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Cardiac Spill: Understanding the Georgia Tech Offense

The Panthers will have their hands full this Saturday with Georgia Tech’s unique spread offense. I’m a real big-time football boy and I’m here to tell you the what’s what.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Terminology, Personnel & Formation

The triple option, despite its name, typically uses the standard eleven players. However, many positions commonly associated with a modern pro-style offense are heavily modified. Consider the basic package of a flex-back offense:

While the offensive line operates as a standard five-man unit, the rest of the offense revolves around a series of hybrid-style general purpose backs who, depending on the play-call, will serve a wide variety of different roles in the offense. For example, the Fullbeck (F, “F-back”) guards against side attacks in passing formations and moves in an L-shape pattern during rush plays. He is the heartthrob of the group. The General back (Gb, “G-Back”) is the Cute One of the bunch, quite the knucklehead, and always does the opposite of what he’s told as a misdirection. The xXxBACKxXx (X, “X-Back”) is the bad boy of the group who smokes real cigarettes and owns a leather jacket.

The Quarterback (Qb, “Q-Back”) is tasked with rotating through the three virtuous options, attempting to keep the defense off guard while at the same time avoiding eye or physical contact with any unholy anti-options, especially ҌҌҌҌҌҌҌҌҌҌҌҌ (Ҍ), an agent of chaos who is the forbidden fourth option. If ever the day comes that Ҍ possesses the ball, it is foreseen that a thousand years of darkness will fall across the land.

In all triple option formations, the wide receiver sits off in the corner where he belongs and doesn’t bother anyone. He is, by default, the “quiet one.”

Example Play #1

Most flexback plays are similar to the one displayed below:

As with most option plays, the ball stays on the ground the whole time. The Q-back’s “first option” is the G-back, who is supposed to stay perfectly still in anticipation of the ball. The F-back, the “second option,” is on a blocking assignment for the G-back. If the G-back is in any way unable to perform their duties as first option, the ball is then redirected to the F. In this play, the X-back serves as a decoy (“false”) third (“final”) choice (“option”), moving laterally to defend the precious baby useless wide receiver who doesn’t do anything and isn’t supposed to. Ҍ, charlatan it is, nefariously rushes the Q and performs various acts of deception and trickery.

This play is designed for first and second down, and like all triple-option plays will either result in a five yard loss or a fifty yard gain.

Example Play #5

Here is another play which demonstrates the variety of methods the triple-option uses to move the chains:

This is a designed quarterback keep, but one that provides the Q with several outs if things start to collapse. The offensive line moves as both a wave and a particle in this instance (because Georgia Tech is full of nerds who would appreciate that sort of thing) and creates “doors” of opportunity for the skill players. The “first option” is the Q-back himself running through the “false french doors” provided by the southerly (“minor”) guard and the center; if those doors are “(b)locked,” he has the option of pitching to the X-back (coming in through the “rear gate”) or either the G-back or the F-back, who will be stuck, Three Stooges-style, in the “narrow side door” between the northerly (“major”) guard and the northerly tackle.

Ҍ attempts to cut off the X-back, abscond with his uniform, and pose as him. You mustn’t let this happen.

The receiver isn’t even allowed to watch, and may in some variants be fully hidden inside a burlap sack.

Passing in the Flex-back Offense

The lack of passing in a triple option offense is a feature, not a bug. Consider this designed passing play, usually reserved for third-and-long situations. The receiver is called upon to run an out route in the middle distance. Even if his legs have not atrophied from disuse, it is very likely that the Q does not know for sure what the receiver even looks like. The G-back has lined up like a tight end, but it is possible he was told to catch the ball by accident, which he will not do, because he’s adorably dumb. Because the G-back is playing as an eligible receiver, this play only has two available “option” backs - further disorienting the Q, who is used to having three (“triple”). Ҍ is running a fade, but, y’know. Because of all this, most sensible Q-backs in this situation will, despite the playcall, simply hand off to the Fb or keep it for themselves.

The Dilemma: Defending Against Ҍ

Perhaps the most unique feature of the flex-back offense is the incentive structure created by the on-field play of Ҍ, a feature which makes the style particularly difficult to defend against. Consider the following scenario - a defensive end has broken through the line, and is bearing down on the ball-carrying X-back. However, prior to contact the defender notices Ҍ cloaked in the shadows behind the runner. The defender, having scouted the offense in the week leading up to the game, is aware of the warnings and the dangers of Ҍ getting its precious totem. The defender considers his game theory: there is a 98% chance he will tackle the X-back cleanly, and the play will be called dead. But, there is a small chance that the defender forces a fumble, and it is recovered by Ҍ. Or, it is possible that the X-back is unaware of who tails him, and, like the bad boy he is, will try to keep the play alive with a roguish backwards toss to a teammate. The defender is aware of the misery that will befall us all if Ҍ has its way. The defender pauses momentarily, and asks himself: Is the game that important?

Is it?

In the hesitation, the X-back is able to cut around him and gain seven.


The triple option offense presents a unique challenges to compare and contrast

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