NCAA Football 14: A Guide to the Spread Option Offense
Hi TSO, Jello here bringing you some insight into the spread option offense in EA’s NCAA football game. I’ve been using the spread option attack in EA’s games for at least 5 releases now, including times when it was one of the least effective offenses in the game (I’m just stubborn like that). I’ll give a brief overview of the scheme, some strategies for utilizing it in EA’s game, some pros and cons of it, and how to recruit for it.
Introduction and General Scheme:
The spread option has taken the NCAA by storm during this past decade plus and several high profile teams run the spread option in real life, including some National Champions (Texas, Florida twice, and Auburn). EA has finally started to pay attention to this offense and with NCAA Football ’13 and now ’14 the spread option has gotten a lot of love and is now a very formidable offense. The main requirement that really makes this offense hum is an athletic QB that can hurt teams with his legs (just look at the Champs above as they had Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton).
This offense is run almost exclusively from the shotgun and, as the name implies, the spread option uses a lot of option plays. The basic concept of an option is to leave 1 or 2 defenders completely unblocked and then let the QB read the unblocked guy and make a decision on how to proceed based on what this guy does. If read correctly, the read defender becomes a non-factor and this frees up an O-lineman to either give a double team block at the point of attack or to get to the 2nd level to take a LB out of the play. Most of these options use a “mesh,” which is where the QB will put the ball in the belly of the HB and hold it there while he reads the defensive guy. He will then either give the ball to the back if the D guy stays at home to play the QB or he’ll pull the ball away from the HB and keep it himself if the D guy crashes down to tackle the HB.
The other major type of option is a speed/motion/load type of option where a pitch guy (either the HB or WR) will run alongside and slightly behind the QB as they both run towards the sideline. The QB then reads an unblocked defender and if the defender goes after the QB, he’ll pitch to the HB/WR or if the defender attacks the pitch man, then the QB will keep the ball and turn it up field. In NCAA ’14, exactly which defender(s) you need to read in order to make the decision is spelled out for you with the new “read” and “pitch” key indicators. In the coach cam, the guy to read for a “mesh” type of option will have a yellow “R” above his head while a pitch key has a blue “P” above his head.
While there are some double TE sets, the base set for this offense is usually 11 personnel (1RB,1TE,3WR) and they utilize a lot of 10 personnel too. The main intent of this is to spread the defense out with all of the WRs which makes the D more vulnerable. I use a very basic strategy on offense which is basically “move the ball where the defense ain’t.” I always count the defenders in the box – if I have as many blockers in the box as they have defenders, I’m running the ball. If they have 1 more defender than I have blockers then I could either run an option or pass (remember, on an option play, 1 of those defenders will be taken out of the play if you make the correct read). If they have stack the box, I’ll pass. Obviously there are exceptions to these rules, but that’s the general gist. To take it further, on running plays, by smartly utilizing your run formation audible you can usually have the choice of running 2 different directions (left, right, or up the middle). I use this to “run where they ain’t.” IE. if I call a counter to the right and the D is shifted to the right, I can audible to a sweep and run to the left where the D is more vulnerable. If the D isn’t shifted right, I can run my counter where the D is vulnerable.
For option plays, the great thing about NCAA ’14 is that in addition to the traditional read option (and its variant triple options involving a pitch man) and the speed/load option, EA has added a ton of new option plays to the game. All of the previous options all read the same defender (the last guy on the LOS on the same side as the HB) which made it pretty easy for a user to shut down the read option by usering the read man. Now, with the addition of the midline option (which reads a DT) and the inverted veer (which reads the last guy on LOS on the opposite side of the HB) this will no longer be the case. In addition to having different read guys, you can keep the D off balance because your ball carrier can go different places.
There are outside zone options where the ball carrier (HB or QB) will run off tackle, inside zone reads where the ball carrier will run between the tackles. With the new midline and inverted veer if the HB gets the ball he’ll run off tackle, but if the QB keeps it he’ll run right up the middle. In ’14 lots of new options have been added that also have pulling linemen that can give you a lead blocker at the point of attack and these are some of my favorite options now. By utilizing all of the new options you can constantly keep the D guessing as to where you’re running the ball.
While options are great, don’t neglect designed runs; they can be a great complement to the option attack. There are some great formations that have a TE or FB lined up in the backfield that acts as a lead blocker for a more downhill rushing attack. Also look for formations with the HB slightly behind the QB (they usually have “offset” or “flex” in the name) as these are also nice for attacking the middle of a D. There are also some great designed QB runs (wraps, powers, and blasts) which usually use the HB as a lead blocker. You can also utilize your WRs in the ground attack with various designed WR runs and options to get them some carries. The various ways to attack a defense on the ground in this offense can be pretty staggering.
Another great tactic for a spread attack is to use misdirection to your advantage. There are several auto-motion plays which look like the play will be run one way, only to have it go another (which is obviously more effective against aggressive users than the CPU). There are formations which have a WR come in motion and the result of the play can be 1 of many different outcomes; handoff to the WR around the end, handoff to the HB up the middle, option to the left or right using the WR as a pitch man, PA pass, normal pass. This is a great way to keep the D guessing.
