What an option QB sees after taking the snap

Prairie Ridge quarterback Brett Covalt hands off to fullback Zack Greenberg during a Class 6A playoff game last season against Boylan in Rockford.
Shaw Media file photo
Prairie Ridge quarterback Brett Covalt hands off to fullback Zack Greenberg during a Class 6A playoff game last season against Boylan in Rockford. Shaw Media file photo

An option quarterback’s job seems less complicated than those in spread offenses because the option basically is a run offense.

Yet while spread quarterbacks look over the field for their passing reads, option quarterbacks must make split-second decisions regarding handoffs and pitches. Regarding calling plays, option quarterbacks actually wield more command than many of their counterparts.

“There’s a lot of power to the quarterback in the triple option,” said Cary-Grove quarterback Jason Gregoire, who starts his second year as starter. “It’s making the right decision every time. In the triple option, there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of things you have to read at the same time.”

C-G coach Brad Seaburg said the plays that are called in the huddle for Gregoire are more of “suggestions” than actually what he has to run. Option coaches trust that through the repetitions and watching video, their quarterbacks will recognize where defenses are susceptible before the snap and adjust accordingly.

“A lot of times, that’s the play we run, but he always has the ability to change the plays,” Seaburg said. “We give a menu, especially with a guy like Jason, who’s really smart. It’s ‘Run a play you think looks good here.’ ”

C-G and Prairie Ridge are two of the area’s triple-option teams. Woodstock North also runs that offense, although the Thunder’s sets differ from C-G’s and Prairie Ridge’s. C-G won the Class 6A state championship in 2009 and was runner-up in 2012, while Prairie Ridge won in 2011.

Even if the option quarterback runs the play called, he still has three crucial decisions to make after the snap: to hand off to the fullback, to keep the ball, then to keep or pitch to another running back.

“Even on handoff plays, [the quarterback] will have a check,” Schremp said. “He’s reading this guy here, and now he’s reading this guy here. He knows that one guy to look for on every play.”

The option quarterback wants to survey the entire field as he approaches the line of scrimmage. Once he determines if they will run in the direction called or switch sides, he looks for two defenders referred to as No. 1 and No. 2. They will not be blocked, as the quarterback’s ballhandling decisions are supposed to take them out of the play.

“You have to read linebackers, you have to read linemen, a lot of things going on,” Gregoire said. “If you don’t make the right read or right play, it can result in a turnover or a negative play. Making the right reads is really crucial to what you’re doing.”

Reading how No. 1 and No. 2 will react determine whether the quarterback hands off, keeps or pitches the ball. No. 1 is usually a tackle or end, depending on the path chosen, while No. 2 could be a linebacker of safety. No. 2 is the player closest to No. 1.

Linemen often loop over No. 1 and look for a linebacker to block. Backs or ends likewise will ignore No. 2 and look for another linebacker or defensive back to block. The quarterback then reads No. 1, either handing off to the fullback or keeping, then No. 2, either keeping and cutting inside that player or pitching to a running back.

Both C-G and Prairie Ridge use ride-and-decide with the quarterback and fullback, which gives the quarterback a split-second when he and the fullback are both touching the ball, to keep or pull it back.

“My first read is a lineman. If I know he’s going to get kicked out, I move on to the linebacker, my second read,” said Prairie Ridge quarterback Brett Covalt, who helped the Wolves to the Class 6A quarterfinals last season. “And if I see the lineman blitzing, I know I’m going to pull the ball and pitch it right away.”

Deception with play fakes adds to the option’s effectiveness.

“[The defense] not knowing exactly where the ball is makes it tough,” Covalt said. “If we execute what we’ve been practicing, it’s difficult to stop.”

The best option plays may result in a fullback being tackled without the ball by multiple defenders or the quarterback taking a hit a split-second after a perfectly timed pitch for a big gain to a running back.

“In theory, it should work every time,” Gregoire said. “You can be disciplined [on defense] the whole game, but have one bad play and that’s going to cost you. You have to stay disciplined the whole game and that’s really hard at the high school level.”

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