The Fourth Option in Will Stein’s Split Zone RPO

Coach Eric Boles Analysis

Throughout the off-season, we’ve studied several plays from Coach Will Stein’s offense and made assumptions about options on a few of them. Now, we have confirmation of one of those assumptions. A few months ago, we took a look at Coach Stein’s Split Zone Triple Option and talked about the possibility of the wheel route being a fourth option on the play. As it turns out, the wheel is the fourth option, making the play a quadruple option of sorts.

The Oregon Ducks ran the RPO a handful of times against the Portland State Vikings, and from a different formation than we had previously studied — I imagine that Coach Stein can run the play from a majority of the formations in his playbook.

The play starts out just as a zone read would. In the diagram above, the offensive line is blocking Inside Zone to the right. And though it’s not illustrated above, they will leave the left side edge defender unblocked, making him the quarterback’s first read. If the edge defender sits or gets wide, the QB will hand the ball off to the running back. If the defender crashes down on the RB, the QB will pull the ball and move on to his next three options.

This is where things get a little interesting, I believe the wheel route is the second option in the QB’s progression. He is looking to see if the defense is in man coverage. If they are, the wheel is going to be open a great deal of the time. A way that the Ducks will try to make it more clear for the QB pre-snap is that they’ll put the wheel route receiver in motion across the formation — if a defender shadows him, it’s more than likely man coverage.

Note: A defender not following the motion doesn’t always mean that the defense to the side of the wheel isn’t playing man. They could be in a type of split coverage, or match defense, where they’re playing zone to the numbers and man on the single receiver side.

If the defense is in man, the cornerback over the single WR is going to defend against the post route, leaving the area the wheel is heading towards completely vacated.

If the defense is in zone, or the wheel is tightly covered, the QB can come off of that and decide between throwing the ball to his tight end in the flat or running it himself.

In the clip above, the edge defender takes the running back, triggering the pull by Bo Nix. The defense is also playing man coverage against the single side WR, and the CB goes with him on the post route, leaving the wheel wide open.

In the second clip, Ty Thompson faces the same coverage that Nix did earlier in the game and is able to get the ball to Gary Bryant on the wheel for a touchdown.

The wheel route as a fourth option on this RPO is a cool little wrinkle of Coach Stein’s that the Duck faithful can expect to see several times over the course of this season.

Coach Eric Boles
Columbus, Ohio
Top Photo Credit: Eric Evans of Oregon Football Twitter

Phil Anderson, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.

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