Before C.J. Brown tore his ACL prior to the start of the 2012 season, many people were very excited to see what the dual-threat quarterback could do in Mike Locksley’s new offense. Unfortunately, no one got to see that, as Perry Hills took over as the starting quarterback in a very watered-down version of Locksley’s playbook. The offense that was run in 2012 was essentially a pro-style scheme with a few spread concepts thrown in. The team lined up under center a lot, and used two tight end sets with regularity. This changed dramatically once Mike Locksley got the dual-threat Brown back to take the snaps.
Most of Maryland’s snaps in 2013 came from either the pistol formation or from the shotgun formation. C.J. Brown rarely lined up under center unless the team was in a short-yardage or goal line situation. One of the biggest reasons why the offense was so much more successful last season was C.J. Brown’s great ability to run Mike Locksley’s various option plays. Locksley boasts a very diverse running game, and he involves all of his offensive weapons in his option game. The quarterback, running back, fullback, and wide receivers are all expected to be able to carry the ball in Locksley’s spread-option attack. Here, I’ll take a look at some of his favorite option plays to call when a dual-threat quarterback is taking the snaps.
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Inverted Bone – Outside Zone Read
Here we see the Terps come out in an Inverted Bone formation, one I discussed in my previous Film Study article. However, there is a difference in this version of the formation. Normally, we’d see Kenneth Goins and Dave Stinebaugh flanking C.J. Brown, while Brandon Ross (or another Terps running back) is behind him. Instead, here we see Dave Stinebaugh and Jacquille Veii flanking C.J. Brown, while Kenneth Goins lines up behind him. In this image, you’ll see the Terps run an outside zone read.
The offensive line is going to execute simple zone blocking, leaving West Virginia’s outside linebacker unblocked to the right of the formation. He will become the read for C.J. Brown. Just a split second before Brown takes the snap, he will send Kenneth Goins in motion to the left of the formation. This gives him a little extra advantage in getting around the formation and becoming a lead blocker. Dave Stinebaugh will also become a lead blocker, and he and Goins will aim to form a pocket for Jacquille Veii to run through.
In this image we see that C.J. Brown is reading West Virginia’s outside linebacker. He is staying home and playing the quarterback keeper, so Brown hands the ball off to Jacquille Veii. West Virginia loaded the right of the formation with two defenders, which also plays into Brown’s decision to hand the ball off. Most quarterbacks are taught to defer to the give on option plays. Coaches would rather their running backs be hit hard in the backfield than have their quarterback suffer the same fate. Here, Brown makes the right read and gives the ball to his running back.
Inverted Bone – Inside Zone Read
Here we see the Terps come out in a more classic Inverted Bone formation, with Dave Stinebaugh and Kenneth Goins flanking C.J. Brown and Brandon Ross behind him. The offensive line will execute simple zone blocking, leaving Florida International’s defensive end unblocked to the left side of the formation. He will become C.J. Brown’s read on the play. Once again, Kenneth Goins and Dave Stinebaugh will become lead blockers to the outside of the formation, this time attempting to create a pocket for Brown to run through if he decides to keep the ball.
In this image, we see Florida International’s defensive end leaning towards the running lane that Brandon Ross will take if C.J. Brown gives him the ball. Instead, Brown keeps the ball and heads around the left side of the formation, where Kenneth Goins and Dave Stinebaugh will work on creating that pocket for him to run through. This play is executed perfectly, and results in a rushing touchdown for the Maryland quarterback.
Pistol 20 Weak – Triple Option
Here we see the Terps come out in a Pistol formation, with Kenneth Goins flanking C.J. Brown to his right and Brandon Ross lined up behind him. The offensive line will execute simple zone blocking again, leaving Old Dominion’s defensive end unblocked to the right side of the formation. He’ll become C.J. Brown’s read on the play. This will be a triple option play. C.J. Brown will first read the defensive end and decide whether to give the ball to Kenneth Goins on the dive or whether to keep the ball. If he decides to keep the ball, he’ll then have the option to take the ball up the field himself, or to pitch the ball to Brandon Ross, who will flank him around the right side of the formation.
In this image, we see C.J. Brown reading Old Dominion’s defensive end to the right side of the formation, who was left unblocked in the offensive line’s zone blocking scheme. Brown sees that he is staying home, playing the quarterback keep. Thus, he gives the ball off to Kenneth Goins up the middle for a nice gain. This is the way that this play normally results, as defenses are more than happy to give up a gain to Maryland’s fullback up the middle rather than have C.J. Brown running the option to the edge of the field. Kenneth Goins is a more than capable runner, having done very well carrying the ball in high school at the Gilman School.
