Option football returns

Apr 182005
Authors: Jon Pilsner

"The option is dead in college football."

That comment, uttered over the radio airwaves in the heartland of Nebraska two years ago by a sports writer who shall remain nameless, was a call to the end of the Frank Solich/Tom Osborne coaching era in Nebraska.

At the time, the football team was underperforming, and the style of offense – the classic smash-mouth option running attack – appeared so archaic that rust seemed to form on the socks of the offensive linemen.

The old power running schools, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Nebraska, all were converting to new styles. The name of the game: the forward pass, some sort of demented tool to ruin college football.

(But, honestly, a conversation with a Nebraska fan after the hiring of Bill Callahan as the coach follows: "You mean we're going to pass the football more than we run it? Tom Osborne save us all!")

The option, according to that idiotic sports writer, had become obsolete because defensives in college were too fast, too smart and too quick in pursuit of the football. No longer could you steamroll a team down the field; it would just run around you.


The last team to dominate with the option was the 1995 Huskers, who were so powerful they ran their way to 399.8 rushing yards per game. Tommy Fraizer, the perfection of the option quarterback, led possibly the greatest modern college football team ever.

But, unable to keep recruiting the massively powerful and dominant offensive personally, the option was at risk of fading into the back books of college football history like O.J. Simpson's Heisman Trophy.

"The option is dead," reasserted that writer to his audience.

Then, Urban Meyer came.

Like the mountains rising out of the ground around the University of Utah campus, Meyer and the Utes stormed out and trampled everything that crossed them: Texas A&M, the Mountain West and Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. All decimated by the Urban Express.

And now I look like a fool.

Remaking the option like Xzibit retools an old Honda on MTV's "Pimp My Ride," Meyer took a skinny, somewhat un-athletic quarterback and a bunch of mid-level recruits and remade the option. His name for the new offense? The spread option.

The spread option? Wait … how do you make a power running game mix with the fun-'n-gun of spreading four receivers on the football field and while having the quarterback in the shotgun? With no fullback!?!


The double option from the shotgun. The triple option shovel pass to a cutting receiver. An option/shovel pass option, a 5-yard slant pass-and-catch option pitch for a touchdown in a Bowl Championship Series showdown – on hut-hut. The motion, the madness!

It was all about finesse.

Instead of trying to run over opponents, Meyer ran around them, made them run into each other, and then made them think their momma was calling them from the stands and they had to go wave hello.

The Utes outsmarted, then outran every defense they faced.

It was genius. And now, that genius is spreading around the NCAA.

In spring practices, the CSU football team has experimented with the double option from the shotgun. Collegefootballnews.com reports that Missouri, using the Michael Vick-esk Brad Smith as quarterback, has experimented with the "Utah influence."

You can bet other teams across the nation found some Utah game film and are now trying to incorporate the spread option into their offensive games.

All because of one coach and his knack to play with the system.

Thanks Urban, you proved me wrong. And helped save something that is as essential to college football as the Heisman and the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day.

Jon Pilsner is junior technical journalism major. He is the assistant sports editor at the Collegian.

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