Defending The Triple Option

September 15, 2009 · Filed Under Commentary, Football · 5 Comments 

A very crude diagram of the triple option. It gives the quarterback three options: hand off to the fullback, pitch to the tailback or keep it himself to run.

The Jags will start preparing this week for their game against Army Prep on September 26. Army Prep, like Army, runs the triple option offense. In both teams first game of the season, Army gave Ohio State a handful before the Buckeyes sealed the win when an Army two-point conversion attempt to tie the game was intercepted and returned for two points for the Buckeyes, for the final score 31-27.

The triple option is a very tough offense to prepare for and defend from a mental standpoint. Blitzing and stunting can easily be punished by an observant and well run offense by taking advantage of personnel being out of position. Its pretty easy to rack up yardage on the ground playing sound triple option football.

The best philosophy, which is really what any defense wants to do against any offense, is to limit production on first down and to try to keep the offense in third-and-long situations. Basically against the triple option, keep things vanilla and play assignment-sound football.

One popular way to defend the triple option is by modifying the base 3-4 defense into a 5-3 type defense using the 5 technique for the defensive tackles and the 0 technique for the nose guard. The 5 technique aligns the defensive tackle at the outside eye of the offensive tackle, keying first the tight end then the offensive tackle. Typically this technique has four duties or uses: 1) keep the offensive tackles off of the linebackers, 2) the defensive tackle cannot be blocked singularly by the offensive tackle, 3) to check for the trap, and 4) rush the pass. The 0 technique has the nose guard line up directly in front of the center and he will read and react to both of the offensive guards and the center.

In this scheme, the five defensive linemen line up against the five offensive linemen with their assignment being to tackle the fullback in the dive play and to keep the offensive linemen from getting to the linebackers. The two linebackers line up about five yards off the line with their outside leg splitting the crotch of the 5 technique linemen, basically lining up half a body to the inside. This way they can play the B-Gap and the fullback on the dive play or they can scrape and play the quarterback on the pitch. The outside linebackers, if a tight end is present, will use a heads-up technique on the tight end, which will allow them to play the quarterback or the pitch.

That only accounts for seven of the eight players in the box. The biggest adjustment is moving the strong safety into the box seven yards behind the nose guard. This allows him to scrape inside out on most plays. His deeper alignment allows him to move without running into the linebackers. His job to pursue from the dive play to the quarterback rolling out to the pitch.

Obviously, this puts a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks who will be in man-to-man coverage most of the time. They will normally line up about seven yards off the line and either straight on with the receiver or one to two yards inside so they can use the sidelines as an extra defender. The free safety plays the deep middle with his job to get depth and play the ball on the pass or give run support once the ball has passed the line of scrimmage.

Obviously, with the free safety playing deep middle with eight in the box, the seven yard cushion by the corners is to protect from a receiver engaging the corner and getting the inside position for a quick pass with a long run for a big gain or touchdown.

I do not know if this is what the South Alabama defense will employ for this game. It will be interesting to see what Coach Jones and Coach Clark put together to defend Army Prep’s triple option.

Here are some videos demonstrating the triple option in use.

Nebraska running the triple option in the 1995 Orange Bowl. Quarterback keeps the ball.

Florida running the triple option with Tebow pitching to Harvin.

Highlight video of Navy running the option.