Shotgun 10 - Triple Option
Here we see one of Mike Locksley’s favorite plays to call when he has C.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs on the field at the same time. In this example, the Terps spread the field with four wide receivers in a 2×2 formation. C.J. Brown has Brandon Ross offset to his left and before he takes the snap, will bring Stefon Diggs in orbit motion to the backfield.
Stefon Diggs is now in the backfield, and the Terps are ready to run the triple option. The offensive line is, once again, executing simple zone blocking. They will leave Florida International’s defensive end on the left side of the formation unblocked to become the read for C.J. Brown. Brandon Ross is Brown’s dive option. If the defensive end stays at home and plays the quarterback keep, Ross will carry the ball up the middle. If not, Brown will pull the ball down and run to the left side of the formation where he has an option to pitch it to Stefon Diggs if necessary.
Here, C.J. Brown sees the defensive end take a step towards Brandon Ross, so he pulls the ball down and runs to the outside of the formation. Stefon Diggs will flank him to offer Brown a pitch option depending on what the defense does.
Here is what C.J. Brown sees as he heads to the outside of the formation. Florida International’s linebacker has taken a small step towards Stefon Diggs, and Brown sees a running lane to his right. He decides not to pitch and to take that lane. But the play is not over.
Once Florida International’s linebacker saw Brown take a cut upfield, he reversed his course and came back to attempt to tackle him. By doing this, he left Stefon Diggs wide open, and C.J. Brown had the presence of mind to make a great pitch to him as he himself was being tackled, resulting in a big gain down the sideline.
Shotgun 11 Flex – Speed Option
Here we see the Terps spread the field with three wide receivers and their tight end (Dave Stinebaugh) flexed out to the right side of the formation. Brandon Ross is offset to C.J. Brown’s right. Brown and Ross will run a speed option to the right side of the field. Brown will end up reading Old Dominion’s outside linebacker, who is left unblocked. The offensive line will attempt to cut block Old Dominion’s defensive ends and will all shift towards the right side of the field. This play draws up very well for the Terps, as Old Dominion only has one player to cover Maryland’s two.
In this image, we see that C.J. Brown is able to make a very quick read on Old Dominion’s outside linebacker very quickly. He pitches the ball away to Brandon Ross who was flanking him to the right and he walks easily into the end zone. Mike Locksley likes to run this play near the goal line in order to stretch a defense out when they are expecting plays to come up the middle. One of the biggest keys to this play is having receivers who can block, and the Terps have a lot of them.
Shotgun 11 – Inverted Veer
One of the easiest option plays for any offense to install is the inverted veer, and the Terps ran a good number of these plays in each of their games last season. The reason why it’s so easy to install is because the blocking scheme is the same as the classic “power” run. The offensive guard to the opposite side of the play will pull around and become a lead blocker for the running back. Instead of blocking for the running back, the inverted veer features the offensive guard lead blocking for the quarterback if he decides to keep the ball.
Here the Terps come out in a basic formation, with Dave Stinebaugh in the wing to the left of the formation, and a 2×1 receiver set. Brandon Ross is lined up to C.J. Brown’s right, and will come across the formation. C.J. Brown will read the play-side defensive end, who will be left unblocked by the offensive line. He will take a few steps to his left with the ball in Brandon Ross’ stomach until the read is made. He then has the option to hand the ball off to Ross around the end, or to take the ball up the middle between the pulling guard and the tight end.
Here we see an ambiguous situation for C.J. Brown. The defensive end seems to be taking a step towards him, so the correct read would be to hand the ball off. However, it also seems that the end is leaning towards Brandon Ross. In this situation, Brown is taught to hand the ball off and avoid taking a big hit. This is what he does, and it results in a big loss for Brandon Ross. This is an example of well-played option defense by Florida International. As long as you can force the quarterback to be unsure of his read, you can shut down teams that like to run the option.
As you can see, Mike Locksley’s offense features a very diverse option running game. From speed options to zone reads to inverted veers, C.J. Brown’s running ability at quarterback opens up the playbook immensely. Terps fans should look forward to just as many option plays in 2014, as C.J. Brown returns for his final season with the team. Not to be lost in all of this is the plethora of play-action passes that the team can run off of these option looks, something they do very often.