NCAA 11 Offensive Styles: Spread Offense http://ncaafootball.easports.com/blog.action?blogId=SpreadOffense Hey NCAA Nation, I'm Anthony White, Assistant Designer on the Central Football team, and I'm here to bring you a series of blogs about the new offensive styles in NCAA Football 11. The term spread offense is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of offensive systems. Offensive systems such as the Run and Shoot, Air Raid, One Back, even the FleXbox One Triple Option are often identified as being a type of spread offense. For the sake of this blog post I'm going to identify the spread offense as an offensive system that's primarily run from the shotgun, spreads the field with multiple receiver sets, and can be used to both run and pass the ball with equal success. Shotgun Read Option One can make the argument that the unofficial offense of today's college football is the spread offense. Each week during the college football season you can flip through the various games being played and chances are at least one team in the game you're watching operates some form of spread offense. Whether it's the run first philosophy at Oregon or the soon to be no-huddle aerial attack of Notre Dame, the spread offense is almost synonymous with today's college football. Since the spread offense is so popular in college football we felt we needed to get the spread offense in NCAA Football 11 up to par from a schematic standpoint. One of the spread offensive schemes that's most identifiable by fans of college football is the zone read aka "The Read option". The read option, as it implies, simply means the quarterback who's aligned in the shotgun formation will read the defense in an effort to determine which of his options is best as the play unfolds. The quarterback's options are to give the ball to his halfback who'll be going in one direction or keep it himself and run the opposite direction. This is all based on how the defense reacts to the play specifically the end man on the defensive line of scrimmage (usually a defensive end). Blocking System In order to get a true to life version of the read option working properly in our game we first needed to implement a blocking system that's more in line with how the play is blocked in real life. We basically needed to make sure that our blockers left the backside end man on the defensive line of scrimmage unblocked. In order to accomplish this we developed new zone blocking logic specifically for this play that's based on real life blocking rules for zone blocking. Not to get too technical, zone blocking is simply offensive linemen blocking an area towards the direction the running play is headed. Our blockers up front have specific zone blocking rules they follow based on whether or not they're "covered" by a defensive player or "uncovered". By taking this approach it ensures that our blocking system will be able to dynamically adjust and properly block the multitude of defensive fronts in our game. It also ensures the defender we've designated in each defensive front as the player we're intentionally leaving unblocked, will be unblocked. Option Logic Defender After getting our blocking system in place the next step had to be putting what we call "Option Defense Logic" in place for the defender we're going to intentionally leave unblocked. What this logic entails is the defender who's designated the "read key" will use option defense logic that will have him either crash inside and chase the halfback or stay at home and spy/watch for the quarterback. The primary factor which determines whether or not the option logic defender will crash or stay at home is based on his Play Recognition rating. Defenders with a higher play recognition rating will more often than not stay at home and spy the quarterback. On the other hand defenders with a lower rating will look to crash and chase the halfback. In either case there will be enough of a changeup from a crash to stay at home that you as the user will have to make sure you're making your reads no matter what the option logic defender's play recognition rating is. Figure 1. The defensive end stays at home so the quarterback gives the ball to the halfback. Figure 2. The defensive end crashes inside to chase halfback. Quarterback keeps the ball. Animations and Functionality in game From the outset when we started working on this feature, our goal was to make absolutely sure that our users, both hardcore and casual, would be able to properly execute the read option play. The first step in this process involved making sure the animations that are used by the option logic defender leave little doubt to what his intentions are. If the option logic defender crashes inside to take away the halfback he will turn his outside shoulder in and will chase the halfback. Once he's made the decision to chase the halfback that is his target, he will ignore the quarterback. If the option logic defender decides to stay at home and spy/key the quarterback, he will take a small initial step forward out of his stance and get into his stay animation and hold his position. This makes it easy for the user to distinguish what exactly this defender is doing. The next step in making sure this play is easy to execute by our users involved mocaping (motion capture) and adding new read option specific handoff animations. They were captured with the halfback at the same depth as the quarterback as well as with the halfback slightly behind and offset from the quarterback. These new animations were tuned so that as a user once the handoff animation begins you'll have ample time to make the read as the quarterback places the ball in the belly of the halfback and begin the "ride" phase of the animation. We also put decision making logic in place for the CPU quarterback's so that they will make the proper reads while running the read option play. Why the play works Now that we've shared some of the technical details on how we got the read option play to function properly, we'll go over why it works and thus is a staple play in the spread offense. It really boils down to a numbers game between the offense and the defense. The play is effective because the offense doesn't have to block the end man on the defensive line of scrimmage (option logic defender). Since the offense is leaving a defender unblocked by "reading" him, the offense can get an extra blocker to the point of attack for the halfback when he get the ball. In a four man defensive front this defensive player is usually a backside defensive end. In some three man fronts like the Nickel 3-3-5 or Dime 3-2-6 this will also be a defensive end, but in some 3-4 type defensive looks the unblocked defender will be a backside linebacker. By spreading the field with multiple (three or four) wide receivers, the offense forces the defense to spread out as well so that they're covering each of the wide receivers. With defensive players removed from the core of the defensive front to cover wide receivers, the offense simply counts how many safeties are deep in the defensive backfield. If, for example, there are two deep safeties and four defensive players covering four wide receivers, that leaves only five defensive players in the core of the defensive front to stop the run. The offense has a numbers advantage and can use five offensive linemen to block four defenders and will "read" the fifth defender (end man on the defensive line of scrimmage) who will be intentionally left unblocked. The quarterback essentially acts as as blocker against this defender with his read. (See Figure 1) Even if the defense in this scenario were to bring an extra safety down to the core of the defensive front to give them six defenders in the defensive front, the offense can still get five blockers on five defensive players and once again the quarterback's read on the sixth defender is just as good as a block. (See Figure 2) Other enhancements The read option isn't the only enhancement we've made to our version of the spread offense. Draw plays from both the shotgun as well as under center are now a much more viable option to utilize in your offensive gameplan. We've revamped our blocking logic on draw plays so that they look more like passes to the defense. You'll notice in NCAA Football 11 that a pass blocking pocket will begin to form on draw plays. Offensive tackles will invite defensive ends/outside pass rushers up the field on a pass rush which benefits the draw play. This displacement of the defensive ends on the pass rush allows for natural voids and seams to appear in the defensive front. Bubble Screens are now in place as part of the spread offense (as well as other offenses) in NCAA Football 11. We were able to motion capture new bubble screen route animations for our receivers. These new animations call for the receivers to run "bubble" away from the quarterback and move outwards towards the sidelines while keeping their upper torso turned slightly inwards towards the quarterback. This is so they can receive the pass while in a position to immediately get up field after the catch. New Formations Now that we've taken a look at some of the improvements that have been made to allow you to more accurately run the Spread offense, let's end this blog by showing some of the new formations that were added specifically for the Spread offense: That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed this installment of the Offensive Blog series. Stay tuned next week for our next offensive style.