It’s no secret that I enjoy reading the thoughts of the great Homer Smith on football, and I came across a great old clinic article from Smith on a “new” approach to the triple option from 1970. In the article, Smith argues for adapting the triple option from the old “T-formation” with three backs to more modern splitbacks (pro) and I-formation sets by combining a few different option plays. In many ways it presaged the “pro-option” attack of Tom Osborne’s Nebraska teams from the 1980s and 1990s.
Check out the article here. It contains lots of good nuggets, but I found the following few passages particularly interesting, especially in light of the changes in football with a resurgence of option principles within a new bunch of modern sets — the shotgun, the pistol, and other spread (and not so spread) formations.
Surely the best of all T-formation running weapons is the option, where the quarterback keeps the ball or pitches it. Better than any other running play it can make the game a two-on-two or a three-on-three proposition, and the fewer the players involved in a given area the easier it is for the football to move.
Better than any other run, it uses the full 53-1/3 yard width of the field, and the more of the field used the greater the advantage to the offense. It is so fine a weapon that it is largely responsible for the single-wing formation becoming extinct in major college football.
A defense is in trouble against a well conceived and executed option attack as long as it is forced to play five defenders on the five interior linemen. It is a numbers game. The offense tries to get the ball to a back for whom there is no defender, and in the case of the rampaging double option [Smith's term for the "triple option," as there are two "options" but three possible ball carriers], two defenders go unblocked.
Defenses can shift to confuse blockers, pressure can deny the forward pass dimension, great ends can confuse quarterbacks and string the play out, and design can try to keep the play outnumbered on the wide side of the field. But the play is still the best in T-formation running weaponry.
What of that could not be written now about today’s shotgun “read” attacks? Indeed, if there is any change it is that the options are easier — more isolated, in Smith’s terminology — and have been combined with zone blocking and other schemes to better account for shifting, multiple defenses while still getting “five defenders on the five interior linemen.” The other change is the increased dangerousness of the pass attacks from the shotgun spread, or even play-action. The option may have been perfected long ago, but the attacks of today better combine the pressure of option infused running with legitimate downfield passing than anything seen before.