Loyal Cougars

Film Session: The exciting return of the RB Option Pass Route

Examining the possible return of an Anae 1.0 offensive staple.

When it became known that offensive coordinator Robert Anae was returning to BYU prior to the 2013 season, memories from the Anae 1.0 era (2005-10) came rushing to fans minds: a very successful zone run game with Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga, deep dig routes and go routes to Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta finding every hole and seam in the middle of the field, and John Beck and Max Hall delivering passes accurately and often.

But before we knew what new ideas Anae had after spending two years at Arizona, and before he introduced us to the phrase “Go fast, go hard,” I was thinking about one thing: the running back option pass route. In a high-powered offense with so many things for which to cheer, I had grown to love this little, unstoppable nuance.

I was therefore rather disappointed when it appeared that would not be utilized by Anae 2.0. But hope in seeing the RB option route has been renewed by Alema Harrington, radio host of Cougar Sports 960. As detailed by a user on Cougarboard:

The RB option routes that Harvey was awesome at were not run last year cause they weren’t ready to execute those well enough yet according to Anae. But this year he said Brown is the best out of our rb’s at those and will be running quite a few of those and will be a weapon out of the backfield in the pass game.

Color me delighted.

What is the RB read or RB option route in the passing game? Essentially, any time a running back enters a pass route he will be covered by (in zone) or isolated against (in man) a linebacker. This can present itself in several formations, but the formation is not so important.

What is important is that the RB option route gives all the power to the back running the route. Instead of executing a predetermined route, the running back reads the linebacker and then runs the route most likely to get him open.

The running back can stop his route to sit in a zone, or move quickly to the nearest hole by reading the linebacker’s body position. If the defender is playing him on the outside, the back cuts inside, either across the middle or up a seam. If the defender is playing to the inside, the back can cut outside to the flat area vacated by the wide receivers who are now downfield.

As soon as the back makes his decision, the quarterback fires away.

This is simple in theory, but it’s also not difficult to imagine that it takes plenty of repetitions, timing, and QB-RB familiarity and comfort, which is alluded to by Harrington that BYU was not ready to execute those well enough last season.

When perfected, it becomes nearly unstoppable, especially when defenses are occupied with other weapons on the outside (like Pitta and Collie, or say Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon).

Let’s examine some examples from Max Hall and Harvey Unga to illustrate the effectiveness of the play. (I have split the following videos on to a second page to optimize site performance and load time.)

Here, Unga is lined up on Hall’s right. You’ll see him proceed past the defensive line and force the LB to decide:

One thing that will become apparent with Unga is that he had a fantastic ability not only to read a linebacker, but to force him into being out of position and creating the open option with his footwork. Here’s a slower replay from the endzone:

This replay shows exactly how the running back can manipulate his man into an open position. Also, at the bottom you can see the safety’s indecision on whether to help with receivers or step up to help with the running back. If he steps up decisively, it’s a 5-7 yard gain — still a successful play. His indecision provides a bonus of a big gain and a touchdown.

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  1. Accipiter

    July 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Don’t forget the wheel route.

  2. Wes

    July 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Great article. I love this, and boy was it missing last year. I feel that Jamaal’s tipped pick-six last year is why Anae went away from throwing to his running backs. The slipperly ball was thrown high – and not to excuse Williams, but the play was unfortunate but understandable.

    I’m glad if he starts using throws again – to Brown – but what about Williams? I think that Jamaal is confused – in interviews he talks about how he likes to run over people. And while he does have some power, he’s not a power back. Anae HAS to find ways to get Jamaal in open space. About the ONLY thing Doman did right as an OC was the shuffle pass to Jamaal. Jamaal, listen to your Mamma, become a more complete back – and then you’ll play on Sundays.

    All of this – unless, of course – Jamaal can’t catch. But I think he can.

    • JIm

      July 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Hill just needs the protection and time. if he has to scramble it’s much harder to execute as an option. It would be great to see again!

      • Wes

        July 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm

        Definitely. His throws when he was set in the pocket with time last year (there weren’t many) were on the money. Lasike will do his job, it all depends on the O-line.

    • Wes

      July 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Err.. yeah, shovel pass, not shuffle pass. Sorry.

  3. Don

    July 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Great point! This needs to be used more often.

  4. Kevin

    July 14, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    JJ DiLuigi was always a threat to find a hole between linebackers to sit down in. While attending games I would get irritated with fans sitting around me because they would complain about the dump-off passes to the backs for gains of five or seven yards instead of going long down the field. BYU was tops in the nation or near the top in the nation in first downs and in third down conversions. The short RB option pass has been missing and is greatly needed. I’m not sure why Anae says it was too hard or difficult to learn. It’s not that complicated. It just takes practice and time to make sure the QB and RBs are on the same page and making the same reads — just like most pass routes to the receivers.

    • Brett Hein

      July 14, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      The learning curve for the new offense was probably pretty steep, especially with the tempo. It makes sense to me that not everything came at once.