How the Utah Utes are Succeeding with Run-Pass Options

With the rise of spread offenses, teams have begun to incorporate more wrinkles into their schemes. The Utah Utes are no different, as Ryan Dukarm shows with a break down of their Run-Pass-Option game.

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The Utah Utes are off to an impressive start to the 2016 college football season, and one of the main reasons for their success, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, has been a creatively designed and well executed Run-Pass Option (RPO) game. The Utes use two specific passing designs when running RPOs: Bubble screens and backside posts. They incorporate a variety of run schemes into these plays as well, with pin pull runs and draws being their two favorite rushing schemes in RPOs. Below are two common plays they’ve used this season, each combining an element of these pass and run schemes.

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Pin Pull / Bubble Screen

Utah’s first RPO they use on offense is a combination of a pin pull blocking scheme for the offensive line and a bubble screen for the receivers. It is a simple read for the quarterback, and one that is largely made before the snap barring any late defensive adjustments.




The “run” portion of this play is a pin pull scheme up front, and the “pass” is a bubble screen to the backside of the play, often out of trips or a slot formation. A simple diagram of Utah’s RPO is drawn out below:

utah-rpo-still-1An example of Utah using this scheme successfully can be found from their game against San Jose State University, with 9:02 remaining in the second quarter. Facing a 2nd and 5 from the SJSU 16 yard line, the Utes show a gun left, trips left formation out of 10 personnel. The RPO here is a bubble screen to wide receiver Cory Butler-Byrd (#16) with an interior pin-pull run to running back Troy McCormick Jr. (#4).

utah-rpo-still-2The RPO read for quarterback Troy Williams (#3) is made pre-snap, if the defense shows man coverage against the receivers, he hands it off to McCormick. If they show zone coverage, with the defender closest to covering Butler-Byrd shaded closer to the offensive line, then the QB should throw the bubble screen after a play fake to McCormick.




Based on the alignment of SJSU safety Trevon Bierria (#23) the defense is in man coverage, so the correct read is to hand the ball off. Bierria showing man coverage means he will move forward to cover the bubble screen, effectively taking him out of the play when McCormick receives the handoff.

utah-rpo-still-3Williams makes the correct read pre-snap, giving the ball to the running back on the interior pin-pull run. McCormick then shows great vision and patience, manipulating the linebacker inside before bursting outside to the hole vacated by Bierria for a touchdown.

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Backside Post / Inside Draw

When Utah runs their backside post RPO scheme, they will isolate a receiver to the weak side of the field, often opposite a trips formation, to run the post. Then, the offensive line blocks for a draw run scheme, which is essentially the same as pass blocking. On this play design, the QB’s RPO read is post-snap, reading a specific defender and basing their run or pass decision on that defender’s action.

utah-rpo-still-4An example of Utah’s backside post RPO can be seen from their game against the Washington Huskies, with 11:36 remaining in the third quarter. Facing a 1st and 10 from the Washington 23, the Utes run their backside post / inside draw RPO out of 11 personnel. They run the backside post to the weakside receiver, Tim Patrick (#12), while running an inside draw run for RB Joe Williams (#28).

utah-rpo-still-5The key defender that Williams must read before making his run or pass decision is safety JoJo McIntosh (#14), who walks down into the box pre-snap, signalling to Williams that he is facing Cover 1.

utah-rpo-still-6At the snap, Williams puts the ball in the running back’s stomach, taking one false step while holding the ball there and reading McIntosh. If McIntosh follows the draw play, Williams will pull the ball back and throw in the vacated lane to Patrick on the backside post. If McIntosh sits in his underneath zone and fills the lane for a throw to Patrick, rather than following the flow of the run play, then Williams will hand the ball off.

utah-rpo-gif-1McIntosh begins to flow with the running play, so Williams quickly pulls the the ball out and delivers a strike to Patrick for a first down.

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Utah has installed a diverse RPO scheme under co-offensive coordinators Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding, predicated on simple reads for the quarterback that are made both pre and post snap. With youth at many positions, the Utah offense looks primed to play well through 2016 and beyond.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work, including covering the UCLA Bruins’ use of Spot Concept, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ end around rush, and Buffalo’s double track block scheme and deep passing game.

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All film courtesy of the Fox and CBS Sports Network.

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