When Olsen and the new staff at Loras took over, the team had just finished dead last in the NCAA D3 with 182 yards per game. This past year, thanks to their ultra efficient RPOs, they finished 9th in the D3 ranks in total offense with 507.5 yards per game. One read of this article and you will understand why...
By Jake Olsen
Loras College (IA)
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With increased popularity of RPO plays on offense, thus too have been the improved defensive techniques from the second level to try and stop them. Here at Loras College our staff has found ways to give our offense the best chance to succeed using the third level (or safety level) as the focal ‘read’. Our RPO’s generally use the second level, or linebackers, as the ‘conflict’ defender. That said, defenses have responded by having their ‘read’ defenders faking or bluffing their intent. An example might be a ‘conflict’ defender showing inside the box alignment and bailing out into a pass lane then subsequently aligning wide and shooting an interior gap on the snap. Stationary ‘read’ keys are much easier to define for a quarterback than those always moving around. We use third level defender alignment, depth, and eyes to help our quarterbacks determine where to go with the football. In this report we will outline a few of the play examples exclusively using 20 personnel (1 RB, 1 Hybrid, & 3 WR’s) in which we read third level defenders. These examples were successful for us this past season.
As soon as the QB can determine the location of the safeties, he will identify if they are: 2-High, 1-High, or 0-High. Our general rule we teach him is the following: 2-High Safeties – lean toward run, 0-High Safeties – lean toward pass, 1-High Safety – Your call. We expect him to make an educated decision. In any case, where we put the decision on the quarterback and it could be ‘gray’ we want to give him baseline knowledge of where to begin.
In most 2-High Safety looks, we can identify one ‘conflict’ defender at the second level to ‘read’, but in cases where this defender is moving around, we use the third level to help clean up the picture.
Though we had a ton of success throwing the ball this past season, and statistically it appears we’re a ‘pass happy’ offense, our goal is to run the ball first if the box is in our favor. If a defense completely outnumbers us in the box, our quarterback’s job is to highlight the matchup in the pass game. However, his complete understanding of how defenses fit together can allow him to still run the ball even when it may appear we are outnumbered. Most of our RPO’s have multiple pass options for the Quarterback to choose from.
We introduced the RPO system two years ago with primarily one run and one pass option to give our quarterbacks beginner level understanding. Since then, we have evolved into providing him with two, sometimes three pass options in addition to the run. This has allowed us to feel confident knowing there should always be a winnable match-up based on personnel or leverage. Based on percentages, we typically have a 67% chance of throwing the ball and 33% running the ball on any given RPO. As mentioned before, there are even RPO’s that give us a 75% chance to throw the ball and 25% to run.
Even with the high pass probabilities, we start with the box first analysis and look to run the ball. At the snap, the decision is completely up to the Quarterback. He must have an understanding how the run play is being blocked. If we are completely outnumbered with blockers vs defenders, his decision to pass is simple. However, if we have what we call a ‘1/2 Defender’ creeping near the box, our quarterback could still hand it off. A ‘1/2 defender’ is a defensive player that we are not accounting for in the blocking scheme beginning to enter the run box (Diagrams 2 and 3). At times, he could double as the ‘conflict’ defender that we base the RPO off, but this is not always the case. Some ‘1/2 defenders’ may not have an immediate threat to our run.
Coaching the QB
When installing these concepts, or any RPO for that matter, we use whole-part-whole installation. In the meeting room we introduce the play with all components as a whole. It’s imperative our coaches outline the reasons why we are pairing particular runs with specific quick screens or passes. Based upon what we expect to see from our opponent, we devise the specific run(s) that we believe will work against the opponent’s front and pair up exterior schemes that can get our athletes the ball quickly in space.
We’ve found the best way to get the quarterback to play fast and confident is to break the RPO down into is basic parts. We rep them individually on air, put them back together, and approach is much like a 3 on 1 fast break in basketball. Our quarterback is the point guard with the ball and he is looking to distribute quickly. In most of our drill work with our quarterback throughout practice, we place some sort of body in the area where his eyes should be and flash numbers or move creating a subconscious trigger which relates to what he should do on game day.
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- Diagrams and a film tutorial of Coach Olsen’s power gap RPO, particularly how it is used to stress the backside safety, or conflict defender.
- Diagrams and a film tutorial of Coach Olsen’s Dart RPO, particularly how it is used to stress a “trap” corner.
- Diagrams and a film tutorial of Coach Olsen’s inside zone RPO, particularly how it is used to stress the leveraged safety lined up on the slot receiver who is in a position to play run and pass.
- Diagrams and a film tutorial of Coach Olsen’s three-part pass concept from his QB run game, particularly how it is used to stress man free coverage structures.
- How Coach Olsen uses the “whole, part, whole” teaching methodology to break the above concepts into parts in training the QB in the RPO game as it relates to stressing the conflict defender on the third level.
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This past season, 54% of our RPO calls ended up in running the football. Of course this is all determined by the defensive structure and movement of defenders on the snap of the ball, but our staff believes in preparing our players so they can assist making the play calls more efficient. We believe this adds to the player ownership aspect for our offensive kids. We also believe if our quarterback understands the run blocking scheme called, along with the defensive framework shown he can make an educated decision as to where to go with the football. Adding the element of understanding how third level defenders can clean up pre-snap thoughts may allow your quarterback to play more confident and play faster if you are using RPO’s.
Meet Coach Olsen: Jake Olsen finished his second season as Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks coach at Loras College, in Iowa. Prior to Loras College, Olsen has been the Offensive Coordinator at both Dubuque and Southern Oregon University as well as Passing Game Coordinator at Rockford University. Olsen has played or coached Quarterbacks for 15 years at the collegiate level.
Key Statistics: In 2013, the last season prior to our offensive staff arriving at Loras College, our offense was ranked dead last in total offense in NCAA Division III at 182 ypg. In 2015 we averaged 507.5 ypg placing us #9 in NCAA Division III. We also had a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time in four years. In 2015, we averaged 369.9 ypg passing placing us #2 in NCAA Division III which is up from 97 ypg in 2013. We have done this the past two years starting two different true-freshman Quarterbacks in both 2014 & 2015 seasons.