Triple Spread Option Offense


Sports Broadcasters often discuss the Triple Spread Option or the Triple-Option Spread Offense but rarely explain what it is.  I even saw an article on entitled “Georgia Tech’s Johnson explains Spread-Option Offense,” but it didn’t explain anything about his offensive scheme.   So this column is to provide a foundation for understanding the offense Paul Johnson implemented at Navy and is currently running at Georgia Tech.  The basis of this explanation begins with the Spread Option Offense run by many schools, including Florida, Michigan and Oregon.  The Spread Option relies on three things 1) spreading out the field, 2) having a variety of running options on each play and 3) utilizing the Zone Read to choose which option to use.  The number and types of different options teams use and the formations they run their plays out of are what differentiates these schemes.  Paul Johnson’s Triple Spread Option is just one variety of the Spread Option and is uniquely named because it has three different options of possible ball carriers on each play.

Spreading out the Field

Like all Spread Option coaches, Paul Johnson executes his offensive strategy out of a formation utilizing the Spread. The “Spread” refers to any formation that forces the defense to cover more area before the play begins (before the ball is snapped) and creates more space in between defensive players.   This is done horizontally by spacing out the offensive players, which makes their defensive counterparts follow suit.  Vertically it is achieved through the threat of the passing game, and while Georgia Tech will only pass the ball about two or three times per Quarter, the threat still exists.

Executing the Option and use of the Zone Read

The name Option refers to the fact that these schemes always have more than one option of who the ball carrier is on a single play. As mentioned above, the defining aspect of Paul Johnson’s Triple Option, and what separates it from other uses of the Option, is that it uses three possible ball carriers.  The Zone Read refers to the decision making process that occurs during the play as the Quarterback is reading what the defenders are doing and determining which of the options he should use for the ball carrier.  The two defensive players assigned to read which option is going to be used have difficulty because if executed correctly, the Zone Read moves the ball away from them.

This is an example of how the Triple Option is executed utilizing the Zone Read:

(a) Depending on what the first defensive player does, the Quarterback will either keep the ball or give it to the Running Back.  This eliminates defensive player #1 and if the ball ends up in the hands of the running back, he’s already on his way down the field with it.

(b) If the Quarterback keeps the ball, his next option is to pitch it to the other Running Back (called the Wingback) or again, keep it himself.  This eliminates the next defensive player and once again, whoever is running with the ball has it because the defender wasn’t covering him and he will have plenty of room to run.

(c) The remaining defenders are being blocked by the Offensive Line as well as whichever “option” didn’t end up with the ball.

(d) In the meantime, the Wide Receivers are downfield occupying the Cornerbacks.  The result of this is that the player with the ball ends up facing just one defender and if that defender makes a single mistake, the possibilities for that play are endless.

If the offense doesn’t execute this precisely, they risk losing a large number of yards on a play or turning the ball over due to miscommunication.  But if they execute it correctly, all they need is one defensive mistake to open up a hole for them to have a huge gain.  This is partially because the defense must emphasize stopping the run on each play and therefore, does not have the same about of attention dedicated to downfield or deep protection.  And even if the defender doesn’t make a mistake, this type of play still results in a small gain.  The gain may be just a few yards, but it consistently chips away at the distance between the ball and the opponent’s goal until eventually the offense reaches the End Zone.

This theory of moving the ball takes the offense longer to get Downfield because it is typically done in smaller increments.  The problem with this is that if the team falls behind due to their own defense’s poor performance, the offense will have difficulty scoring quickly to make up the point differential.  The benefit of the slow moving Possession is that it gives the defense time to rest and keeps them effective for the 4th Quarter when defenses normally are tired.  Furthermore, opposing defenses have difficulty playing against the Triple Spread Option because it is unfamiliar.  Teams want to play Georgia Tech during the first week of the season, after a bye week or in a bowl game, all instances when they have plenty of time to prepare and familiarize themselves with this scheme.

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