Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics


The Evolution of Option Football

The Option offense has been as almost as old as the game of football itself. Currently there are multiple teams, including Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern at the FCS level, running heavy option oriented offenses that harken back to decades prior.

The evolution of the option as an offense is intriguing and varied throughout years and numerous coaches.

Bill Yeoman is considered the father of the Veer option offense. The Veer was most notable for contributing a new play to the option, namely the Triple Option. The main difference in the Veer’s usage of the Triple Option play is that it includes a fourth option, namely a WR or TE split out. The QB is able to read the defense and utilize a dive, keeper, pitch, or throw the ball. The Veer is notable for having a QB and only two HBs in the backfield.

The Veer also allows for three and four wide receiver sets with the QB and HB running a simple inside veer read. The QB reads the DE. If the DE stays, he gives to the HB on a dive play. If the DE pursues, the QB keeps it with the option to run downfield or throw the ball.

The Wishbone Offense came about with Emory Ballard during his high school coaching days after learning under “Spud” Cason. The refinement of what we know the formation as today came in 1968 when Ballard was at Texas. The Wishbone’s design was to include a FB into the formation, serving as a lead blocker for the two half backs. As the Triple Option play came into vogue, the FB became the dive back with the QB able to run right or left and pitch to that side’s HB.

1971 Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State

From the 1980 through 1997, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had almost unparalleled success utilizing option plays out of the I Formation under coach Tom Osborne. The I Formation helped in the development of Paul Johnson’s Flexbone, serving as a bit of a basis for it. The success of the option came in large part due to the power running style of the offense, allowing for athletic quarterbacks like Tommie Frazier and Scott Frost to then run outside and pitch the ball after the defense had keyed on the FB for inside runs.

1995 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State Video

The current head coach at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson is largely credited with the creation of the Flexbone offense starting in the early 1980’s. He’s carried the offense from Georgia Southern to Hawaii to Navy and currently to Georgia Tech. The big distinction with the Flexbone is that it takes its roots from the Run and Shoot offense by utilizing a FB behind the QB with two WRs outside and two Slot Backs on the outside shoulders of the Tackles, offering a potential four wide receiver look. One of the attributes of the Flexbone is that due to the use of motioning one Slot Back to the right or left, it invariably offers up an I Formation look upon the ball’s snap.

2000 Georgia Southern vs. Montana

Rich Rodriguez is considered the father of the Zone Read/Read Option play and the Spread Option formation that has been sweeping college football since the late 1990’s. Its roots strongly tie back to the Veer but with a single QB and HB lined up in the backfield while three or four wide receivers spread the field. The distinguishing feature here is that the QB offers to give the ball to the HB on a sweep run to the opposite side of where the HB is lined up, reading the DE closer to the QB. If the DE pursues, the QB can keep the ball and run to the DE’s vacated spot. If the DE stays, the QB hands off to the HB for a variation on the inside veer play.

West Virginia Pat White’s 15 TD Runs

Notable Teams to Use the Option
– Air Force
– Alabama (1969-1980)
– Arkansas (1977-1994)
– Army
– Clemson (1990-1993)
– Hawai’i (1987-1994)
– Houston Cougars (1968-1986)
– Georgia Southern (1985-1989, 1997-2001, 2010)
– Navy
– Nebraska Cornhuskers (1980-1997)
– North Carolina State (1972-1975)
– Notre Dame (1986-1996)
– Ohio (1998-2003)
– Oklahoma (1967-1988)
– Rice (1994-2005)
– Syracuse (1992-2004)
– Texas (1967-1971)
– Texas A&M (1972-1978)
– William & Mary (1969-1971)
– Wofford

Other Useful Links
Paul Johnson Explains Flexbone
2003 Article from The Gazette (Colorado Springs) on the Wishbone
1998 Air Force Playbook
1997 Nebraska Playbook



Quick Triple Option Primer

The “triple option” or simply the Option offense has been making a comeback recently with teams such as Georgia Southern adopting the offense in a show of tracing back to their roots. What comes with the offense is of course a singular name, Paul Johnson, who is currently the head coach of Georgia Tech.

The Option offense is traditionally predicated on heavily emphasizing the run. Often times upwards of 75 to 80% of the offense’s plays will be run oriented. The passing game is complimented by either Play Action passes or dropbacks with Run-and-Shoot elements as is the case with Triple Option teams.

The recent success Air Force had in nearly defeating Oklahoma, and Georgia Tech had in defeating Georgia, shows that the Option is still a potent offense that can be used effectively and dominantly.

So what makes the Option or Triple Option work? It is all about reading the defense and in particular, the edge rusher whether it be a DE or OLB. In the Triple Option, the QB has three options depending on how the defender plays the ball. He can hand it off to the FB for an inside run, keep it himself and go inside or outside, and finally pitch it to the Wingback/Halfback.

