How the Oregon Ducks utilized the triple option in their spread offense

By Taylor Kolste | Posted 6/1/2018

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Throughout the Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich era, the University of Oregon football team consistently had one of the most explosive and efficient offenses in the country utilizing their spread-option offense. Scott Frost, the current head coach at Nebraska and former Oregon offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, once compared the Oregon offense to the option offense utilized by Nebraska under Tom Osborne. Frost said in 2011, “what we ran at Nebraska in a lot of ways is very similar to what Oregon runs right now — we’re just out of the shotgun versus under center. But a lot of the concepts of the option game are the same.”

From 2010 through 2015, the Ducks ran the triple option 139 times for 1,295 yards (9.32 yards-per-carry average) and 13 touchdowns. Here is a quick statistical breakdown of each of the three options of the play:

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Yards Per Play




As opposed to the traditional veer schemes that flexbone-option teams use, Oregon would utilize the triple option with its inside zone read scheme. To block the inside zone scheme, Oregon would use a count system. The center would identify the “0” or point-defender. The “0” is the first defender to the playside, and is where the count will start to both sides. The center is responsible for the 0, the guards are responsible for the 1’s, and the tackles are responsible for the 2’s. They also have additional calls that will identify their double teams, but we will not delve into those right now for simplicity’s sake. The backside No. 3 will either be blocked by a tight-end or fullback/H-back, or be read by the quarterback if the offense is running a zone-read play. The backside No. 4 will be the pitch-key if the offense is running a triple option scheme. For more information on the count system that Oregon used, click here.

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Here is a diagram of the count versus a 4-2 front if the offense were running inside zone to the left:


Here is a diagram of the Inside Zone Triple scheme versus this front (the end is the dive-key, the outside linebacker is the pitch-key):


Oregon would most frequently run its triple option scheme with two receivers on the backside of the play. If on the backside of the play, the two receivers would be responsible for the two defenders closest to the sideline, meaning the slot would bypass an apexed (defender aligning halfway between the tackle and the slot receiver) outside linebacker to block the safety as shown here:


Here is a diagram of the full play:


Here is an example of a give read on this play:

The end breaks down with his eyes on the quarterback, so the QB gives the ball to the back on the inside zone play. Even though the outside linebacker comes down close to the box and is in a position that would result in a throw on an RPO play, he is frozen with his eyes on the QB and the pitchman, leaving him in a position where he cannot make a play on the inside zone run. This leaves the offense with one ball carrier and five blockers going against five defensive players, with the free safety being the only player in position to help. The MIKE linebacker (No. 44) jumps outside as he sees the triple-option action, so the back-side tackle (BST) kicks him out and creates a wide-open cutback lane in the backside B-gap allowing the back to reach seven yards downfield before the safety makes first contact. This play helps to illustrate a few of the advantages of the triple option:

  • The offense is able to eliminate two defenders by reading them.
  • If the QB gets a give read from the defense, the offense should have numbers in the box as the defense still has to account for the two perimeter options.
  • There is a lot of misdirection involved, which increases the possibility of one defender getting out of position, which can lead to an explosive play.

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Here is an example of the QB getting a keep read on this play:

This time, the backside end tightens down with his eyes on the back, so the QB keeps the ball and attacks his pitch-key (the outside linebacker). With the end taking the back, the offense is able to gain a 4-on-3 advantage in the alley with the two receivers accounting for the corner and safety and the QB making the outside linebacker wrong with his read. The outside linebacker widens, with the pitchman leaving a big running lane for the QB on the keep.

Here is an example of the pitch on this play:

Again, the backside end crashes, causing the QB to pull the ball and attack his pitch-key (who is once again the outside linebacker). This time, the outside linebacker stays tight to the QB, so the quarterback continues to attack him before pitching the ball just before the outside linebacker can hit him, which gives the offense the 3-on-2 advantage on the perimeter.

Defeating scrape-exchange

The most common defensive adjustment used in response to this play was the “scrape-exchange” in which the defensive end pinches, forcing the QB to keep the ball, and the backside linebacker scrapes to give the defense a free hitter on the QB. Here is a diagram of this defensive tactic:


Here is an example of Wisconsin using this strategy against Oregon in the 2011 Rose Bowl:

The end pinches, forcing the QB to pull the ball, while the backside linebacker scrapes to play the QB, freeing up the outside linebacker to play the pitch.

In order to defeat this tactic, the offense would have their BST read the backside linebacker. The BST would feel the backside end with his off-arm as he started to climb to the second level. If the backside linebacker stayed put or stepped up, he would continue to climb to the second level and would block that defender. But if the backside linebacker scraped out of the box to play the QB, the BST would turn back and stay on the end. The QB has his eyes on the end as he meshes with the back; if he sees the BST turn back to block him, he will give the ball to the back on the inside zone. Here is a diagram of this:


With the backside linebacker scraping, and the offense able to block the backside end, this typically leaves the backside B-gap exposed. Here is an example of this happening on film:

The BST feels the end with his right arm before turning back to block the end as soon as he sees No. 40 scrape himself out of the box, which leaves the offense with a wide-open running lane in the backside B-gap.

If the backside linebacker were to stay in the box initially and then scrape after the BST had already climbed to the second level, then the BST would kick him out, allowing the QB to cut up inside off his block as seen here:

I believe the inside zone triple option could be a good addition to any offenses out there that are already running the zone read. Hopefully this article has helped you get a feel for the play and could help you implement it into your offense if you choose to do so.

Contact Taylor Kolste at, or find him on Twitter @TaylorKolste. Check out more of his work at

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