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The Sprint Out Run-Pass Option (RPO) Explained

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AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The sprint out pass has been an important piece of Clemson’s offense for a while and that looks likely to continue in 2018.

Sprint out passing lets a quarterback focus on one half of the field, often only reading one to two defenders, while giving him the opportunity to threaten defenses with his legs immediately. It also frees a quarterback up (once outside of the pocket) to throw the ball out of bounds without taking a grounding penalty, and is a common tactic with young and/or athletic quarterbacks. Offenses are able to sprint out to concepts such as flood and smash that are already part of the drop back passing game.

There are some drawbacks. The quarterback is exposed to hits, especially if he decides to keep the ball. Blocking the play side edge rusher is difficult, teams don’t often ask their tackles/TE’s to seal the edge without the help of a running back.

Doing so takes a potential receiver out of the play while also creating a formational tendency defenses can pick up on, although Clemson has featured a sprint draw to catch teams that over pursue.

Clemson has added an additional way to use their running back to account for the defensive end. The play begins looking like a sprint out pass but the first read is a shovel option, with the running back darting underneath to serve as the threat inside.

The offensive line blocks power (which has the added benefit of giving the linebackers and safeties a muddy read), the tight end can block or be split wide as an additional receiver.

There might not be anything truly new under the sun, and there isn’t on a football field. Here’s Nebraska running something very similar from under center, the offensive line even blocks power.

Tom Osborne coached for a long time, you think you’ve found a new running scheme and someone pops up on twitter with footage of him running it before most of the players on the current roster were born. Here’s the play again, from the 1997 playbook.

The modern twist is including an RPO after the initial shovel pass.

Unlike the diagram above, Clemson is running stick here, although I think the outside receiver’s fade probably is more of a decoy to run the deep defender off than anything else. If the defensive end sticks with the running back the quarterback has a couple of quick reads between an out route, a stick route or keeping the ball himself.

If football has spent the last two decades growing towards basketball on grass, RPO’s are a decent approximation of the spread pick and roll. In this RPO the running back serves as the dive man, threatening the defense if they send defenders after the quarterback. The quarterback is attacking the defense with his legs, and has two immediate kick out options in the receivers.

The play asks your quarterback to make very quick, decisive reads while on the move. Basketball players have 24 seconds, quarterbacks are lucky to get four and might get hit by a 270 lb. mutant while they’re at it. Once your quarterback gets the reads down though, he’s theoretically always right. Football coaches have a saying, that whoever holds the chalk last wins, that essentially translates to whoever makes the last adjustment wins. If you can create a system for your ball handler to make that last adjustment on the fly a defensive coordinator can’t do much.