One big reason it allows for offenses to match up well against “bigger” programs is that they dominate the time of possession with a heavy ground game. Since the bigger programs are quite often better athletically, keeping their offenses off the field allows the Option/Triple Option teams to wear down defenses with sustained drives. The lack of a heavy dose of passes also largely takes the ball hawking skills of secondaries out of the equation and forces them to help more in run support, areas where they may be weaker.

Here are some video examples of Option offenses that have been working in the past and in the present.

1985 Georgia Southern vs. Furman
1995 Nebraska vs. Michigan State
2008 Georgia Tech vs. Georgia
2009 Navy vs. Ohio State
Air Force vs. Houston


The Keys to Winning College Football Games

It’s common knowledge that statistics like turnover differential, points allowed per game, and stopping the running game are key factors in amassing victories at the NFL level but let’s take a look at possible winning factors for teams at the college football level. I used this site: College Football Team Stats for the following numbers. Very invaluable resource.

Points Allowed per Game
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 195-52 (78.95%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 67-186 (26.48%).

Average Team Passer Rating
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 194-53 (78.54%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 78-163 (32.37%).

Points per Play
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 191-55 (77.64%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 64-177 (26.56%).

Rushing Yards per Game Allowed
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 184-60 (75.41%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 86-169 (33.73%).

Turnover Margin per Game
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 172-74 (69.92%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 90-152 (37.19%).

Average Yard per Play on Offense
Combined Record of Top 20 Teams: 169-76 (68.98%).
Combined Record of Low 20 Teams: 69-172 (28.63%).


Should FBS Teams Be Wary of FCS Teams?

Many college football fans follow big time FBS programs such as the Florida Gators, USC Trojans, Oklahoma Sooners, and Texas Longhorns. Ask them about a very well known FCS program such as Appalachian State, Montana, or Richmond and you’ll likely get a quizzical look or if verbose, the “question” asking roughly, “Isn’t that a Division II school?”

Needless to say, there’s certainly a distinction between the level of FCS and Division II and Division III football. Many fans see the annual FBS vs. FCS matchups as boring with the FCS opponents far below the talent level/quality of the big time FBS teams. After all, they’re all gonna get blown out of the building anyway so why schedule them, right? But is that really the case? Let’s take a look at the 2009 season.

Week 1
– Villanova defeated Temple 27-24. Won by 3 points.
– Hawaii defeated Central Arkansas 25-20. Lost by 5 points.
– East Carolina defeated Appalachian State 29-24. Lost by 5 points.
– Michigan State defeated Montana State 44-3. Lost by 41 points.
– Northwestern defeated Towson 47-14. Lost by 33 points.
– West Virginia defeated Liberty 33-20. Lost by 13 points.
– Pittsburgh defeated Youngstown State 38-3. Lost by 35 points.
– Air Force defeated Nicholls State 72-0. Lost by 72 points.
– Boston College defeated Northeastern 54-0. Lost by 54 points.
– Oregon State defeated Portland State 34-7. Lost by 27 points.
– Wyoming defeated Weber State 29-22. Lost by 7 points.
– Mississippi State defeated Jackson State 45-7. Lost by 38 points.
– Marshall defeated Southern Illinois 31-28. Lost by 3 points.
– William & Mary defeated Virginia 26-14. Won by 12 points.
– Arkansas defeated Missouri State 48-10. Won by 38 points.
– Richmond defeated Duke 24-16. Won by 8 points.
– Houston defeated Northwestern State 55-7. Lost by 48 points.
– Southern Mississippi defeated Alcorn State 52-0. Lost by 52 points.
– Texas Tech defeated North Dakota 38-13. Lost by 25 points.
– UL Lafayette defeated Southern U 42-19. Lost by 23 points.
– Arkansas State defeated Mississippi Valley State 61-0. Lost by 61 points.
– Kansas State defeated Massachusetts 21-17. Lost by 4 points.
– Louisville defeated Indiana State 30-10. Lost by 20 points.
– South Florida defeated Wofford 40-7. Lost by 33 points.
– Central Florida defeated Samford 28-24. Lost by 4 points.
– Vanderbilt defeated Western Carolina 45-0. Lost by 45 points.
– SMU defeated Stephen F. Austin 31-23. Lost by 8 points.
– Arizona State defeated Idaho State 50-3. Lost by 47 points.
– Fresno State defeated UC Davis 51-0. Lost by 51 points.
– UNLV defeated Sacramento State 38-3. Lost by 35 points.
– Georgia Tech defeated Jacksonville State 37-17. Lost by 20 points.
– Iowa defeated Northern Iowa 17-16. Lost by 1 point.
– North Carolina defeated Citadel 40-6. Lost by 34 points.
– Florida defeated Charleston Southern 62-3. Lost by 59 points.
– Kansas defeated Northern Colorado 49-3. Lost by 46 points.

