Picture Pages: Read Option Fake Handoff

Submitted by joeyb on November 1st, 2009 at 3:51 PM
[Update: Photobucket sucks. I will get the pictures fixed as soon as I can.]

I thoroughly believe that whichever quarterback learns the read option first and can run it to near perfection first will be the starting quarterback in years to come. It is the basic running play of our offense. I don't care if that player is Tate Forcier, Devin Gardner, or Nick Sheridan; if that quarterback can run the read option so we are getting 4+ yards just about every time, they will be the starter.

I think we all know that neither of our freshmen quarterbacks has been able to make the reads quick enough to run the play yet. Is this because they haven't had enough time to practice it yet? Maybe. However, I think the bigger issue is the ability to execute a fake hand off. A good fake hand off does two things: it forces the DE to make a decision to go after the running back or the quarterback instead of sitting in a comfortable spot to stop either outcome and it gives the quarterback an extra split second to read that DE.

To illustrate this, I have compiled several Picture Pages for different read options from different teams around the country. Several things to keep in mind:
  • These are to illustrate why the fake hand off is important...not the read option itself
  • Because of this, these are all QB keepers
  • These plays are not identical; will, therefore, not have the same results; and are not intended to be directly compared with the results of our play.
  • These are to illustrate why the fake hand off is important

Also, all of these images, aside from the Michigan vs. EMU game, were taken from ESPN360 or YouTube videos so they aren't perfect quality, but they still get the point across. I will try to post video for some of these later.

Illinois vs. Michigan

Illinois ran the read option perfectly on the first drive against Michigan. The net result was a 27 yard gain.

As you can see they have a RB on either side of Juice Williams, two WRs up top, and a TE outside the LT. It is important to note where that the backfield is lined up around the 12 yard line.

After the play starts, the RB runs behind Juice as he begins the fake hand off to the left RB. The OL blocks right and the TE goes out for a pass leaving Brandon Graham to defend as the unblocked DE. Donovan Warren begins his coverage of the TE, but keeps his eyes on the exchange.

You can see that Juice still has his hands in the RBs gut. They are a full yard ahead of where they started the play at. Brandon Graham is forced to choose which to go for and he picks the running back. Donovan Warren has moved down field in coverage but still is keeping his eyes on the exchange. Jonas Mouton has started to move inside to go after the RB.

Juice pulls the ball and he is already 2 yards up field from where he started the play. Brandon Graham is out of position for the play. Donovan Warren is 10 yards up field from Juice. Mouton is still in position to make a play but...

The LT is able to get a block on Mouton and Juice is to the LOS with lots of field in front of him. Donovan Warren has come back to make the play, but he has to guard against the option.

Donovan Warren correctly plays contain and takes away the option, which springs Juice into the open field, at which point it is a foot race. He is forced out of bounds after going 27 yards on the carry.

Had the option not been in this play and all other things being held equal, Donovan Warren would most likely have tackled Juice after a gain of about 5 yards, which is what you hope for every time this play is run.

Michigan vs. EMU

I looked through a couple of drives for Michigan in the Illinois game and I couldn't find a traditional read option play. I am convinced at this point in the season that the coaches have removed this responsibility from the QBs and will look to install it again next year. I did see a fake hand off, but the line moved with the quarterback keeper instead of the hand off, which tells me that this is not what I am looking for.

So to get a good example, I went back to the last game that I downloaded: the EMU game.

This is our traditional 4-wide read option. Tate is lined up at the 48.5 yard line.

Tate pivots on his right foot and fakes the hand off. The ball never even makes it to the gut of the RB; he essentially just taps the ball to the side of the RB and then keeps. The DE is going for the RB right off the bat (so maybe this isn't the perfect example, but just wait).

The OLB sees Tate keep the ball and breaks to the outside. This doesn't allow our RT to seal him to the inside, which would allow Forcier to break free.

Instead what happens is Tate has to cut back to the inside. If he is able to get by this block, he is open for a first down, but the OLB gets a shoestring tackle and Tate goes down for a small gain.


Now that we have seen the good and bad of what I am referring to, let's take a look at some more examples of good fake hand offs from teams around the country.


Notice that Brown, WVU's new QB, is lined up around the 29 with 4-wide Trips right.

Before the snap, a WR goes in motion for the end around. You can hardly tell, but the ball is in mid-air at this point.

Brown's right foot makes it up to the 27 yard line before he pulls the ball. The DE bites on the fake and rushes in for the RB. The LBs are starting to come in to stop the dive as well. The safety is starting to come in for run support, but he is far enough out that the fake actually puts him in better position to make the play. Meanwhile, the end around and fake are forming into a nice option as well.

