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History of Offense, the Triple Option

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Aug. 05, 2022 - 4:40 PM

History of Offense, the Triple Option

If you ask any defensive coordinator today, what play they hate to face, they will tell you the triple option. It ain’t dead yet.

When most college football fans hear the triple option, they first think of former Georgia Tech coach Paul Jonson and his offense.

Frankly, it is a misnomer to call the offense triple option as it is a play that is run out of his spread option offense. The play, triple option, can be run out of the spread option, the split back veer, the wishbone, the I formation and even today out of a shotgun spread.

The origins of the play date back to 1941 and coach Don Faurot of the Missouri Tigers. Faurot has been a basketball player in school, and he came up with a concept similar to a 2-on-1 break where a single defender had to decide which player to defend. When the defender committed the guy with the ball would either keep it or pass to a teammate based on what the defender did. He ran the play out of the split-T formation which also incorporated wider splits for his offensive line. Faurot later shared this play and concept with one of his assistants, Bud Wilkinson, who went on to be the head coach at Oklahoma.

It was in the late 60s that the play became a bread and butter play as it was developed and run with great effect by Bill Yeomen at Houston. In 1967 Houston was in the middle of a season that was not going well, and Yeoman took the split back formation and developed the triple option out of it. The play’s concept involves the ability of the quarterback to read the defense in the middle of the play. Upon the snap, the quarterback takes the ball and then holds it in the fullback’s belly. At this point, he reads the defensive tackle to see if the tackle reacts to the possible handoff. If the tackle does not, then the fullback takes the ball and runs through the gap between the guard and the tackle.

If the defensive tackle does move toward the hand-off, the quarterback pulls the ball and heads perpendicular to his line to then read the defensive end, which today is an outside linebacker. During the play, this end/linebacker is purposely left unblocked and is the key to the next phase. If the linebacker goes after the quarterback, then the quarterback takes a step-down field and pitches the ball to a trailing halfback that should be behind the quarterback and about 5 yards to the outside. If the end moves towards the pitch man, the trailing halfback, the quarterback keeps the ball and heads upfield.

Houston used this offense to go on an eight-game win streak and defeat several top-ranked teams in the process. Meanwhile, at Texas, Emory Bellard had developed a new offense known as the wishbone and saw the value of incorporating the triple option into it. The only difference was that there were now three running backs in the backfield and the back to the pitch side could be utilized as a lead blocker on the play. This concept was the development of what is called a load option.

Texas had great success and many coaches took note of it and adopted the formation and play into their programs. Oklahoma, Texas A&M and of course Bear Bryant at Alabama.

In the 1980s, Tom Osbourne was utilizing the I formation and running it quite effectively. He wanted to add more to his offense as defenses were now keying on his main play, the toss sweep. Osbourne took his formation and incorporated the triple option as well. The fullback was lined up behind the quarterback and the deep back, known as the tailback, was behind the fullback. When running out of the I formation the play made the defense be less aggressive and more disciplined.

Paul Johnson began to develop his spread option attack while serving as the offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern in the mid 1980s. He had a very athletic quarterback, Tracy Ham, and he wanted to utilize his running skills. His “Broken Bone” formation during that time was also called the Ham Bone. After a stint as the offensive coordinator at Hawaii and Navy, he returned to Georgia Southern and brought his offense with him. Southern went on to win two Division II national championships. In 2002 he became the head coach at Navy and took them to six straight bowl games.

In 2008 he became the head coach at Georgia Tech, and many thought his offense would not work with any consistency at the Power 5 level. Behind the triple option and various other plays, he took Tech to a 9-4 season his first year and an ACC championship the next. He would bring more success and finally retire in 2018.

Many still question if the triple option would work with today’s offenses, but it has been adapted and changed to what is known as the RPO. The concept of the mesh with the quarterback and the running back is still part of the play however the third option is a pass to a receiver out in the flat.

But if you ask any defensive coordinator today, what play they hate to face, they will tell you the triple option. It ain’t dead yet.

Richard Proctor, born in Newnan, recently moved back from Denver, Colorado, and is an avid college football fan as well as a published author. He is the son of Dr. Ernest Proctor PAPP Clinic.