It’s no question that Alabama is a dominate team up front. They can win on almost any play when running the ball between the tackles because of their physicality up front and their ability to maul defensive linemen and linebackers. Taking this physical style of football and implementing some run pass options into their schemes make them almost unbeatable. Not only does a defense have to worry about getting enough numbers in the box to fit the run, they also have to account for their ability to hit the perimeter with their athletes in space.
Pre snap RPO’s are different than the common post-snap RPO’s where the QB will either give the ball to the back, or throw the football based on the given conflict player. In a pre snap RPO, the QB is going to decide to either throw the ball to one of his receivers, or give the ball to the back based on the look that he gets before the ball is snapped. In a pre-snap RPO, there is no “mesh point” between the QB and the RB like there is in the post-snap RPO’s. Alabama utilized some simple pre-snap RPO plays early against Notre Dame in the semifinal game. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Simple Pre-Snap RPO Plays to Gain Leverage & Numbers
Inside Zone with Slants & Quick Screen RPO
Alabama opens the drive with their first pre snap RPO starting out in Empty. As soon as they motion Harris from the boundary back to the backfield, Notre Dame adjusts and presents a 7 man front. Notre Dame is committing two more defensive players to the box than Alabama has to block, and are showing equal numbers to the field with Bama’s two WR’s, which is a key for Mac Jones to attack on the perimeter towards the boundary.
Wide Zone Bubble RPO
The second pre snap RPO for Alabama also came on the opening drive when they ran wide zone with a bubble from orbit motion. Notre Dame was disguising their front and secondary prior to the snap of the ball with a lot of movement from their LB’s and safeties. What Notre Dame eventually got into was single high safety with a 7 man box and pressure from the OLB off the edge from the field.
As the outside receiver came in orbit motion, the field safety did not rotate enough to prevent Mac Jones from flipping the ball out to his receiver who continued on his path for the bubble screen. With no immediate threat to the flat, and the added pressure off the edge from the linebacker, Notre Dame gave Mac Jones the read to attack space and throw the football. The corner did a great job of blocking the most dangerous man as it became the safety adjusting to the motion.
The key to this play is the timing of the orbit motion and the screen. If the QB calls it up too early in the orbit motion, then the WR will never get wide enough to stretch the defense horizontally and create space. If it’s called up too late then the WR will be out too wide, which again, will limit his ability to create space as he now closing the gap with the single WR and field Corner. To get this just right, the QB must snap it up as the orbit motion is directly behind him. In the clip below you can see how Mac Jones claps his hands right when the WR is directly behind him.
Split Zone Bubble RPO
It’s clear that Notre Dame committed to bringing extra hats to the box to help stop the run. By doing so, they lose numbers on the outside and are susceptible to anything that hits on the perimeter.
Here is another example of a pre-snap RPO for Bama as they marry split zone with bubble screen to the slot towards the field. Notre Dame is completely out-manned and out-leveraged on this play as they bring pressure from the field, which Alabama has an answer for with the bubble screen to the slot. The field safety is out of position and is immediately out-leveraged as Notre Dame rotates to single high safety. This leaves the field safety having to chase the bubble and make an open field tackle 10 yards down the field.
Duo Bubble Screen RPO
This was a great design by Bama to get their best player the football. I think Alabama went with TE + Wing set to catch Notre Dame loading the box so they could throw the football on the perimeter to Devonta Smith, the Player of the Year and likely Heisman winner (not a bad guy to get the football to).
Here Alabama inverted their WR’s to create space for Smith just by the formation. They bring smith in motion to stack behind the slot before running a bubble back to where he came from. Stacking him behind the slot just before the snap is another great design as Smith can use the slot as a shield to give him the time and space he needs to catch and run.
Mac Jones got a loaded box and he knew right away that he was throwing the football to Smith on the perimeter. He didn’t think twice about going to the mesh. It was catch, quick set the feet and throw the ball to Smith’s upfield shoulder (left pad) so he can catch the ball with his momentum continuing down the LOS.
Buck Sweep Bubble RPO
Alabama continued to go to the well when it came to orbit motion. They were clearly trying to see how ND would rotate to their single high safety shell and how they would handle the split flow RPO’s from Alabama. This play ND completely rotated themselves out of position. The reason being is because Bama hit Notre Dame with similar action before and Mac Jones threw the bubble screen for a big gain. Now ND over adjusts to the motion and leaves a void to the boundary.
Alabama ran Buck Sweep to the boundary with orbit motion working to the field for the bubble screen. The pre-snap movement gave Mac Jones the key to give the ball as they rotated with the motion and lost a hat defensively to the boundary.
The real reason why this play is successful is because of Najee Harris. The 3 Tech for ND actually does a great job as he slants over the down block and blows the tackle back a few yards. Unfortunately for ND, Harris is an absolute freak and he bounces off his own player before escaping to the outside. Harris then shows off his vert as he jumps over ND’s corner who is actually trying to tackle him high.
Summary of the Simple Pre-Snap RPO Plays
As big as Alabama is they could easily load the box themselves and just maul defenses up and down the field, but they understand the importance of attacking space and taking advantage of leverage and numbers when you have it. These simple RPO’s are just that, simple! They make it easy on a QB as he has to get a pre-snap read of the numbers in the box, depth of corners, and alignment of apex defenders. Majority of the time, Bama is facing a loaded box which makes it an easy decision for Jones to hit the perimeter with the pass option. This is a great lesson for the rest of us high school and youth football coaches. Even the best team in the nation with a great coaching staff keeps it simple and doesn’t over complicate the offense.