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Off Season Film School: Coastal Carolina’s Freeze Option Series

Good coaches are students of the history of football. Great coaches steal from the history of football.

Coastal Carolina v Marshall Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Welcome back to our on-again, off-again, even more off-again, now-on-again film school. It’s the middle of the off-season and nothing much is happening besides realignment, transfers, recruiting, and TV negotiations. I don’t watch football to watch any of that. I watch football to watch football. To that end, we’re going to be digging up some old footage and looking at a series of plays that I want to show you because I think they’re neat.

Coastal Carolina, led by quarterback Grayson McCall and then head coach Jamie Chadwell, took college football by storm during the pandemic season. Much was made of their spread-option attack, which combined decades-old principles and plays with modern formations to put up gaudy scoring numbers. The Coastal Carolina run game is too diverse for one article, so instead, we are going to look at how Coastal took a series from an offense of the past and brought it into the twenty-first century.

First, some terminology. A “series” is a set of plays designed to fit around a base play such that you can attack every single which way the defense can counter your base play, and maybe a counter to your counter. Think power, counter, play-action off power, or play-action off of counter. That’s the bare bones of the ”power-series.”

Or, to take an example from the wing-t, the buck-sweep series bases around a trap run. If the defense overcompensates for taking away the trap, the offensive coordinators call the sweep.

Once the defense is overplaying both the trap and the sweep, reverse and/or waggle should be wide-open on the backside.

When an offensive coordinator is calling things well it looks like they’ve got the defense in a blender.

Syracuse in the 1990’s made hay off their freeze option series, most famously with Donovan McNabb under center. Syracuse used to refer to it as their “0” series.

0 series in the 1999 Syracuse playbook

Like the buck-sweep series, it bases around a trap run up the middle, an outside run to punish defenses overcompensating, and play action passes off that.


The distinguishing feature of the series is the footwork of the quarterback, it’s called a “freeze” option because the quarterback steps one direction before cutting back, in the hopes that the misdirection froze second-level defenders long enough for linemen to pick up their blocks.

Freeze option

Coastal Carolina’s version of the freeze option series is slightly different. For one, the base play is a midline variation of the triple option. By releasing the play-side tackle to the next level, instead of trying to block down on the three technique (known as an arc release), Coastal is able to effectively run the ball against the tite fronts that have been popularized in recent years.

The trap serves as a changeup, allowing the Chanticleers to pull a guard or center into the read key if the read key is slow playing the option. Slow playing the option is a technique where the defensive lineman attempts to confuse the quarterback by not declaring which option he is going to take away for as long as possible. This is, to put it mildly, not what you want to be doing when a three-hundred-pound offensive lineman is coming at you with bad intentions. Sometimes Coastal will run classic trap.

More often, they will run “G down,” a variation that pulls the front-side guard or center into the front-side defensive end.

Both variations work on the same premise in this offense. If you want to slow play the option, we are going to send an offensive lineman at you until you get tired of getting your ass kicked. Then it’s back to the triple.

Finally, the freeze option serves the same purpose as it did for Syracuse, a version of counter which does not ask an offensive guard to kickout a defensive end. That block is hard, defensive ends are mutants, they’ve been easier to read than block for a long time.

That’s all there is to it, three running plays, well fit together, and play-action passes off a few. The pistol formation that you see Coastal run in many of those plays is new, only popularized in the 2010’s at the highest levels. But the plays themselves are based on principles that option and wing-T offenses (which are kin historically) have used for decades. If you call the plays right, and your offense is able to execute, you should be able to rely on this every single week. Even if the defense knows it’s coming.