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Breaking Down Clemson’s Run Pass Option Attack

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Louisville v Clemson Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Today we are going to look at an RPO from Clemson’s 2013 playbook, referred to as “Pepsi”.

The offensive line and tight end are running a simple inside zone play, with the tight end (3) cutting off the backside defensive end while the offensive line goes five on five with the remaining defenders in the box. The two receivers to the backside run off the defenders to their side of the field, effectively taking the defensive backs assigned to them out of the play. Typically the quarterback will just hand the ball off to the running back.

The receiver to the play side of the formation (2) is an option on this play. Should the play side safety come downhill to stop the run the quarterback can throw a post route to a receiver like, say, Mike Williams in single coverage. If the safety stays at home to guard the post route the offense is in a favorable position to run the ball. If you can’t run vs. an honest front the play won’t work, however if you can’t run vs. an honest front there isn’t an offense on earth that can save you. The best a coach can do is put his players in favorable positions, they still have to be able to execute.

This play is particularly cruel to defenses playing quarters. Quarters defenses typically define wide receivers from outside in, meaning the play side receiver running a post would be #1 to that side and the tight end would be #2. In quarters the corner is effectively playing man defense on the outside receiver, lining up either in press alignment or seven yards off the ball. Regardless of alignment the corner is expected to maintain outside leverage. The safety, meanwhile, reads the #2 receiver and reacts accordingly. If the #2 receiver, in this case the tight end, gives the safety a run read the safety is taught to fly up to be the force player. Versus the pass if the #2 receive runs anything but vertically the safety is expected to help double team the #1 receiver with inside leverage.

What this means is that this RPO uses the reads of defensive backs against them. With the tight end giving the free safety a run read the FS should fly up and attempt to force the running back back inside. Meanwhile the cornerback is left to try to break up a post route he has already given up his leverage on. If the free safety stays at home to defend the post route the offense has numbers for the handoff.

A similar dynamic is in place against the most common varieties of cover three, where the safety to the single receiver side (or in this diagram $) would be responsible for rolling down and being the extra man in the box, leaving a gap as the other safety rotates over to the middle of the field. Versus any one high man coverage the $ safety would likely come up to play the run as well. It’s hard to get a more clear run read than the tight end and offensive line actively run blocking. Like any option, at least on the chalkboard, no matter what the defender being read does he’s making the wrong choice.