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Option football: from eternity to here (part 1).

Option football is almost as old as the game itself, though sparingly used in the early 1900's. The games were mostly won by the team with the biggest offensive line. The lighter team would have to resort to surprise or finesse to move the ball downfield.


The option became a legitimate weapon only after the passages of decades, attitudes, and the arrival of the Split-T formation (Diag. 1).

Don Faurot, then coaching at the Iowa Pre-Flight School in Des Moines, decided to utilize the option as the focal point of his Split-T offense.

In 1942, Faurot added Bud Wilkinson and Jim Tatum to his staff, and both would go on to win NCAA championships at Oklahoma and Maryland, respectively. Following WWII, Coach Faurot would have great success with the option at Missouri. Until then, no one had used the dive and option play with the T formation.

The option out of the Split-T was a complement of the dive by one or the other halfbacks. In those days, the most popular defenses were the 5-3 and the older Wide Tackle 6. The dive called for the halfback to read the OT's block after the hand-off by the QB.

If the OT could block the defender to the right, the halfback would run left. If the OT could block the defender to the left, the halfback would run to the right.

Once the block was made, the halfback would run the bubble created by the block. When faced by a wide DT, the halfback could run to an automatic bubble (Diag. 2).

When the defenses began to compensate by having the LB's attack the dive, the perimeter would be left unprotected, and the option could be run with devastating effect (Diag. 3).

The late 1950's were dominated by both the Split-T and Wing-T offenses in college football. Coaches flocked to schools such as Oklahoma to get a taste of Split-T option football or the down-the-line option by the Wing-T attack.


Bud Wilkinson knew that coaches were using the Split-T option the way he did and feared that his juggernaut would soon be tested by the kind of football that he himself had designed. The only thing to do in this circumstance was devise an offense to beat it. The defense was about to catch up with the offense.


As with all coaches, Wilkinson knew that offense wins games and defense wins championships. To combat the Split-T defense, Wilkinson invented the 5-2. The Okie Defense called for both inside line-backers to stack behind the nose guard and defensive tackle whenever the QB moved to either side, and then move to any bubbles left by the defensive linemen.


By stacking the LB's, the defense made it difficult for the OG's to block them or prevent them from clogging the running lanes used by the half-back on the dive. Once the dive began to fail gaining yardage, the option began faltering (Diag. 4).

The Okie Defense also featured four secondary defenders. When the Split-T option showed, the four-man secondary rotated to the offensive point of attack (Diag. 5). The defense, in essence, was able to get an additional defender across the center line and end up with more defenders than blockers, thus stopping the option. Notre Dame used this mirroring type of defensive strategy to beat Wilkinson at his own game and put an end to the Sooners' 48-game winning streak.


The first nudge to the triple option appeared in 1960 and was instigated by the legendary Bear Bryant at Alabama. The Bear's "three-way" option was unique in that it was disguised by his outside belly series, not the Split-T option.


As shown in Diag. 6, the QB was instructed to option the defensive corner by giving the ball to the fullback off tackle, or keeping the ball after the fake to the fullback, or by pitching it back to the far running halfback.

The most distinctive facet of this play was that the fullback was responsible for getting the DT to tackle him in what appeared to be an attempt at an outside veer. The QB did not read the DE, only the defensive corner.


This may be why Coach Bryant never tried to take credit for the triple option. He knew that drawing up a play on paper and making it work during game situations were not always compatible with each other. The only time Bryant had success with a true double read option by the QB is when he borrowed the Wishbone offense from Texas years later.


Other analysis of the historical importance of Bryant's "three-way option" is mere speculation; however, a true double read triple option was just around the bend and a few states over from Alabama.


Things were looking a little grim for Bill Yeoman and his Houston Cougars in 1965. He and his able staff decided if they were about to get fired for a lackluster season, they'd do so running an offense that they had been tinkering around with for some time.

Before the game with Ole' Miss, Yeoman had finally convinced his staff that the offense needed a new direction. Near the middle of the season Coach Yeoman borrowed a formation from the University of Miami that he had used a year earlier and came up with the first triple option offense, otherwise known as the Houston Veer.

Yeoman and his staff had noticed that while running the dive, the motioning wingback often missed blocking the defensive end--allowing the DE to come crashing down on the dive. It happened every time.

The wheels began to turn and the question was finally asked: What would happen if the QB could read the DE by faking the hand-off or by giving the ball to the dive back, and then completing the series by pitching to a trailing back on the option?

It made sense. Both the dive and option were as natural as peanut butter and jelly, so it would seem that the two plays could be blended into one.

The play was 12 Veer (Diag. 7). It called for the QB to move down the line, reading the defensive end as he came down on the diving right halfback. If the DE played off of the diving back to follow the wingback the QB was instructed to give the ball to the halfback. If the DE moved in to tackle the dive back, the QB would keep the ball and option the corner with the trailing fullback as the pitchman.

The play was similar to Bryant's in that the QB meshed with a running back on an inside fake before the option was made to a trailing back moving on the perimeter.

The similarities stopped there. Yeoman's veer was able to do what Bryant's "three-way" could not--two successive reads by the QB at or near the LOS. Or, in other words, a true double-read triple option. The play was also based on the Split-T dive series, and not the latter outside Belly series.

The new changes to the offense didn't come without some reluctance from Coach Yeoman's staff, particularly his defensive coordinator Bum Phillips. Yeoman's junior offensive partner, Chuck Fairbanks, was already sold on the idea.

The next year Yeoman maintained his Wing-T offense, but without 12 Veer. "We had no idea what we were doing, but the darn thing averaged eight or more yards a pop. So I decided to keep working on it and Coach Phillips finally went along."

The veer worked in practice just as it had worked a few years earlier vs Florida State, but there were still uncertainties about it. It was the "X" factor for Yeoman and his staff. Could the veer be a total offense or just some sort of gimmick play used when the chips were down?

In 1964 the Houston offense introduced 12 Veer and the new split back formation that Yeoman had borrowed from Miami the year before. The rest of the offense was basically a collection of plays held over from the earlier Wing-T. It wasn't until the game with Ole' Miss that the total veer offense was put into action.

Yeoman figured that if he were going to get fired, he'd do so running the offense that he wanted to run. It worked. The Cougars rebounded from a 1-5 start to a final 4-5-1 finish. Yeoman's gamble had paid off.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Part 2 of Rick Whobrey's outstanding history of the option will appear in our August 2005 "Back to School" issue.

By Rick Whobrey, Football Coach & Historian, Crystal City (MS) High School
COPYRIGHT 2005 Scholastic, Inc.
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Author:Whobrey, Rick
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
Previous Article:Scheduling and the Internet.
Next Article:Playing on a level field.

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