responsibility. All the techniques that Bud Foster teaches in order to "funnel" running backs to certain defenders in the gap scheme goes right out the window. For the next ten days, every defensive player for Virginia Tech has to unlearn everything they have learned about playing defense, and incorporate new movements, keys, and techniques that allows them to: A) control their straight ahead gap assignment; B) tackle the first offensive back who comes into their space, regardless of if they have the ball and C) tackle effectively, especially on the perimeter.

Let's take a look at Georgia Tech's bread and butter inside veer triple option (note, I have the play diagrammed to run left because the Yellow Jackets run almost two-thirds of the time to the left against the Hokies).

On the inside veer, Georgia Tech looks to seal the nose tackle and the mike linebacker inside with a double team (usually a cut block) on the nose and a down block by the left tackle on the mike backer. In an attempt to make the backer slide out wide to prevent being sealed inside, the wingback to the playside tries to influence the backer with a veer release, therefore opening up the lane for the fullback and quarterback. At the snap, the quarterback will turn playside and stick the football into the belly of the fullback (known as the "mesh point") in the soft space behind the double team block on the nose. The defensive end is unblocked, and the quarterback will read him.

  1. If the QB reads a lane for the fullback (which is always the primary goal of this play) the QB will give to the fullback. When their offense is really clicking, GT's longest runs come on the dive.
  2. If the end crashes hard inside on the dive, the quarterback with pull the ball away from the fullback and run wider, looking to option the next visible defender.
  3. If the end "forces" the quarterback, the QB pitches to the wingback.

With the defense outmanned to the playside, the option forces the defense to make a choice on which of the 3 options they can't account for. A good option quarterback will read that defensive call, and select that option. Different change-ups in angles (inside versus outside dives, crack-back blocks, down blocks) are used to confuse defenders, and 4-5 simple plays can be ran 10 different ways. Similar to play action, this tends to freeze defenders and they start "watching" the offense develop, instead of defending its attack. Georgia Tech has several keys for victory: keep ahead of the sticks, control the clock, and pressure the defense into making mistakes. Mental fatigue leads to poor tackling, and poor tackling and gap control against this offense leads to big plays. Blitzing, slanting, and other techniques that the Hokies regularly use become incredibly high risk. If one additional defender vacates his gap in a slant or blitz to go with a crisp double team, the end result is often a Yellow Jacket touchdown.

How does Bud Foster try to stop this offense? Well, some things change each year as they use new techniques and have different skill sets, but several things hold true. Let's take a look:

1. Take away the dive.

The Hokie outside linebackers tend to ignore the influence block of the wingback, and in most alignments, the playside AND backside defensive tackle, the playside outside linebacker, and the mike linebacker all jam up the middle to take away the inside dive.

2. Make the quarterback beat you.

Not always, but most of the time, the unblocked Hokie defender will take the pitch man, as will the cornerback to the playside. The safeties play a two-deep zone and are not supposed to come up in run support until the quarterback has crossed the line of scrimmage. They have quarterback responsibility along with the late pursuit from the interior of the defense. This means the quarterback will get 3-7 yards more often than not when he keeps (Tevin Washington was well over 100 yards last season until he started getting sacked). So, why would Foster knowingly let the quarterback chew up yardage?

  • The quarterback keep has the least likelihood of breaking for a big play.
  • Good tackling wears the quarterback out, both with pain and mental fatigue.
  • The QB develops a "memory" in game and starts anticipating a read rather than making a read. Foster will switch assignments in crucial spots, which forces the QB to either make the wrong read or the defender can crush him and cause a turnover.

    On the crucial 4th quarter GT drive last season that ended in a terrific Jack Tyler 4th-down stop, Washington gave to the fullback on 1st and 2nd downs into the teeth of Hokie run blitzes. If he had read the play correctly, he would have kept on both plays for an additional yard or two. Playing "behind the sticks" (3rd-and-4 or longer) gave the Hokies the opportunity to stop the Yellow Jackets plays on 3rd and 4th down.

