The Playbook: Origins and Defense of the Triple Option

Defending the Triple Option

The 2015 season proved to be an up and down season for Boise State.  Defensively the Broncos are traditionally very stout but have struggled the past few years against the triple option, the primary attack of New Mexico and Air Force.  So let’s dive into how the triple option works and how to defend against it.

The Intricacies thee Triple-Option

What most people do not understand about the triple option is that it is very similar to the spread offense.  In recent years however, the triple option has evolved to meet the needs of spread offenses.  There are several examples of this.  First Urban Meyer at Utah 2003-04 with the zone read concept.

In the above diagram you see the QB reading the defensive end.  If the D-End goes up field, the QB (Option 1) will give to the RB (Option 2).  If the D-End crashes down the line, the QB will keep the ball. Meanwhile the slot receiver has went in motion around the running back to become the pitch guy or option 3.

Coincidentally, this can be run using a bubble screen as option # 3 instead of motioning a wide receiver around the QB. Oregon and Auburn has somewhat pioneered this concept in recent years. Below is a diagram.


Having described how spread offenses use the triple option today, let’s examine the origins of the triple option itself.  The triple option is part of a system that is called “The Veer” developed by Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston in the early 1960’s.

The system works very effectively when executed well, it allows the offense to burn a lot of the clock and keeps the defense on the field for extended periods of time where 14 play drives are not uncommon.  The triple option can be effective for teams who may be smaller or over matched athletically such as Air Force.

The Triple Option offense can be run out of many different formations. The shotgun, the I-Formation, the wishbone, and the flex-bone. The flex-bone is something we would see from Air Force, while New Mexico tends to deploy their attack out for a pro formation from the pistol.  (New Mexico isn’t that much different from Nevada when Kaepernick was QB)

The key to running the option smoothly is for all the players to be on the same page. The offense gets its name because there’s 3 options for the QB on any given play.  QB run, FB dive, or some sort of pitch option with the wing back.  Below is a look at how the Air force flex bone looks.


New Mexico on the other hand has what looks to be a conga line behind the QB.


The beauty of the triple option attack is the offense will intentionally not block certain defenders such as the defensive end and make the QB responsible for them.  In short what it does is puts defensive lineman and linebackers (depending on the play) in conflict to where no matter what they do, their decision will be wrong and the QB if he is good, will make the correct reads off of that.

In the video above, look how quick the play hits.  This is very hard for a team to simulate in practice with their scout teams. The reason is because most scout teams just can not simulate this offense with the speed and precision that a team like air force does. This is the #1 reason why teams have difficulty with the triple option.

Defending The Triple-Option

Lets flip gears a little and talk about defending the triple option.  The best way to defend the triple-option is to take away something that the offense does.

It doesn’t really matter what it is that you take away, It can be the dive or the pitch, but take away one of them to eliminate an option for the QB.  From my experience if you take away the FB dive (the first option for the QB) then you force them to move to the perimeter where the Broncos secondary players as a rule are faster and more athletic than the perimeter players of either air force and/or New Mexico. If you let them have the the FB dive, it will allow them to dictate the pace and tempo of the game and on we go allowing 14 play drives and taking off 8-10 minutes of clock in the process.

The best way to stop the dive is to get the linebackers into the holes in the middle, and control the line of scrimmage. As the ball is snapped, the defensive tackles have to win the line of scrimmage and cannot get pushed back. The ends have to move toward the middle and force the play to go to the outside where our athleticism in the secondary can take over the game.

A way to anticipate what the offense is going to do is to see what the center and the guards do. If the guards pull out for a trap play (This is the example I will use but obviously there are several other variations),  this opens a hole where the guard will move, but it also changes the point of attack for the offense. If the defense reads the play incorrectly and does not see the guard trap, or does not stay at home when the guard does, it gives a numbers advantage to the offense.


The above mentioned trap, the RG will pull and trap the defensive tackle. When this happens, the Mike Linebacker (M) must fill and take away the dive option #1 for the QB. If that option is taken away, the next read for the QB is either the End of the Will linebacker (W) depending on where the defenders line up and the rules the QB has in regard to the read.  

It will vary from coach to coach. The QB will attack the next read the Will or the end, depending on who is not blocked (remember that is by design making the QB responsible for the defender). As the unblocked defender, you want to do 1 of 2 things.  

First, string out the play and force the QB to go to the sideline and rapidly shrink the field to where the QB has limited room to pitch the ball, or hit the QB and hit him hard to force the pitch and put a little fear into him (the QB in this type of offense has to be the toughest guy on the field, because he will take a beating if the defense plays it correctly). Ultimately if we can force the ball pitched on the perimeter, the defense stands a much better chance of being successful against this offense. If it can not and lets the offense run well with full back trap and fullback dive all day, then indeed it will be a long day.  

Stopping the triple option comes down to assignment football: stop the dive, stop the QB, and defend the pitch.  

All too often defenses make several mental mistakes which lead to breakdowns on defense. When you see a triple option attack against Boise State or any other team this season, look and see if everyone is performing their assigned task. It’s fun to watch and  figure out. I hope that you were able to gain a basic understanding of how the triple option works and some strategies to defend against it.


About Aaron Rodney

Aaron Rodney will be entering his first year on the Corner Canyon coaching staff. Coach Rodney comes to Corner Canyon from Mountain Home High School in Mountain Home, ID where he served as the head football coach for three seasons. Prior to his arrival in Mountain Home, Rodney served as an assistant football coach in various capacities at the NCAA Division II and the NAIA level for 8 years. Some of Coach Rodney's stops include small colleges in Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Dakota. A native of Mountain Home Idaho, Rodney is a 1994 graduate of Mountain Home High School. After high school, Coach Rodney attended Boise State University and Ricks college as a football player and later the University of Utah as a student where he graduated with a degree in Political Science. Coach Rodney also holds a Masters degree in Organizational Management from Concordia University in Saint Paul Minnesota. Coach Rodney has taught social studies and business education at the high school level and is married to the former Sarah Larsen who is a graduate of Brighton High School. Coach Rodney and his wife Sarah are proud parents of two children Chance (11) and Marley (8). In his spare time Coach Rodney enjoys being a husband, father and spending his down time with his family. The Rodney’s are very excited about being part of the Charger football family.

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