Week 2
– Akron defeated Morgan State 41-0. Lost by 41 points.
– Rutgers defeated Howard 45-7. Lost by 38 points.
– Colorado State defeated Weber State 24-23. Lost by 1 point.
– Maryland defeated James Madison 38-35. Lost by 3 points.
– New Hampshire defeated Ball State 23-16. Won by 7 points.
– Illinois defeated Illinois State 45-17. Lost by 28 points.
– UL Monroe defeated Texas Southern 58-0. Lost by 58 points.
– Northern Illinois defeated Western Illinois 41-7. Lost by 34 points.
– New Mexico State defeated Prairie View 21-18. Lost by 3 points.
– San Diego State defeated Southern Utah 35-19. Lost by 16 points.
– Florida State defeated Jacksonville State 19-9. Lost by 10 points.
– California defeated Eastern Washington 59-7. Lost by 52 points.
– Oklahoma defeated Idaho State 64-0. Lost by 64 points.
– Cincinnati defeated SE Missouri State 70-3. Lost by 67 points.
– Arizona defeated Northern Arizona 34-17. Lost by 17 points.

Week 3
– Wisconsin defeated Wofford 44-14. Lost by 30 points.
– Missouri defeated Furman 52-12. Lost by 40 points.
– Central Michigan defeated Alcorn State 48-0. Lost by 48 points.
– Wake Forest defeated Elon 35-7. Lost by 28 points.
– Louisiana Tech defeated Nicholls State 48-13. Lost by 35 points.
– Ohio defeated Cal Poly 28-10. Lost by 18 points.
– South Florida defeated Charleston Southern 59-0. Lost by 59 points.
– Memphis defeated Tennessee-Martin 41-14. Lost by 27 points.
– TCU defeated Texas State 56-21. Lost by 35 points.
– Mississippi defeated SE Louisiana 52-6. Lost by 46 points.

Week 4
– Connecticut defeated Rhode Island 52-10. Lost by 42 points.
– Kansas State defeated Tennessee Tech 49-7. Lost by 42 points.
– Tulane defeated McNeese State 42-32. Lost by 10 points.
– Baylor defeated Northwestern State 68-13. Lost by 55 points.
– Duke defeated NC Central 49-14. Lost by 35 points.
– Syracuse defeated Maine 41-24. Lost by 17 points.
– Tulsa defeated Sam Houston State 56-3. Lost by 53 points.
– Western Michigan defeated Hofstra 24-10. Lost by 14 points.
– San Jose State defeated Cal Poly 19-9. Lost by 10 points.
– Utah State defeated Southern Utah 53-34. Lost by 19 points.
– Oklahoma State defeated Grambling State 56-6. Lost by 50 points.

Week 5
– South Carolina defeated SC State 38-14. Lost by 24 points.
– Boise State defeated UC Davis 34-16. Lost by 18 points.

Week 6
– Buffalo defeated Gardner-Webb 40-3. Lost by 37 points.
– North Carolina defeated Georgia Southern 42-12. Lost by 30 points.
– Rutgers defeated Texas Southern 42-0. Lost by 42 points.
– Penn State defeated Eastern Illinois 52-3. Lost by 49 points.
– Miami defeated Florida A&M 48-16. Lost by 32 points.

Week 7
– Michigan defeated Delaware State 63-6. Lost by 57 points.

Week 9
– Clemson defeated Coastal Carolina 49-3. Lost by 46 points.

Week 10
– Georgia defeated Tennessee Tech 38-0. Lost by 38 points.
– Kentucky defeated Eastern Kentucky 37-12. Lost by 25 points.
– Auburn defeated Furman 63-31. Lost by 32 points.
– Mississippi defeated Northern Arizona 38-14. Lost by 24 points.

Week 11
– Army defeated Virginia Military Institute 22-17. Lost by 5 points.
– Minnesota defeated South Dakota State 16-13. Lost by 3 points.
– Navy defeated Delaware 35-18. Lost by 17 points.

Conclusion: Yeah, there were a lot of blowouts with FCS teams losing quite a lot of games by more than 3 TDs at the very least. But that of course was to be expected, especially when you see an FCS team going up against Florida or Oklahoma.

I’ll also bet you’re looking at the W-L record and snickering to yourself. Those silly FCS schools only won 5 games! Out of the 87 games played, they only won 5.7% and isn’t the whole point of football to win games? But you’re not quite looking hard enough.

Ignoring the fact that literally all of the FBS vs. FCS games were road games for the FCS schools, in part due to the monetary gate they would receive being higher, they also had a good percentage of their games kept close.

