Will The Miami Hurricanes Stop Florida State's Ground Game? Inside the Seminole's Speed Option Play

via z.about.com

Last year the Florida State Seminoles rushed for an amazing 325 yards on 51 carries, a spectacular 6.4 yards per carry.  While Miami did have the ACC's worst run defense, Florida State did this in Miami's stadium, with the youngest offensive line in the country (3 freshmen and two sophomores), so it was still an impressive effort.  While giving up 41 points, 15 first downs rushing, and 4 rushing TD's, it was evident that Miami's defense was wildly undisciplined.  Time and again, they were unable to maintain their gap discipline, and often lost track of quarterback Christian Ponder, particularly when Florida State ran it's speed option play.  As a long-time FSU fan, this play took me off guard.  FSU hadn't shown it before (though they would also break it out against Maryland later in the year).  Here's a taste:  


See 0:52 (Ponder keeps, 50+ yard run).  Other examples of the Canes inability to play disciplined defense include 0:34 and 1:51 (designed QB draws).  Georgia Tech and North Carolina State also crushed the Canes because Miami couldn't account for all 11 offensive players (forgetting either a quarterback or a tailback).  

The speed option is really simple.  Instead of the triple option, where the QB has the option to hand the ball off, pitch the ball, or keep it himself, the QB only has the option to pitch or keep.  Some refer to this as the double option.  What happens to the 3rd option?  He becomes a blocker.  This play should be run quickly.  The defense must quickly diagnose the play, shed the men sent to block them, and finally, make the tackle.  

Chris of Smartfootball.com has this diagram and explanation (check out the full article, great stuff).  

They make a point of running the option right at blitzing teams; in fact, it's one of the go-to plays to deter the zone blitzing that's so ubiquitous in college football today. The play itself is simple: The line blocks like outside zone, with each lineman either hitting the outside shoulder of the guy across from them or helping to double team up to a linebacker. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender's outside shoulder; if the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts it up; if the defenders attacks the QB, the QB pitches it. The outside blocks are simple as well: The receivers are more concerned with getting in people's way than with any crushing outside block


Click the link to see this in action.

The key here is the circles "S", the strongside linebacker.  Christian Ponder has to make him commit.  The S will either try to tackle Ponder, in which case Ponder will pitch the ball to the running back, or will take the running back, in which case ponder will keep the ball.  Remember though, that last year's was so wet, Ponder was basically told not to pitch the ball unless he absolutely had no other option.  I expect more pitching this year, as FSU needs another weapon to attack the outside, other than their outside zone play.

I listed Chris' article first because he's a friend of the site, but USC has a great site as well:  TrojanFootballAnalysis.com.  We'll go to them for some stuff this year.    

TCU Speed Option

You need to go ahead and read that article.  I embedded the video, but the explanations on his article are top notch.  They explain each play frame-by-frame.

TCU runs this really well, and they ran it well against BYU, so expect to see FSU run it against the Cougars when they play them this season.  

The key to stopping this play is having great athletes who can think quickly.  They have to be able to quickly diagnose the  play and make the tackle.  


While the above pieces show teams running the speed option from the shotgun set, it can be run from under center.  I actually prefer it to be run from under center, and FSU actually ran this some last year.  Since FSU isn't using a fullback, I expect to see this run from a two tight end set, or an h-back set (see article for explanation of the H-Back and how FSU will use its h-back).  

TrojanFootballAnalysis has a great take on running it from this formation as well.  Go ahead and read that for the explanation.  Here's a diagram from the article, but seriously, read that piece, the speed option stuff is in the middle.  There's not a better team to learn the option from than the Tom Osborne Nebraska teams.


Here's the video he put together:

Again, the clips and diagrams are great, but the article is much better and you won't understand it just watching these, so go read the articles!

Why does this work well for Florida State?  

First, this play runs best off of zone blocking principles.  Florida State is one of the best zone blocking teams in the nation (that article is our most heavily trafficked ever).  When FSU runs this play, the blocking is almost exactly the same as their normal outside zone play (something FSU makes a living on).    Sometimes teams run it with a playside veer release with the offensive tackle (climbing to the 2nd level).

The other reason here is quartberback play.  FSU has a perfect quarterback to run this play.  Christian Ponder is 6'2" 218lbs, and amazingly, posted the best shuttle time on FSU's team last year.  Yeah, faster than the wide receivers and running backs.  Suffice to say, he is quick.  Not only is he a phenomenal athlete, but he ran a good bit of option in high school.  This is old hat for him.  Because of his experience, the reads are old hat for him, even if he didn't pitch it much last year.

Finally, efficiency.  FSU doesn't have to devote much practice time to this, because the blocking is the same as a lot of their other plays.  But opposing defenses have to put a good bit of time into preparing for this play, and their scout team (the team of walk-ons and backups that attempt to simulate the opponent) can't come close to approximating the way FSU runs this play.  

In closing, I expect to see a lot of this play in 2009.  While ponder was reluctant to pitch it last season, I expect him to pitch it this more frequently year as teams key him based off  last season's film.  Whether Miami can stop it depends a lot on the play of their defensive ends and outside linebackers, but they will have to improve a bunch off of last season's performance, as every team that ran their QB against the Canes had enormous success.



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