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Inside the playbook: Ohio State's speed option package

A closer look at how OSU can utilize their Speed Option Package to attack Wisconsin's stout 3-4 defense.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Urban Meyer has developed the speed option into more than just a constraint play. Through the years, he has implemented multiple constraints that build off of the speed option threat. Against Wisconsin's 3-4 defense, the speed option can be a serious threat that isolates the OLBs away from the sealed defense. We'll look at the origins of the speed option, it's evolution, how OSU can work off of it, and why it will be so important in the 2014 B1G Championship Game against the Badgers.

The speed option is one of the simplest methods of attacking the edge with an option play. Smart Football describes it as "simple" and "inexpensive" in that both the concept and scheme are simple and it takes very little teaching and practice time to do well. This is why the speed option has crept into offenses that tend to shy away from option elements, because it's a simple enough way to attack the edge with speed.

However, the speed option is not merely a constraint play (though it can be used as such), and instead can be the basis of a group of plays. In this article we will look at the evolution of the play, the multiple methods of running the play, and the way teams -- including Urban Meyer's Ohio State -- package other concepts to set defenses up with speed option looks.


Like many spread-to-run concepts, the origins of the speed option begin with the veer and belly series. This means they consisted of using multiple RBs. Initially, the favored method was merely to mock the FB dive with the intention to have the FB. Delaware coaching great Dave Nelson called it the 81 (89) Option.

81 Option

This worked initially, but didn't really attack the edge that quickly: the QB still reverse pivoted out from under center, there was still a mock handoff to the FB, etc. So Nelson started running what he called Spread 91 (99) Option, which by many would later become known as the load option.

91 Option

By the '90s, Nebraska was utilizing the speed option concepts from their I-Formation, and was the first with an arch option in the mid-to-late '90s.

Then with the load option in the late-90s and early-00s. The difference mostly being the QB's footwork (arch option has a reverse pivot, while load option attacks directly).

Load Option

Nebraska also made the speed option popular from a single back "spread" look. This being a true speed option without a lead blocker.

Speed Option

By the early-to-mid-2000s, teams from KSU under Bill Snyder to Rich Rod at West Virginia were using the speed option as a constraint play and a means to attack the edge in the direction toward the RB's alignment.

Speed Option Shotgun

And now the majority of teams probably incorporate some sort of speed option look within their playbook.


One of the reasons that the speed option is great is because of the multiplicity and various means it can be run and taught. Let's start with the blocking scheme.

Blocking Scheme
Most modern teams prefer to run the speed option with a standard outside zone blocking scheme, but instead of attempting to reach the EMOL (or a different defender, which we'll discuss in a second) they block someone else, as the read defender is effectively blocked by the option.

But you don't need to run outside zone blocking. You can run a gap blocking scheme away from the play. You can run pin and pull. You can run G Sweep blocking. You can run Power O blocking. Any blocking scheme designed to go off tackle can theoretically work to run speed option.

Read Defender

Depending on the athlete you have at QB, you can choose to read the EMOL (the standard for the play), or, if the QB is a great athlete, the man outside the EMOL. That's because you can trust your OT to be able to reach and harass the defensive EMOL enough to allow the QB to get outside. This allows a slot man to block a safety, or something like that. It also forces the defense, including the EMOL, to work more laterally, allowing the QB to cut upfield and attack vertically quicker. But the speed option can still be effective with a marginal athlete under center.

Aiming Point

Most teach to attack the inside hip of the read defender, others teach the outside hip (again, credit to Nebraska). I believe it again depends on the QB. A lesser athlete at QB should attack the inside hip, as you want the read defender to have to choose between who to take. This makes the read for the QB more obvious and allows the QB to more quickly read the defender, allowing him to either cut up field or pitch the ball earlier in the play. A better athlete can force the defense to work more laterally by attacking the outside hip. This also forces the defender to declare by continuing to work laterally or up field, and therefore creates more movement. More movement is to the athletic QB's advantage, and opens up running lanes between the tackles for the athletic QB to run as the EMOL tries to get in a position to defend the option.

Speed Option Package

Urban Meyer has long used the speed option as more than just a constraint. He's used it to set up other plays to attack defenses that attempt to quickly flow to stop the quick-hitting edge attack. But being able to run the speed option successfully is integral to taking that next step in the iteration process.

I'll start first with an old favorite, but not seen as often this year: the shovel option. Urban Meyer used the shovel option extensively at Florida, often times using his extremely athletic TE as the shovel pitch man. Usually, this is used with a Power O blocking scheme rather than the standard zone blocking scheme. But as I said, the Power O blocking scheme can be used just as well for a standard speed option, so the pulling OG isn't a tell for the play. This is a true triple option, as the QB's first read is to shovel, and then he has the option to keep or to pitch, as seen in this lengthy video.