3. Force turnovers.

This offense requires precision, and with so many moving parts, fakes, and pitches, turnovers happen. And, when they don't, Bud Foster will throw a change-up look at Washington to force a turnover and get his defense off the field.

4. Get a lead.

Ah, if only football were so simple. Late in a game and trailing, Georgia Tech lacks the type of players needed to be dangerous in the drop back passing game. If you can get to the 4th quarter up 2 scores, you can take the Yellow Jackets out of their comfort zone.

So, what other wrinkles should we expect? Last season the Hokies played Kyle Fuller at whip and moved J.R. Collins to defensive tackle. As the game wore on, we also saw James Gayle and Tyrell Wilson play upright, which allows them to more clearly see the interior fakes and read the play better. Things may look radically different this year with a much larger and more experienced defensive front combined with a rugged straight-ahead style linebacker corps backed by an inexperienced secondary that may force Kyle Fuller to stay outside. No matter what the score is, there is no game on the schedule where both teams are more beat up physically than this game. Bring the hard hats and the lunch pails. It is time to grind out a W.


Looks like a simple fix to me...R1 + Left. 2/3s of the plays are to the left and the linebackers are lined up on the right side of the play!

This is the offense I ran in High School

This is an excellent break down of both the option and how to stop it. The basic rules remain true no matter the formation, because you can always motion a player to the other side or things like that. It is a hard defense to defend (my hs averaged 250-300 yards/game) but this is probably the best game plan I've seen. Making the quarterback beat you, especially one like Tevin Washington who is an average quarterback, then you can usually succeed, should you have the athletes who are smart enough to read their keys and not get sucked up into play fakes and motions.

North Carolina Raised, Hokie Bred

I would expect the gameplan to be the same this year. This team is better designed to stop the interior running game with the front 4 this year. I think it will be interesting to see if Foster thinks that he can stop the dive just with the tackles or if he sells out on the dive like they did the last two seasons. I think if this defense has a weakness, it is team speed. Can they keep GT from having success beyond the QB keeper?

I keep reading that Paul Johnson is adding "wrinkles." First, I don't buy that at all. They might run quick pitch (which the Hokies struggled against up until last year) more often, but if I was Paul Johnson, I would find a QB that looks more like a bruising tailback and he'd get 30 carries.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

What about getting the safeties involved in coverage rather than run support? It seems a waste to have both Fuller and Exum, physical guys and excellent open-field tacklers, getting locked up with the receivers on each play. Since Bonner and Jarrett have solid coverage skills as previous CBs, couldn't Exum and Fuller take the pitch man and play close to the line of scrimmage?

Last year, the safeties stayed back in coverage until the QB is across the line. With their corner background, I expect more of that from Bonner and Jarrett this year. You will see Exum and Fuller playing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, which allows them space to read the play and elude option stalk blocks. I expect both to be heavily involved in stopping the outside running game.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Couldn't that

open up wide receiver screens off of play action? If Paul Johnson were to add any passing based wrinkles, I feel like that is exactly what he should do. 3-4 times per game, fake the dive and quickly get the ball to a receiver on the perimeter. Am I missing something or could that be a huge yardage gainer for them?

Our CBs have pitch responsibility and should therefore not be inching toward the dive in the middle of the field. They should be maintaining the edge of the field and I would expect them to demolish a screen.

Great write-up

Thanks! I now understand (and respect) their offense much more.

Still very nervous about the game but more comfortable knowing of the talent and depth on our d-line and (most importantly) the experience that Tyler, Taylor, Fuller, and company will bring in having seen GT now for the 3rd or 4th time.


Do you think having a 220 lb CB adds value to our option defense? I am curious to see if either of GT's green receivers can block him. I can see him significantly disupting the pitch on his side of the field. I wish Bonner and Jarrett had heavier shoulders as they will be doing most of the tackling on Tevin and I hope they would make it hurt.

I also truly hope JGW is more of a playmaker. I'll be keeping an eye on him to see if he's productive.

It would take two plays to break the defense in that diagram. After running the option and seeing this D on play #1, play #2 would be a footrace to the end zone between the slotback and the rover on a toss sweep. With a seasoned option quarterback, you might even get 6 on play #1.

