Blast From The Past

Could Texas tap into its past and run the triple option? Clearing up five common misconceptions about transitioning the triple option into present-day, big-time football.

Misconception No. 1: It's impossible to recruit an option quarterback

This is a misconception largely because you're not dipping from the same pool. No, you're probably not going to get an elite pocket passer. But what good does that player do an option team anyway? You might not even get a top-notch dual-threat quarterback, but you don't need those, either. Instead, you're simply looking for a high-level athlete who can make decisions on the fly. Being able to throw the ball is a plus, but a great passer is hardly a necessity.

Here's the dirty little secret about recruiting option quarterbacks: they're everywhere, and they almost always wind up at other positions because of their inability to throw the ball. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas played quarterback for his JUCO team and spent some time in the Wildcat a year ago. Michael Crabtree was a high school quarterback at Dallas Carter. Current Longhorn signee Mykkele Thompson rushed for more than 2,800 yards and 40 touchdowns a year ago. He'll play safety or wide receiver at Texas, but is there any doubt that he could have been an excellent option quarterback?

Here's the other bonus: often it's easier to recruit those players because you're offering them the glamour position of quarterback. Marcus Allen, despite growing up in the Trojans' back yard, has admitted that he almost went to Oklahoma instead of Southern Cal. Why? The Trojans offered him a spot at defensive back. Oklahoma recruited him as an option quarterback, the position Allen played in high school.

Look up and down every Big 12 roster, and you'll find at least two or three players who would make excellent option quarterbacks. It's just that most of them don't actually play the signal-caller position right now.


Misconception No. 2: The option is a grind-it-out offense

At its heart, the option is an explosive, big-play offense. In fact, if you're taking 20 plays to put the ball in the end zone, you're probably not going to be very effective. Too many things can go wrong over a long drive, from holding penalties to a blown-up play, that could leave your offense in third-and-long.

But that shouldn't be an issue. The triple option, when executed perfectly, puts a superior athlete — either a running back or a quarterback, depending on the defense's read — into space, often with a one-on-one opportunity to make a huge gain. Give any offensive coordinator that situation, be it on a passing play or a zone read, and they'll take it every time.

The option works because it utilizes the simplest concept in the world: get one defensive player caught in a decision between two offensive players. If your players execute, quite simply, it can't be stopped. And just try and put eight in the box against the option pass.


Misconception No. 3: Defenses are too fast

Sure, defenders have gotten quicker. But so have the offensive players. And get this: the triple option has misdirection that slows defenders. Part of the reason Navy has been able to beat teams with better athletes is because they force those athletes to react. Defenses are naturally aggressive. Forcing them to play read-and-react ball means that they aren't going to be able to play up to their full speed potential.

If the linebackers start bailing to get outside, they get killed on the fullback dive. If they spend too much time on the dive, the outside will be open. Pursue too quickly, and the offense hits you with the counter.

In 1994, Nebraska won a national title by beating a Miami team that had Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis on the defense. In 1995, Nebraska played a Florida team that was considered too fast and pounded them into submission. Tennessee fell in 1997. Too many people looked at Nebraska's loss to Miami in 2001 as the death of the option, when in actuality, it was a much simpler issue. That Nebraska team just wasn't as good as previous incarnations, and they were whipped defensively, putting the game out of reach before the option had a chance to make a mark. But look at the success Georgia Tech has had in the ACC, with lesser talent than those teams, and you'll see that it can still be effective at a major level.


Misconception No. 4: It's all about the spread

The spread, though it dates back longer than most people think, has revolutionized football, forcing teams to cover larger distances and keeping them from packing things in. That's great, but it has also produced a new type of football player. Largely gone are the 245-250 pound middle linebackers who excelled at coming downhill against the run. Instead, teams rely on bulked-up safeties to run and chase.

In 2002, Texas signed five linebacker prospects, four of whom were 6-foot-3 or above. All of them weighed 220-plus. In the 2010 and 2011 classes, Texas signed seven linebackers, only one of whom was 6-foot-3. In 2010, three of the four linebackers signed weighed less than 210 pounds.

Defensive tackle has also changed. Teams now look for 280-pound penetrators rather than 310-pound behemoths. Defensive ends can be 240 pounds, all the quicker to rush the passer. And that leads to a defense that is ripe for the option picking, one ill-equipped to deal with a 240-250 pound fullback rumbling up the middle.

Football is cyclical. Remember that the Big 12 started as the league of the running back. Now, with most teams prepared to play small-ball, others are loading up to run the ball powerfully to take advantage of a size advantage.


Misconception No. 5: Texas doesn't have that kind of personnel on roster

In the 2011 class alone, Texas signed a high-level option quarterback in Thompson, a bruising fullback in Joe Bergeron, a big, blocking wide receiver in Miles Onyegbule, a tight end capable of making big plays on play-action in M.J. McFarland, and a pounding, between-the-tackles back in Malcolm Brown. Chip in the 2012 class, and the Longhorns have another big receiver who excels on jump balls in Cayleb Jones and a tremendous big-play running back in Johnathan Gray, the exact type of runner you want when running the option. Orlando Thomas is capable of filling in as Thompson's backup, where he has shimmy and underrated speed.

Would all of those players have come to Texas if the Longhorns were running the option? Maybe not. But it's reasonable to think that Texas, given its recruiting pedigree, would still be able to land most of those players, and would have access to both the offensive line and skill position talent to make the offense a power play yet again.


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