Brown makes it to the LOS and the safety has a nice contain on him. He pulls up and begins the pitch to the WR.

The WR has a block down field and all of the other players are now out of position to tackle him. The blocked CB ends up forcing him inside and tackling him to save the TD, only after he gets a first down though.

Had Brown not had the second option to pitch the ball, he most likely would have headed for the sideline and been out after 4-8 yards.

Same game, other team:

BJ Daniels is at the 37 yard line. It is hard to tell but the ball has just reached his hands.

You can see that BJ Daniels is two yards ahead of where he took the snap from before he pulls the ball. The WVU LBs bite on the fake even though they see this every day in practice.

BJ Daniels gets into open space with no one left to defend him other than the safety 8 yards up field. Chalk this one up as another big gain.

Oregon vs. Cal

This will be the last one. I tried to find some footage of Tim Tebow's fake, but I couldn't find any and I am sure all of you have seen enough of him anyway.

Here, Masoli is lined up around the 14 yard line with the RB about a yard behind him on his left, trips right, and the TE lined up outside the LT.

Masoli pulls the ball about a yard and a half ahead of where he took the snap from. The DE is waiting for the play to develop.

Masoli gets outside of the DE and is tackled by the safety for a 4-5 yard gain.

This is what the average play should look like when the Defense reads the play properly and is in position. The other plays are what happen when one person on defense makes a mistake. The one thing that all of the plays from other teams have in common is a great fake hand off. The QB needs to sell the DE to get him to bite on the play and/or give himself enough time to make the correct read.

Like I said, I think the Michigan QB who is able to do this the best will be our starter. From what I have seen so far, Tate is on his way to being able to make these reads, but he lacks the ability to sell the fake. If he can do this, I think he will continue to be our starter. However, if Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner can learn this before him, I don't know if a Big10 defense will be able to continuously stop this especially with their speed and play-making abilities.



November 1st, 2009 at 4:28 PM ^

Excellent analysis and thanks. The fake handoff is critical, just as it is on a play action pass play. Without it the play is an easy read. It is a combination of coaching, the player having a natural "feel" for it, and experience. I think an inexperienced quarterback tends to not do it well, not only because he hasn't done it much, but also generally lacks patience and tends to rush the play.

Thanks again, good stuff.


November 2nd, 2009 at 9:19 AM ^

The photos demonstrate (and anyone watching Illinios with the football saw) how long the QB can actually take before pulling the ball. To a point, the longer the better - the OL can really establish their blocks (they have a numeric advantage, since they typically aren't blocking the end) and getting to the linebackers.

What I hadn't realized before this terrific diary was that the QB can move forward pretty far before handing off or pulling it. That makes it hard for the unblocked DE to simply park and wait for the play - because he won't be in position to tackle the running back.


November 1st, 2009 at 4:37 PM ^

Forcier's read option have looked worse than my high school acting. I wonder if the running back can help here? I mean, have you noticed the RB selling the play better in other teams than ours?

Also, it would seem to me that another dimension that helps with making the read option successful is QB speed. Forcier's best time from what i can gather is 4.67, compared to 4.32 for Robinson. These other QBs you have listed are in the 4.5 range. Even if you dont "sell it" as best as you should, the speed at the QB position gives the defender very little room for error no?

So i think Forcier is being hindered a bit on both, faking he read and not having the speed to make people pay when they he does "somewhat" sell it. If Robinson would stop hurting the team with TO he would probably be the starter.


November 1st, 2009 at 4:47 PM ^

I think Forcier has enough speed to hurt a team when there is an opening, but he isn't going to make the play happen solely based on his speed.

Also, I am not sure what the RB can do to sell the fake if he doesn't know whether it will be a fake or not. The RB is also looking at where he is going and it is the QB's responsibility to get the ball into the RB's gut so that the RB does not have to think about that part of it.


November 1st, 2009 at 4:49 PM ^

Beautiful. What makes me feel (relatively) good after yesterday is that THIS is how RR is teaching it. It's going to take time for the kids to catch on, but when they get it, this offense explodes.


November 1st, 2009 at 5:01 PM ^

I hadn't counted on selling the fake being such a big part of the play until watching out defense run right by Isaiah all day yesterday.

Maybe Tate can take some acting classes next semester. But to echo Sysmark, it would be really interesting to see how our running backs are acting after the fake and how easy they make it to tell if they aren't carrying.


November 1st, 2009 at 5:37 PM ^

Is there any reason for Mouton to bite on the RB with Graham crashing down the line and Kovacs standing next to him, ready to clean up if Graham whiffs?

I almost threw up yesterday watching this play.

Captain Obvious

November 1st, 2009 at 5:56 PM ^

spend 90% of Denard's practice time on running the read option. If he could sell a fake like Juice does, this play would be lights out.

Also, we should be bringing Denard in within the first 3 series on these next few games to just gash the crap out of defenses...unless Tate is playing completely perfect, that is. And yes, bring Tate back in if we were to run into obvious passign downs.

I hate to get gimmicky, but whatever it takes to get bowl eligible...

Steve in PA

November 1st, 2009 at 8:36 PM ^

I've watched and rewatched the past few games. The 3rd series is where DRob should have come in. 1st series Tate has been really good, it's probably scripted. 2nd series he begins to look confused and 3rd series is where the trouble starts.

I'm not saying keep him in at that point, but run the 3rd series with DRob. Possibly even scripted. But then again, we're all armchair coaches that haven't a clue what it takes to win D1 football games unless it is on a Playstation.


November 1st, 2009 at 5:58 PM ^

Notice something about the unforms of every other team above? They're either playing in their dark(er) home jerseys, or their away pants are dark. I wonder if that helps sell the fake.

Of course Illinois' home uniforms aren't really dark.

Interesting post though, because there were several times the camera started to follow the wrong ball carrier, and I was impressed how long Juice waited to pull, and how hard it was to figure out who had the ball.



November 1st, 2009 at 6:55 PM ^

he is really good at faking the handoff or hiding whether he kept it ohanded it off. The broadcasters, the camera and mself included had a hrad time seeing the handoff, or the fake most of the day. Obviously our defense couldn't see it either. Once our QBs get that down, many options become available.

Note to future: Please Tate and DRob, figure it out soon so DG can redshirt. We don't need another freshman QB next year in a a make or break season.


November 1st, 2009 at 7:47 PM ^

Also shows how bad the linebacker play is. For the defense, this is assignment football. Who has RB? Who has QB? It also helps if the d-line can get penetration (the first play of the game vs. Ill.). I don't know why we weren't screaming a safety into the box and making Illinois throw the ball to begin the game.


November 3rd, 2009 at 4:26 PM ^

This post looks a lot more like bad defense than good ball fakes. Defending the option (zone read or veer) is simple football if the defenders stick to their assignments. I'd much rather have an unblocked DE take the QB and force and hand off, essentially eliminating options for the QB.


November 1st, 2009 at 8:19 PM ^

Good work, joeyb. I've been saying all year long that Forcier and Denard suck at running the read option, but this is further proof. It's the staple of Rodriguez's offense but we can't run it correctly yet, which I think has had a huge effect on the success of our offense so far this year.

I have noticed that Sheridan, Threet, Forcier, and Denard have failed to run this play well with consistency. The first two I can understand, since neither is very fast. But Forcier does have decent speed, and Denard has great speed. Perhaps Rodriguez/Rod Smith need to hone their coaching skills a bit or take notes from Ron Zook/Chip Kelly/etc.


November 2nd, 2009 at 10:33 AM ^

I think joeyb had a slightly different point, which was that the biggest problem that Tate and Denard have with the Zone read right now are poor ball skills shown by an inability to sell the fake hand-off (among other things that I am blocking out). Against EMU, if Tate can sell that handoff fake just a little bit better, the OLB is frozen and Huyge (iirc) can block him and Tate gets big(ger) yards. At this point, it isn't about speed. A properly executed (ninja) ball fake lets Steve Threet get 4-5 yards because the defense is frozen. With Denard, it might be a TD because...well...he's crazy fast.

NOLA Wolverine

November 3rd, 2009 at 1:02 AM ^

You know what this analysis tells me? I think it means either Rodriguez gave him a predetermined read, or, that Tate (being a freshman) assumed a scrape exchange, only looking briefly to confirm it. It something that will perfect over time, sometimes people get too excited in making decisions at an instant. He has bigger worries than his mesh on the zone read.


November 3rd, 2009 at 10:58 AM ^

You are absolutely correct. However, I don't think Juice sold the handoff as well this year as he did last year. I had to appreciate his deftness. It seemed that just before the play was made on the RB, Juice pulled the ball out and took off or pitched it. As much as I didn't like the outcome, last year's QB play by Juice was outstanding.
I can only trust that our QB coaches are working as hard as possible to develop these skills in Tate and Denard. I also agree that hopefully we can redshirt Devin (unless he is just too good not to).