The way the D is lined up on that play, "E" would usually be the quarterback's dive key (#1) while "B" would be the pitch key (#2). The stunt you show above, where #1 and #2 switch roles, is called a cross charge. It can be very effective because most quarterbacks will concentrate on #1 first, see that he's playing outside, and read that as a give to the fullback. When the fullback gets the ball, he's immediately stuffed by "B." You can see Jaybo Shaw having trouble with that read here:

Experienced option QBs that are able to recognize the stunt know not to give to the fullback and instead use "E" as his read to keep or pitch:

Admittedly, there aren't many quarterbacks savvy enough to make that read, which is why it'll usually take two plays to beat it. On the toss sweep, the slotback gets the ball 2-3 yards outside of the tackle box, meaning that he's already beaten the end that's moving outside at the snap. With all the linebackers playing the dive at the snap, none of them are in position for lateral pursuit. If the corner blitzes from 7 yards out, that's far enough away from the LOS that the WR will have an angle to pick him up. If the corner creeps up and blitzes from inside of 5 yards, then the playside WR and slotbacks switch blocking responsibilities. The slotback can take a much better angle on the blitzing cornerback, while the WR goes on to block the FS. That leaves the rover and the backside corner as the only two players left to make a play on the ball carrier, and they both have to run from the other side of the field to do so.

Of course, this doesn't take into account 1v1 matchups, and if guys are just beating their blockers physically then you can run whatever defense you want. Strictly speaking in terms of scheme, though, there's no way to "solve" this offense any more than you can solve any other offense. Your best bet, IMO, is to give the quarterback as many different reads as you can to fool him into making bad decisions. If you find one in particular that he struggles with, run that more often than the others.

exactly why Coach Foster mixes up the defensive calls

We're not going to cross charge every time and you'll our OLB's taking pitch, the DE taking dive and you may also see our secondary occasionally invert with the FS and R coming up and the corners dropping off.

Our DL also does a pretty good job of occupying the OL and keeping the LB's free. It's led to a lot of the chop block reputation for GT. OL #1 tries to release but gets mixed up with a DT who is being cut block by OL #2. Congrats that's a chop. And of course if OL #2 waits to be sure his target is no longer engaged with the releasing OL #1 the whole play breaks down and the triple option is much less effective. That's why people say this offense is based on chop blocks, because to be effective the defense is going to do certain things along the line that will put the offense in the position of chop blocking to remain effective.

Wiley, Brown, Russell, Drakeford, Gray, Banks, Prioleau, Charleton, Midget, Bird, McCadam, Pile, Hall, Green, Fuller, Williams, Hamilton, Rouse, Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Hosley, Fuller, Exum, Jarrett

1v1 matchups

This is why GT was so much better in 2008 and 2009, when they had the athletes to run it: Josh Nesbitt, Jonathon Dwyer, Demaryius Thomas, Anthony Allen, Roddy Jones, and Stephen Hill. All but Hill were recruited by Gailey, and since CPJ has taken over, they haven't been able to recruit RBs and QBs as good as Gailey's guys. I do agree, if someone could recruit NFL caliber athletes to run that offense, it would be close to unstoppable. Unfortunately for GT, the offense is very unpopular and GT struggles to get the premier HS athletes.

🦃 🦃 🦃

Mike, That is terrific


That is terrific analysis and dead on. I think if you go back to my film review from the game last year, I commented that I was suprised GT didn't incorporate the toss sweep more as VT focused more and more on jamming up the interior.

As far as the QB read, Foster changes it up in certain momentum spots. For instance, I can recall on a 3rd and 3 in the first half of last year's game, Foster ran a stunt where the backer stunted way wide, and the end (who had been giving the QB the alley all 1st quarter) forced him and Washington just ate the ball. As I noted, last year Foster seemed content in letting his defense bend, then calling a changeup to get a key stop or a turnover. As a fan, it is sickening because it allows GT to seemingly dominate with their running game, but unless the front 4 just kicks the crap out of the Yellow Jacket offensive line, I expect us to see the same thing again.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN