Thanks to Chip Kelly, and his former school, the Oregon Ducks, the Read-Option has come to the forefront in college football. Even before Kelly, Urban Meyer ran his version of the Spread offense at Bowling Green, and then Utah where he became the original BCS Buster with Alex Smith leading his offense.
Contrary to what many commentators will say on Saturdays this fall, the Read-Option is not a formation. It is the base play in most Spread offenses. To explain this play in it’s simplest form, the quarterback receives the snap, and the reads the movement of the backside defensive end. If the defensive end stops his rush and squares his shoulders to the quarterback, then the correct read is to hand the ball off to the running back. If the defensive end runs down the line of scrimmage, the read would be to hold the ball and run to the back side.
While it may seem like having an elite athlete is key to running this offense, it is actually more important to have a quarterback with a high football IQ. Having an elite athlete is useless if he cannot make the correct read and put the team in a situation to exploit the defense. Some of the most prolific Read-Option quarterbacks who are currently playing college football right now include Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Martinez, and Heisman winner Johnny “Football” Manziel.
A variation of this offense that is picking up steam in both college and the NFL is Chris Ault’s Pistol offense. Ault concocted this offense while coaching the Nevada Wolfpack and posted a season with three diffent 1,000 yard rushers led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This formation is a variation of the single back formation, placing the quarterback 4 yards behind the center is a shorter shotgun position with the running back directly behind him. All of the explanations that were used for the common spread offense running the Read-Option apply to this version just in different positioning.
The main reason that this play has made its way to the forefront is because of the need to take advantage of match-ups, and if it is run correctly there is very little a defense to do to stop this. Eight of the top 15 offenses in 2012 ran this play as one of their primary rushing options, with another 4 running the triple option. Along with the overall success of the team, Quarterbacks who run this offense often put up rushing statistics much like a running back. In 2012 there were 4 quarterbacks who placed in the top 25 in the nation in rushing yards. If more evedince is needed, the last three Heisman winning quarterbacks, and five out of the last ten led a spread offense where they utilized this particular play.