Offensive Coordinator, Wide Receiver Coach
Alcorn State University (MS)
Twitter: @CoachWratten @ALCORN_COACHJP
RPOs have become a staple of college football, and our offense at Alcorn State. The routes that we run are not unique to us, but our packaging for our RPOs is. We use this RPO package with inside zone, inside zone variations, power, and counter.
The uniqueness of our system is that we let our players call the route based on some parameters and base rules. Our system of letting the players call the pass concept is one that was built out of necessity. Our issue became that defenses would give us a throw read, but the coverage behind it was making it a bad look to throw the ball into. This was causing us to throw contested balls and putting WRs into harm's way.
We base out of 11 personnel along with the ability to flex into some 12 personnel. Our base philosophy of this concept is that the QB is responsible for the 7th defender on both sides. If the QB feels that #7 can tackle the ball for 6 or less, the ball needs to be thrown. This allows us to have some different answers based on how the defense is playing us, and the different things we faced when teams try to dictate throws vs. runs.
Our No. 1 reason for using our RPO system is to get even numbers in the run game. We believe if we have 6 on 6, our guys are good enough to hand the ball off and get at least 6 yards. That's a win for us; that means we are in a position to dictate to the defense what we want. We use our RPOs to keep the box honest and take advantage of field space when defenses cheat seven and eight guys into the box.
We have a few reasons that we went to a system that allowed the kids to call the route based on the look. The first was most defenses have adjusted to check-with-me offenses, and this allows the players to call the look based on what the defense has presented to them. This allows us to maintain our tempo and not be a play behind and turn play-calling into a guessing game. The second is we have dramatically improved the looks that we throw into and have eliminated high-risk throws such as bubbles into cloud corners or glances into bad leverage. This has allowed us to still control the #7 defender to each side and throw the best look available.
We also have been able to marry our runs with our throws in the available field space.
Lastly, this system has allowed us to be more explosive. Our system has now allowed us to capitalize on the defense taking away our 6-yard run. Our intention is not to replace that 6 yards with a 5-yard completion but instead to catch the ball on the move for a first down and the chance of an explosive play.
Run Game Complements:
We are primarily an 11 personnel offense with the TE playing as a sniffer most of the time, but we will attach him as well.
Our base runs we use with these RPOs, are inside zone, split zone, zone iso, power, and counter. This allows us to pair up our best runs and the throws will be added on as an extra layer. Zone iso has proven to be the most effective and stressful for defenses, but it also is the one defenses work to take away first.
Our criteria for the inside zone is going to start with the zone iso. Once a defense works to take that away, our next progression is the split zone or same-side zone. The zone iso allows us to create extra gaps inside the box and put stress on the #7 defender to fit an internal gap quicker. Once defenses start moving the Defensive Tackles, we will use more split zone and inside zone to allow for better angles and more efficient blocking.
Power and Counter are look-specific plays for us. The advantage for power and counter is like zone iso in the regard that we are creating extra gaps and forcing the #7 defender to fit quicker. The biggest issue with power is the backside hinge by the tackle; we must be comfortable with how the defense is playing it that week. If the three-technique is a bad matchup and a vertical player, it likely will not be in the game-plan that week. If we are getting a shade to the backside, or an open B-Gap, it can be in the game plan for that week. Counter, if we are playing a tight squeeze and spill team, we again can RPO. If the DE to the side we are running the ball is a mesh charge or vertical player, it will not be in the game plan.
We ask the center to point a LB in everything we do. On every run, pass, or no play we are identifying a “Point” LB. The point for our inside zone and pass protection marries up to allow us to know who we are responsible for as an OL and lets the QB know who he is responsible for in pass pro or RPO. There has been carryover for the QB knowing whether he is throwing hot off the defender or if he is a defender forcing an RPO to be thrown.
Identifying and Manipulating Seventh Defender:
QB’s first responsibility in our offense is to set the defense. Being that we are exclusively a shotgun football team, this always requires having our hands up prepared to catch the snap. We will also bluff, raising, and lowering our hands to get the defense to their final alignment. From there we will identify our #7 to each side -- both who they are and where they are based off the center's point. We identify frontside #7 as first past the point play side and backside #7 as 2nd behind the point. Multiple positions could qualify as #7, we define him as the defender most likely to tackle the ball if handed for six yards or less. We will work play side to backside in identifying the most dangerous #7. When either #7 is on the LOS we will abort the run and send the RB to the issue. If the play side #7 is an issue we will never make it to the backside and must handle him. Once we have cleared the #7 play side, we can work to #7 backside. At this point, we will receive the signaled routes from the tagged WRs.