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


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