Shovel Option

But he also used an H-back, or a 2nd RB in the backfield to sell the speed option.
(2nd RB Shovel option)

This isn't necessarily the simple read that the speed option is, so it's something that hasn't really seen the playbook in Meyer's time in Columbus, especially this year. In fact, the two times I recall it being run this year, it was a one-read shovel option that looks a bit like a sprint out pass from the QB (I don't like the design as much, as I don't think it does enough to pull the LBs out of the box quick enough).

To simplify the whole reading aspect but still use the speed option to set up something else, Meyer and OC Tom Herman began utilizing a long trap blocking scheme. By attacking outside, the QB forces the DE to gain width and depth, and by pulling the backside OG to kick out that DE, a natural, large lane develops between the tackles. This is a method of attacking between the tackles with the QB, and a play that looks like it's attacking the edge and not requiring a more complicated QB read.

QB Long Trap

Another iteration to attack the backside of the play is to run the sprint counter.

Sprint Counter

While I haven't seen OSU run this to my recollection, it is a valid play, particularly given the circumstances (more about this later). Especially when OSU motions the more speed H-receiver into the backfield, it provides more of a speed aspect to attack away from the flow of the play.

sprint counter

Here's San Francisco running the sprint counter under every Buckeye's future rival coach (snicker) Jim Harbaugh.


And because I love end zone views:


You also fake the speed option and then freeze (I hesitate to call this the freeze option, because teams like Georgia Tech call the freeze option just the opposite: they initially drop like a pass before running the speed option) to pass the ball. This can be an effective way to move the pocket but keep the QB protected inside the pocket while allowing him to threaten the whole field with his arm (unlike a sprint out, he will drop straight back and begin reading the defense). In this example, I pair the speed option fake with one of Meyer's favorite simplified passing concepts: the sail concept

Speed Option Fake Sail Concept

Or you can run a fake speed option and run a reverse to a receiver or the slot for something akin to the sprint counter.

speed option reverse

And of course, you can combine all of these things for the heck of it.

Against Wisconsin

So that this doesn't come off as merely an exercise in football learning, let's now relate this to Wisconsin. The Badgers run a One-Gap 3-4 defense and often times switch between Cover 1 and Cover 4. From watching Wisconsin play, the one thing I'd want to see when attacking them is isolate their OLBs by sealing the defense inside. This is where teams like Northwestern and Illinois had success and where I believe OSU can have some success as well.

But in comes a QB without a ton of playing experience. While he's repped a lot of the playbook in practice, he has yet to do it live in a game. In an effort to calm his nerves, you want to simplify the game for him a bit, especially to start. A good way to do this while playing to the game plan is to run outside zone reads and your speed option package (along with some outside screens to widen out the OLBs).

As said above, the speed option is fairly "inexpensive", it's a nice method for the Buckeyes to get out on the edge without having the complicated read often associated with the power read play. By mixing in the QB trap (which has no read), you can utilize Jones's big body between the tackles and limit his reads. These sorts of things allow him to get into the flow of the game.

What you don't want to do if you're OSU, is allow the ILBs for Wisconsin to flow. I'm not very high on the Wisconsin DL, but I think their LBs are good across the board, particularly in the middle. The playside ILB loves to shoot down  and attack pulling OGs or releasing OGs and allowing the backside ILB to flow across and make plays. But the speed option provides an extra blocker on the playside (because the read isn't on the back end), this helps account for that flowing ILB.

It also works against Wisconsin's OLB strengths and towards their weaknesses. The Badger's OLBs are great in a straight line. They have good bursts around the edge when blocked forcing the play back inside, and they attack with reckless abandoned on twists and stunts. Where they sometimes struggle is breaking down and holding the edge. They move fast and aggressive and try to dictate terms, but when you are being optioned off, that works against you.

So with a package like this you are helping your QB, you are sealing the most dangerous part of the Badger defense (ILBs), you are taking advantage of their weaknesses (getting off blocks at the DL and flowing to the football), and putting their OLBs in a position where they struggle more often. That will open up the pass game as the safeties get more involved in crashing, and will really help the offense flow.

Learn More About Badger and Buckeye Football

Here's my shameless plug. If you want to learn more about the X's and O's, techniques, and abilities in a more detailed manner to the two teams squaring off this Saturday, here's links to articles written about Wisconsin and Ohio State.