Strategy Guide
Perfecting Your Option Attack

The option has always been a friend of mine. It is the most dynamic, potentially game-changing play in all of football. A well-timed pitch can mean six points; an ill-timed flick of the wrist can mean six the other way. I have always been enamored with the option play, which is probably a reason why I enjoy the collegiate brand of football more than the NFL brand, and thus, my inclination to pick NCAA over Madden.

Recently, I found myself locked in a difficult online contest against my good friend Dan. Dan and I were playing as Kansas State and Oklahoma State respectively, learning said teams’ personnel and playbooks prior to starting a new Big 12 online dynasty. During this game, Dan’s defense was abnormally stingy against my normally potent option attack.

After a several possessions of offensive ineptitude, it dawned on me that I was playing with my gut, not with my head. Years of playing against flawed CPU defenses had dulled my instincts. I’d become at least partially what I despise: a player who relied on the logistics of the video game more than the logistics of football. Against a good human opponent, it showed. Big time.

Hard as it was, I had to fix up a thick slice of humble pie and admit that my NCAA game needed an overhaul. Just as I had done a few years ago with my passing attack, I started over, and rebuilt my option attack from the ground up. After numerous hours in the exhibition and practice modes, I was ready to declare victory.

Here are some notes and tips to keep you from repeating my mistakes. These tips should help you put a dominant option offense out on the field, whether your opponent be inanimate or otherwise.

Tip #1: Keep It Tight

Bouncing runs outside is a thing of the past, deal with it.

Those of us who have been playing football video games for our entire earthly existences have unfortunately been conditioned to bounce any and all running plays outside at the earliest opportunity. From Tecmo Super Bowl, to Madden '96, to football simulations of today, we know this to be true. One of the most common mistakes that modern-day NCAA gamers make is taking the option play to the sidelines prematurely.

Honestly, we are not always punished for this practice, even in NCAA 09. The defensive A.I. is somewhat lacking in pursuit angles, and we can often get away with taking a wide, arcing path with the quarterback while flying to the outside. Although the A.I. will string out a play every now and again, it will not be enough to avoid this flawed tactic altogether.

My first bit of advice is to take a straight and direct path to the edge of the offensive line. Run close to your lineman, parallel to the line of scrimmage, rather than taking a curved, parabolic avenue around the outside.

There are two main advantages to this tactic. First and foremost, doing so will allow you to turn the corner much more quickly. Running just behind the offensive line will allow your QB to explode upfield off of the OT/TE's hip, and barring D-line/LB penetration, will all but guarantee you positive yardage. Secondly, running close to the line of scrimmage will allow you quicker access to any cutback lanes that develop as the defense pursues the play.

As is the case with any running play, make certain you follow your blockers. The follow-then break strategy -- following close behind a lineman/lead-blocker and sprinting after he engages a defender -- has become common knowledge to most modern EA Sports football gamers, yet somehow, it becomes lost in the option game. Hold off on mashing the sprint button until you reach the OT/TE’s outside hip, or until your lead blocker picks up a block.

One final note as it relates to this tip: If you are able to reach the outside with your quarterback, and are looking at a wide open lane up the sideline, pitch the ball immediately. Unless you’re rolling with Pat White or another exceptionally fast QB, chances are that your pitchman is packing a better set of wheels and is less likely to be chased down from the backside pursuit. You will score more touchdowns this way, I promise.

Tip #2: Maintain the Relationship

After keeping a tight approach, the next most important physical aspect of the option game is the relationship between QB and pitchman. When running along the line, do your best to keep the pitch man "in your back pocket," so to speak, or just behind your back hip. This optimizes your potential for opportunity. Conversely, taking an erratic path with the QB reduces your chances to successfully pitch the ball, and greatly increases the probability of a turnover.

Keeping a proper relationship between the QB and pitchman will also aid you in your decision making. Once a defender crosses the QB’s face from the front side, or passes through the "pitch lane" between the two, you should effectively forget the pitch and cut up the field. Of course, there are instances when the pitchman will realign himself and a pitch can still be made, but generally speaking, keeping the ball when the lane has been breached is a good practice.

Tip #3: Have an Open Mind

Just as in the passing game, many NCAA gamers go into option plays with a predetermined outcome in mind. It’s either "I’m definitely keeping" or "I’m definitely pitching." Stat-hoarding comes into play a bit here, but just as with the passing game, going into a dynamic play with a predestined outcome robs the play of its potential. You might as well just run an off-tackle or dive play if that is your attitude.

If you have fallen into this common trap, simply readjust your mindset; kill those bad instincts. The key to a dynamic option offense is unpredictability. If you are playing a human opponent and tend to lean too heavily toward the pitchman or the QB, chances are that your tendencies will be recognized and exploited.

Also, at the snap keep your eyes active on the defensive front. As you are running along the line, keep a keen focus on the activity between your offensive line and the defensive front seven. There will be openings on nearly every play, whether it be around the end, or an inside cutback lane. The key to success here is taking advantage of what the defense gives you, and not limiting your options.

Tip #4: Gains Are Gains

Past versions of NCAA have conditioned many of us to think that all option plays should result in substantial gains. Divorce yourself from this mentality immediately.

While big plays will always be more frequent against the sometimes sub-par A.I., they are much less of a commodity when playing human opponents. Piggybacking off of the previous tip, learn to accept 5, 4 and even 2-3 yard gains. Positive yardage is good yardage. Remember, third-and-six is preferable to third-and-fifteen, or worse, a turnover. Even a short loss is better than a circus pitch that ultimately finds the turf.

Tip #5: Get Creative

Packages were put in the game for a reason. They create interesting matchups that can exploit an unsuspecting A.I. or human opponent. There is no offense where this is more evident than the option offense. Putting two HBs in the backfield makes the triple option more interesting. Moving your HB or number one WR into the slot makes the QB slot option a bit more dangerous.

Successfully running option plays with these small alterations also plays a vital role in opponent deception. Packages can cause your opponent to falsely key on the option, when in truth, your intentions are different. Pretty sneaky, huh?

Tip # 6: Use, Don’t Abuse

This is just normal football logic, but the best teams are multi-faceted. Teams that have only one strength can be figured out and defeated. The same is true in NCAA. Just because you are astute at running an option offense, doesn’t mean you should do it every time.

Make smart play calls. Run the option when it’s advantageous, and don’t when it’s not. Third-and-fifteen is hardly an ideal time to run the option, unless you think you can catch your opponent napping. Learn to diversify. Passing the ball is fun, too.

There you have it, my ever-so-poignant insight into the NCAA 09 option game. I think that I’m now ready to take Okie State to the promised land. My ego isn’t so big, however, to think that I know everything. Help a fellow OS'er out, and tell me your option tips.

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