Of the 87 games played, there were 22 games that were either lost by 14 points or won by as much as 10 points. That comes out to 25% of all games played! And often times on the road against much bigger schools fan attendance wise. If we’re bump that up to a loss by at least 20 points, that percentage jumps up to 36% of all FBS vs. FCS games (31) over the 2009 season.

So while FCS teams won’t be winning 20% of their matchups anytime soon, they’ll certainly be keeping games close and forcing FBS teams to be careful of how far they overlook them, even if the fans continue to.


Looking Deeper at the Forty Yard Dash’s Effect In the NFL Draft War Rooms

I stumbled upon this article: 40 Yard Dash History and came upon several interesting quotes which I’ll look at piece by piece.

“They can take somebody who runs a 4.65 and get him down to a 4.55 — and sometimes even better than that,” says Gil Brandt, the Cowboys personnel chief from 1960 to ’88 who works for Sirius Satellite Radio and NFL.com.

It’s noteworthy that the NFL Combine is well known for as of late, being electronically timed. This isn’t more on display than comparing RB Chris “Beanie” Wells who was coming out of Ohio State. At the Combine, he ran a “slow” 4.59 by most scouts. However, at his official Pro Day, he ran at the lowest range, a 4.46 on an admittedly fast track. So even if scouts tooks Wells’ slowest time, he still ran 0.13 faster than he did at the NFL Combine.

“So at the end of the 1960 season, we sat down and worked out a 40-20-10 formula. Everyone would run a 40, but there would be 20- and 10-yard splits. We used the 20-yard split for offensive linemen because how often do they have to run 40 yards in a game? And we used the 10-yard split for wide receivers, in an effort to gauge their burst of speed off the line.”

This is very eye opening as well, especially in regards to wide receivers. Let’s compare several notable receivers from the 2005 NFL Combine, some busts, some worked out great. The first number is the 40, the second number is the 20, and the 3rd number is the 10.

Mark Clayton: 4.40 – 2.59 – 1.55
Chris Henry: 4.50 – 2.68 – 1.64
Vincent Jackson: 4.46 – 2.63 – 1.57
Mike Williams: 4.56 – 2.70 – 1.66
Troy Williamson: 4.32 – 2.57 – 1.58

If you look at the above players, you’d say that Troy Williamson had a hell of a 40 yard dash and was a flat out burner, right? Well, if you look a little bit deeper, you’ll notice that Mark Clayton had a similar 20 yard split and that both Mark Clayton and Vincent Jackson had faster 10 yard splits. Very rarely does a WR come off the line of scrimmage without some physical contact, so that 10 yard split turns out to be much more important as it’s the difference between separation deep and a CB keeping up.

Let’s compare it to RBs, who often make their living with “big plays” of 20-30 yard runs game after game. Here, we see the 10 yard split (and 20 yard split) is just as vital for a RB who needs an explosive start and needs to hit top speed immediately.

J.J. Arrington: 4.40 – 2.62 – 1.58
Ronnie Brown: 4.43 – 2.63 – 1.50
Ryan Grant: 4.43 – 2.65 – 1.57
Brandon Jacobs: 4.56 – 2.72 – 1.69
Darren Sproles: 4.47 – 2.62 – 1.55
Carnell Williams: 4.43 – 2.61 – 1.58

Note that both Ronnie Brown and Darren Sproles are explosively fast within 10 yards while Carnell Williams and Ryan Grant are both very good within 10 and 20 yards. Sproles had the 2nd slowest 40 but the 2nd fastest 10 yard split among this group. Brandon Jacobs’ size means his 40 would still be “exceptional” but you see how limited he can be when you look at his splits.

“Jerry Rice was an example of that in later years,” Brandt says. “He ran in the low 4.60s at the combine — not a stellar time — but with his equipment on, he probably ran faster than some of the players who would have beaten him in shorts. He was just so strong he carried his equipment well.”

This has been a long lament among some NFL fans who follow the NFL Combine, wishing that the players would be forced to run in full pads to better display how they “carry their equipment” and better show how true their on field speed is. There’s the old adage that some players play faster (or slower) on the field and that is just as true now as it was before.

“A slow timer will get a guy in 4.47, whereas a fast timer will get him in 4.42. And that 500th of a second could have to do with how someone uses his stopwatch.”

This is worth noting, especially with the recent spate of reports of college football players running in the 4.2 range (Chris Johnson ran a 4.24 at the NFL Combine) such as Miami WR Sam Shields who was supposedly timed at 4.2. QB Terrell Pryor out of Ohio State was timed at a 4.33. For comparison, ESPN reported that QB Michael Vick ran a 4.36 at his 2001 Mini Camp.

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