While I tend to be very run heavy, don’t forget about the passing game. With as that many receivers always on the field, obviously the passing game can be a big part of the offense. If you’ve got the running game humming, the D will likely stack the box and that’s when I tend to pass the ball. While I can go deep on occasion, I mainly stick with short, quick hitting passes. Screens can be very effective, as there is generally a lot of open space with the DBs spread out. There are several different types of WR screens, including bubble, mid, and smoke screens. All can be effective, and there’s even a smoke screen hot route available in ’14. The WR blocking received a huge upgrade in NCAA ’14, as the game now allows WRs to block immediately on screen. I also like bubble routes on normal passing plays (IE. “stick bubble” or “scat”) where the other WRs all run routes instead of blocking. In ’13, this was much more effective than designed bubble screens because instead of blocking, the other WRs run their defenders out of the play instead. Additionally, as with any run heavy offense, utilizing the PA pass can be very effective for a spread option attack.
Most spread option teams utilize the no huddle and it can be a very effective tool. The no huddle is designed mainly for a couple of effects; 1. to keep the D from subbing guys out, 2. to tire out the D. In EA’s game #1 is really effective when you catch the D in a favorable formation (IE. a base D against your 4 wide set, allowing you to pass easier or a dime against your 3 wide set, allowing you to run easier). This allows you to maintain this favorable matchup for several plays in a row. #2 will likely be even more effective in ’14 than in ’13 with the addition of their new fatigue system and coach skills. I strongly suggest getting the “Up Tempo” skill in your OC’s 1st tier of skills. This will allow your players to stay on the field longer without getting tired and not every team you play against will have the corresponding DC skill so this will give you an advantage.
The other advantage that you hold is that you know you’ll run no huddle so you’ll recruit depth on offense while the D probably won’t be as deep. This will give you an advantage once both teams have their 2 deeps in the game on long drives. Just remember that EA’s no huddle offense is faster than in real life so to stay SIM make sure you give the D time to setup. Also, to stay fair I generally huddle when I want to make substitutions, after a big loss, or when the clock stops (incomplete passes or I run out of bounds with less than 2 minutes left in the half).
Pros/Cons Of The Spread Option Offense:
Here are some general pros and cons about running the spread option.
- Spreads the defense out, making them defend the entire field
- Spreading the D can really free up running lanes
- Plethora of ways to attack a defense which keeps the D guessing
- QB is always in the SG, keeping him away from the D-line which makes passing easier
- QB will take a TON of punishment. This leaves him vulnerable to injuries and possibly fumbles
- Your HB starts off to the side of the QB so it’s difficult to get a downhill rushing attack since the HB is generally getting the ball from a stand still.
- Isn’t nearly as effective without an athletic QB. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another style of offense (except for the flexbone) that is as dependent upon the correct type of player at 1 position as the spread option is on an athletic QB.
Recruiting For The Spread Option:
QB: Your #1 priority is to sign mobile QBs (plural because they are so crucial and so vulnerable). I prefer SPD to be 80+ and while I’d love a big arm, an accurate arm is more important (since there are so many short passes). However, my #2 priority with a QB is to have a high CAR rating (80+ if possible). Since your QB takes so many hits, one with low CAR will fumble a LOT. I personally never sign a QB that can’t carry the ball. In ’13 Athletes were the best place to find these QBs (in ’13 I signed 12 “QBs” and they were all ATHs).
OL: As a run-first guy, my O-line is always my #2 priority. I tend to recruit balanced and run blocking O-linemen and once I get an O-line full of studs I always notice my rushing numbers go up. I can’t say how ’14 will play out, but in both ’12 and ’13 my offense didn’t become dominant until I had a dominant O-line.
HB: Since there are several formations with multiple HBs, you want to be deep there, especially if you run the no huddle. Speed backs are nice as a home run hitter, but I prefer power backs and balanced guys. Guys that end up with 90+ TRK almost always fall forward for extra yards and often times can run over defenders. My time spent with the ’14 demo shows that power backs will likely be even more effective.
WR: For WRs, I like to have a couple fast guys and these are the ones that get the carries. They’re also your home run threats in the passing game. Since there are so many short passes, you want WRs with sure hands too. I tend to stay away from possession WRs because their SPD never progresses but there are plenty of balanced WRs with good hands. Since you’re running so many sets with a lot of WRs, you’ll need to be deep here, again especially if you run no huddle.
TE: You can go anyway you want with TEs. I prefer blocking TEs because for me, their main priority is to block, but some spread offenses utilize the TE in the passing game much more than I do so you’ll have to decide what type of TE best fits your flavor of the spread. If you rarely use 2 TE sets, you don’t need to be especially deep at TE. The FB almost never sees the field in this offense and should be your absolute last recruiting priority out of the 24 positions.
Below are my general depth guidelines when I recruit for this offense:
Article by: Jello1717