So You Wanted To Know About The Option?

You are hearing the rumors already, we're going to run the option this year. And now you have questions. Well, this is everything you wanted to know about the option attack but were afraid to ask ...

The Option:

Running Game

After the disappointing 2003 season, Coach Holtz said that in 2004 he will overhaul the Gamecock offense. Coach Lou stated that next year the Gamecocks will use a power offense, including option or veer style attack. As a novices and non-experts, we were curious about the technical meaning of these terms, and this naturally created a little research project for the holidays. What exactly is this veer system of option football use by most Holtz-coached football teams? Read on to discovery what we learned.

Background and History

First, the basics. The veer is not a formation. It is an offensive system that uses the triple option as one of its primary weapons. The veer offense was invented in 1965 by Bill Yeoman , the Head Coach at The University of Houston. Coach Yeoman used split backs in the original offense. The traditional veer offense is thus often called the Houston Veer.

Lou Holtz coached football teams have always featured power, option offenses. At William & Mary, Holtz ran a tweaked up Houston Veer offense. The same offense was employed at each of his subsequent coaching assignments, including N.C. State, and Arkansas. Prior to coaching at Notre Dame, Coach Lou Holtz authored a book explaining his offensive theories, The Offensive Side of Lou Holtz..

A lot of the information for this column was found in Coach Holtz's 1978 book. Coach Holtz continued to apply the veer offensive systems afterwards, including his national championship season at Notre Dame. Ask any knowledgeable Irish fan; he or she will tell you the Irish offenses under Lou Holtz were smash-mouthed, option teams. Even the slow-footed Steve Burlein ran an option attack for Holtz. Interestingly, Skip Holtz served as the Offensive Coordinator for Lou ('91 and '92) while he coached the Irish.

What happened at South Carolina? It is not clear, but Holtz has deviated from his pattern. His 2000, 2001, 2002 teams have not been traditional Lou Holtz option teams. Rather, they have used the spread offense, and the shotgun formation. Perhaps the decision to operate the spread was Coach Lou deferring to his son, Offensive Coordinator, Skip Holtz, who used the spread effectively while a Head Coach at Connecticut. It now appears the spread offense is not the answer if winning a national championship is to be a realistic goal for the 2004 South Carolina football team. Therefore, in 2004, Coach Lou Holtz will dance with the one who brung him, the option.

It now appears most likely that the Gamecock offense will be sold out and totally dedicated to triple option football. Since precise execution and timing is the key to a successful option attack, the decision to go all out for the option may be exactly the correct plan for Coach Holtz's offense.

What about the formation? Hmmm, based on my research, the triple option or veer plays may be run from a variety of offensive formations including, the wing, the wishbone, split-backs, or the I. Moreover, the base offensive formation may include two tight ends, or two wide receivers. When two wide receivers are deployed, they may be split on opposite sides of the formation (pro set) or on the same side (twins). Thus, the base formations of a veer offense are multiple and variable.

Option Theory

The idea behind the triple option is to attack the defense on a broad front, using the entire field. The other idea behind this offense, at least with the base veer plays, is that it leaves two defensive men unblocked. This allows the offense, if it executes the play properly, to gain angles and a one or two man advantage at the point of attack. In his book, optionThe Offensive Side of Lou Holtz, Coach Holtz stated: "The basis of our entire offense is the 'Read' or true triple option. The theory behind the play is excellent; leave the two end men on the line of scrimmage unblocked, seal off the inside pursuit and get the ball outside."

One basic play from Holtz' playbook in the triple option attack is the inside veer play. The idea is for the quarterback to read certain defensive players and make decisions as the play develops. The three options are (1) the dive; (2) the quarterback keep; and (3) the pitch.

At the outset of the play, the quarterback must be able to locate the strength of the defense prior to the snap of the ball. The direction of the play is determined by the location of the defensive weak safety.

Inside Veer Play

Depending on the location of the safety, the quarterback will execute the play to the weak or strong side of the field. The quarterback should never run the play into an unbalanced defensive front.

Once the ball is snapped, the quarterback reads the first man on the line of scrimmage who is lined up outside the offensive tackle. Usually this is the defensive end.

Here's how the beginning of the inside veer play works. From a split back formation, the halfback hits the line diving straight ahead. (You can run the same play out of the I formation, or with wing backs.) The running back must hit the hole fast. The rapidity with which the play develops requires the defensive end to react quickly or he will be unable to tackle the dive back. Meanwhile, the tackle, guard and center block down on the tackle and middle linebacker, giving the offensive linemen angles and numbers at the point of attack. The key read for the quarterback is the defensive end.

If the defensive end comes across the line to tackle the dive back, the quarterback pulls the football back and continues to attack the perimeter of the defense. At this point, the defensive end is no longer a threat to stop the play as he has committed to the inside.

The quarterback now focuses his attention on the pitch read, the first man outside the defensive end. In the illustration above, this is shown as the outside linebacker. If the linebacker faces down and moves to tackle the quarterback, he pitches outside to the pitch back.

Holtz states that "the play can be effectively defended if the opposition is willing to commit enough people toward that end. Such a committment, however, will leave the defense vulnerable in other areas. The successful veer offense will will recognize and take advantage of these weaknesses."

Another play employed by Coach Holtz' offense is the outside veer. Like the insider veer, this play is a triple option play. The only difference is that the dive back hits one hole wider, outside the offensive tackle. In this play, the quarterback makes a decision based on what the defense does after the ball is snapped.

The play puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defensive end and the outside linebacker to be disciplined in their option responsibility. Coach Holtz' book states, "most defenses assign the end to the quarterback on the insider veer. Often on the outside veer play, the end will mistakenly take the quarterback too allowing the dive back to burst into the secondary untouched."

The outside veer play is also trouble for the outside linebacker. Holtz's book states, "our quarterback has made many big plays on the keep by out executing a linebacker who scrapes to take him. The linebacker overruns the quarterback, or bites on the dive, and is unable to recover to take the quarterback. This play can only be run to the tight end side since the tight end is needed to block down and wall off pursuit."

Other Running Plays

Some of the other running plays in Coach Holtz' paybook include the lead option. This play, according to Coach Holtz, "is a good change up for defenses who see only the triple option with a diveback. The play can be run to either side of the formation." Another play in the running game is the counter-option. This is a misdirection play. Coach Holtz' book states, "It misirects pursuit by giving a good hard dive fake into the middle. It allows our blockers to get good blocking angles and attacks the corner with an option."

Holtz' Offensive Principles

When Coach Holtz was at Notre Dame, he stated the following principles govern a good offensive football team: "To be a solid offensive team, you've got to be able to do five things. You've got to have a power running attack. You've got to be able to run some option. You've got to have a play-action passing game. You've got to be able to throw downfield out of the pocket. And you've got to be able to execute screens, draws and delays. Our philosophy is to put as much pressure as possible on a defense by forcing it to defend against all those different things in a football game."

Offensive linemen and running backs should be very attracted to the Lou Holtz system. They are the key to proper execution of this offense. It seems likely that Coach Holtz and his staff will be able to make a very attractive pitch to prospective student athletes who will play offensive line, quarterback, and running back.

The running game is not all that there is to a Lou Holtz offensive attack. As stated above, the play action passing game and pocket passing are also important elements to the offense. If there is interest in these columns, we may look at the passing aspects of the traditional Lou Holtz offensive package in the next column.

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