The Triple Option is one of the most prolific rushing attacks ever invented and when combined with elements of the modern passing game, it provides an effective method to attack high school defenses.
By Eric Davis
Head Football Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Mankato East High School (MN)
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Why the Pistol Triple Option?
The Triple Option is one of the most prolific rushing attacks ever invented. When combined with elements of the modern passing game, we believe it provides us with the best way to attack high school defenses. Our offense attempts to blend some proven offensive philosophies into a cohesive system that fits our program. Simply put, we are going to align in Flexbone formations and force our opponents to defend the Triple Option along with an Air Raid-style vertical game. Our experience has been that the threat of the Option keeps pass coverages relatively simple and the threat of a competent Passing Game makes exotic option-specific defenses difficult to execute. We use the Option and the Quick Game to move the ball while we look to take our shots and score points with the Play-Action Pass (PAP).
We ran the Flexbone from 1999–2007 and it is a great offense. Nothing written here is intended to disparage a system which is enjoying yet another resurgence with the recent success of the military academies. Our use of Flexbone formations is intended to create 8 Gaps for the defense and our use of Air Raid concepts and coaching techniques is intended to present 4 credible vertical threats. Our blocking scheme for the Triple can best be described as Duo Blocking with a C-Gap Read.
We run our offense from the Pistol for the following reasons:
Enhanced Passing Game: today’s high school players are far more proficient at throwing and catching the ball than they were when the Triple Option was invented 50+ years ago. We’ve averaged 18-19 passes per game in our two seasons of running this offense. Our QB depth is 4 yards, which simplifies all of our pass drops and helps our pass protection.
Easier Mesh: our experience is that our Pistol Mesh is much easier to master and maintain than the Inside Veer Mesh from under center. This frees up practice time for us to diversify our offense. It also allows our QB to get downhill off the Mesh even if we're getting no better than a stalemate upfront. We don’t have specific Mesh Drill periods each week as we did in the Flexbone. Rather, we film our Inside Run periods with the offense coming off the sideline and the ball being snapped on a stripe, meaning the Center, QB, and TB are all straddling a straight white line pre-snap with the camera behind the TB. We originally did this to give the TB a landmark to follow on Midline, but we have found it useful for other phases of our offense, including the Triple. The QB is also getting more realistic reps with the offensive and defensive fronts out there as he reads defenders.
Adaptable Dive: rather than trying to pry open a crease in the defense, we are trying to push the Front vertically with double teams and gap blocking. Our Dive can hit anywhere from the frontside B-Gap to the backside B-Gap, meaning that the Triple can act as its own counter-play. This also allows us to run the play to 3 technique side of the defensive front, which is a common deployment against the Triple Option. Finally, the depth of our TB opens up a large menu of complimentary runs. Last season we ran Duo, Isolation, Trap, and Tackle Wrap as changeups to the Triple Option.
Some of the position labelings in the following diagrams may be confusing. We don't use traditional X and Z designations. Instead, we have Field (F) and Boundary (B) WRs. Our slots (H and Y) can be running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends, depending on what we are trying to do. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to the slot who goes in motion as the H and the slot who is either the lead blocker for the Triple or the #2 Receiver in the PAP concept as the Y.
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- The three-day install progression Coach Davis uses to integrate the Pistol Triple Option and Air Raid package.
- QB footwork and timing for these play-action concepts from the Pistol formation.
- Receiver distribution and QB read progression of the Switch Route PAP concept.
- Receiver distribution and QB read progression of the four Vertical PAP concept.
- Receiver distribution and QB read progression of the Y-Cross concept.
- Plus, raw and narrated game film of these concepts.
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Following the 2017 Season we decided to return to our Option heritage at Mankato East High School, but with a modern twist. We play outdoors on grass and the most important games in our season are going to be played in late October into November. In Minnesota, that means we need to be able to run the football and function in inclement weather. However, a significant part of our Summer Program involves 7 on 7, so rather than get rid of that time with our players, we wanted to find a way that we could marry our Spread Passing Game and the Triple Option.
If you’re an option purist who only wants to throw the ball as a last resort, the Flexbone is a better offense than ours. If you want to spread the field and throw it all over the place, the Air Raid is a better offense than ours. We don’t claim to have a perfect system, but in two seasons we’ve made significant strides toward our vision.
Our growth in this offense is closely linked to our understanding of how the Triple Option and Play-Action Pass complement each other. The Duo scheme that we start with can also be used as a downhill predetermined run out of multiple personnel groupings by simply kicking out or doubling the C-Gap defender that we normally read. We are willing to call the Triple on 3rd & Medium or longer, so these concepts have applications beyond normal Down and Distance. Feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions.
Meet Coach Eric Davis: Coach Davis began his football coaching career as the Quarterbacks Coach for the Mankato East Cougars in 1996. He became the offensive coordinator in 1997 and Head Coach in 2003. He remained in that position until 2007, before spending 3 years at Minnesota State University-Mankato (NCAA Division II) where he coached Tight Ends and Running Backs. He returned to high school coaching in 2011, serving as the Offensive Coordinator at Mankato West, finally coming back to Mankato East as the Head Coach in 2012.