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What Is a Triple Option Anyway?

Getting Ready for Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern v Georgia Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

An option is a play in which the person who will ultimately carry the ball is not known by the offense or the defense before the ball is snapped. The ball carrier is determined by how the defense reacts.

Certain defenders are intentionally left unblocked. The quarterback “reads” the reactions of these unblocked defenders and either keeps the ball or gives it to another player. When only one defender is being read, the play is an option. When two defenders are read, the play is a triple option.

Leaving a defender unblocked creates a numerical advantage for the offense. The lineman who would block the tackle can instead seal off a linebacker. If the quarterback does his job, the unblocked lineman will take himself out of the play voluntarily (as we’ll see below) by chasing or tackling a back who doesn’t have the ball.

Georgia Southern is an option team. This offseason they hired Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks coach and they’re expected to run a mix of under-center and spread option.

The option was once the most common and dominant offensive threat in football. Now, it’s a rarity. As a result, teams like Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech present a challenge to get ready for.

In recent memory, Georgia Southern has beaten Florida, taken Georgia to overtime, and put up 300 rushing yards against Nick Saban’s 2011 Alabama defense. A Georgia Southern option team had Auburn on the ropes back in 1991. Auburn is better than Georgia Southern, but they may make us look bad a few times Saturday night.


The midline is an example of an option. Georgia Tech runs it as well as anyone. Here they are playing Clemson for the ACC title.

There are three main players on this play: the quarterback, the fullback, and the unblocked defensive tackle. They are circled below on the picture.

Midline Options

This play is simply an option because no other offensive player is going to touch the ball unless something goes horribly wrong. Here’s how the play is blocked.

Midline Blocking

The center takes the nose, the guard squeezes down on the middle linebacker, play side tackle kicks out the end, play side wing leads through the hole on the strong side linebacker, back side wing shows motion the leads through the hole looking for the safety.

Playside defensive tackle is unblocked. The quarterback places the ball into the fullback’s belly and puts his eyes on that tackle. If the tackle commits to the fullback, the quarterback pulls the ball and keeps it; if the tackle stays wide, the fullback squeezes the ball and keeps it.

DT Turns

This is the moment of decision for the QB. The defensive tackle has turned his shoulders. He’s squeezing down on the guard and has committed to the fullback. The QB keeps:

QB Keep

Here’s a midline where the end being read doesn’t commit to the dive and the fullback keeps.

Modern offenses have run mesh option looks out of the shotgun for the last 15 years or so. Here are two inverted veers Auburn ran against Georgia and Texas A&M during the Nick Marshall era.

Another common option is the speed option where a quarterback reads a defensive end to determine whether to keep or pitch. Oklahoma State had some luck with this play against Oregon.

Quarterback charges down the line with eyes on an unblocked defensive end. Defensive end commits to stopping the quarterback keep so the quarterback pitches.

Speed Option

Offenses have run speed option looks out of shotgun for over 20 years. The Chip Kelly Oregon squads ran it as well as anyone. Here’s an example for the Civil War against Oregon State.

Another option look is the run/pass option where a quarterback can either give to a running back or throw downfield. Georgia ran this version against South Carolina.

Georgia runs what looks like a zone read but blocks all the men on the line of scrimmage. The read is the backside linebacker. If he drops into pass coverage, the quarterback gives to the tailback. If he chases the action, the quarterback throws to the split end on a quick slant.


Traditional triple options, like the inside veer, combine these two option concepts. A quarterback first goes through the dive/keep read with the fullback, then faces a keep/pitch decision with the tailback.

The quarterback here first reads the playside defensive end to determine whether to run the dive or continue the option, then reads the stand-up linebacker to determine whether to keep or pitch.

The tackle commits to the dive so the QB pulls and keeps.

Next read is the defensive end. That DE commits to stop the keep, so the quarterback opts to pitch.

Triple options out of shotguns take several forms. Here’s a traditional version with a keep/give & keep/pitch in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys.

Run/Pass options have put additional wrinkles into triple option schemes where the quarterback can either give, keep, or throw to a receiver.

Against Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl, Auburn ran an triple option/bubble screen concept that looked like this:

Nick Marshall read the end and kept. The nickle hesitated, giving Quan Bray just enough time to get the corner.

Despite being ancient, the option can still be effective. All a defender can do is follow his assignment. If he is the tackle being read, tackle the fullback and force the quarterback to keep. Have faith that the next man down the line will make the play.

With any luck, Auburn’s superior athleticism will allow the Tigers to shut down the Eagles and win handily.