Trips is a great formation to get into because it can lead to advantages in the box for the run game and it can clearly define the space that needs to be attacked in the pass game. I personally like trips formation because we tag our quick pass game to our run game on almost every single play, and because of trips we are able to put the ball where we have a numbers advantage.
When we face 2-hi defenses against our trips, I usually aim to attack the flat space in our quick pass game with bubbles, quicks, stick routes etc. because our 3 receivers have 2 immediate threats on defense (CB & OLB). Clearly, these numbers favor us on offense and is space that needs to be exploited.
In this article, I’m going to share a few trips passing concepts that will cause serious confusion for the defense and give you the advantage you need to win through the air.
Trips Passing Concepts
Smash Drive Concept
Smash + Drive is a trips passing concept that is a personal favorite because it has answers for multiple coverages.
Typically, the trips are to the field and to the boundary will be a single WR in a nasty split, or an attached TE. The smash concept will be ran to the single WR side. The single receiver will run the corner and the running back will be on an arrow route into the flat. The smash to the boundary can hit successfully against teams that put the nickel to the trips and play cover 2 or 1 to the boundary.
The drive concept comes from the field with the #3 WR running a deep dig at 10 or 12 yards and a shallow cross from the #2 WR.
#1 WR can run a variety of different routes but some of the most common routes are a slant behind the dig or a 5 yard in route.
Here’s a clip of Tulane running the drive smash concept
The QB’s eyes immediately go to the boundary. The CB is pressed to the outside on the #1 WR running the corner (pre-snap read should eliminate the corner route based on leverage), so QB is anticipating the arrow out of the backfield.
With the LB expanding and covering the back into the flat, the QB then progresses to the middle of the field on the drive. The shallow cross comes across nicely under the LB that is getting depth in his drop and the ball is out for a nice completion and gain.
Here’s another example of the concept from Penn State running it with an attached TE
This is a simple read for a QB as the smash concept puts a nice hi/low on the CB to the boundary. Pre-snap read indicates that both routes are available as the nickel is to the field with a 2 high safety look.
The safety is inside on the attached TE which leaves uncapped, or open space for the corner on the break point. This is where the hi/low comes in as the QB will get his eyes on the CB and essentially throw it to where he’s not, or into the open space.
The CB immediately pedals into his zone and stays over the top and outside of the corner, so the QB plants on his 3rd step and throws the ball to the RB into the flat. A simple throw and catch leads to a 6 yard gain for Penn State.
The follow concept out of trips is usually when one receiver is running a shallow which is “followed” by another receiver running some sort of an angle route behind it.
This concept is a good zone beater and man beater, especially against man defenses that want to “banjo” or switch responsibilities when receivers cross each other off the LOS.
Below is a diagram of how Jackson State ran their follow concept in 2022.
Here’s a clip of Jackson State running this trips passing concept.
In the concept from Jackson State, they use the #3 WR to run vertical at the OLB to threaten him vertically causing him to get depth at the snap of the ball. This movement is intended to occupy him for a split second for the 2nd shallow or angle route coming from the #1 receiver to slice in front of his face.
The #2 WR is running the first shallow cross in the concept and his job is to occupy the ILB by sitting down in the zone forcing the LB to attach to the route. This will occupy the ILB so he cannot expand and threaten the #1 WR who is following the route.
The #1 WR has to let the concept develop off the LOS for a split second with the vertical release by 3, and the shallow cross by 2. This is why he foot fires off the line of scrimmage before breaking in on his route.
The QB’s pre-snap read indicates zone coverage, and he’s anticipating throwing the follow route immediately out of the break. The QB knows the first crosser will occupy the ILB and the vertical will push the OLB just enough for the #1 WR to break underneath it. With great timing on the throw, #1 WR catches the ball immediately out of his break and is able to make a move for a 7 yard gain.
In the next diagram the follow concept comes from North Carolina who runs it differently than Jackson State, but accomplishes the same goal.
I like this follow concept because it’s ran out of a compressed bunch set with cross action off the line of scrimmage from all three receivers.
The movement off the line of scrimmage from the bunch set creates confusion as the defense finds itself out of alignment and exposed for a big gain.
Here’s the clip of North Carolina running the follow concept from a compressed bunch look.
The #2 on the LOS does a great job clearing out the OLB with his wheel route. The outside release on the wheel causes the OLB to widen and get depth.
The #1 immediately crosses underneath the wheel route with the ILB in his sight. His job is the same as before which is to occupy the first inside backer. In this example, the ILB not only attaches to him, but abandons his zone responsibilities and runs with him across the field.
The #3 WR allows the wheel and cross to develop by getting width at the snap of the ball. As the OLB maintains outside leverage because of the release on the wheel, the angle route cuts inside with a massive window for the QB to throw into.
Ultimately the QB is progressing through two routes, the first cross and then the follow. QB’s eyes immediately go to the first cross and he sees the LB attach. He then progresses to the angle follow and it’s a simple throw and catch from there for a huge gain. The QB does have a pre-snap alert to throw the Go route with the single WR, but the CB and Safety help to the boundary would make for a tough throw.
It’s important to note that the key to making this play happen is the wheel route by the point man in the bunch look. This player has to understand that his route is ultimately dead from the beginning and he’s sacrificing himself in order to move the OLB just enough for the angle route to open up inside. It doesn’t count as a catch in the box score but this is just as important and his teammates should be giving him props for setting them up for success.
Post Wheel can be ran a few different ways out of trips, but the way Western Kentucky ran their post wheel concept in 2021 really caught my attention. Below is a diagram of how WKU ran post wheel out of their trips formation.
What I like about the way WKU ran their post-wheel is how they used their strength in their screen game to set up the wheel route. In this trips formation set, WKU runs Post from the outside, flashes tunnel screen from the #2 WR with the #3 WR stalking the OLB before releasing on the wheel route.
Here’s the clip of WKU running post wheel
The defense has a man advantage over the trips as they walk LB out to get 4 defenders over the 3 WR’s with Safety help over the top. It appears the the defense might be playing 2-man which leaves a huge mismatch on the #3 WR and the LB.
The outside WR runs his post and the CB absorbs the post route.
The #2 and #3 make it look like they are running one of their successful tunnel screens. #2 flashes out on bubble before replacing #3 down the LOS. This triggers the OLB to get down hill and into the flat to break up what he thinks is a screen pass.
The QB does a great job recognizing the CB running with the post and gets a firm ball out on a wheel.
If you’re familiar Air Raid pass concepts then you may have heard of the China concept out of trips. The #3 will run a corner while #2 and #1 both run 5 yard in routes. It’s a great concept against multiple coverages whether it’s zone or man. Typically this concept is to attack space behind the CB with the corner route, or underneath with horizontal conflict on the OLB with the two 5 yard in routes.
Ohio State’s version of the China concept is using the #2 WR on a double move. He hits the top of his break point at 5 yards like he normally would on his in route, but now he stutters and attacks the open grass in the middle of the field.
Here’s how it’s drawn up:
The QB should be licking his chops before the ball is snapped as he sees the Free Safety outside shade of the #3 WR. This should indicate that he has the green light on the stutter go. The play action holds down the only linebacker in the box long enough and the QB throws a good ball over the middle with pressure in his face.
Here’s a clip of WKU running the China Go concept:
In this look, the defense put numbers to the field with 4 defenders over the 3 WR’s. Looking at this defense It appears they are playing stress coverage / 3 match as the Mike and Free Safety are taking all of #3 vertical. As the #3 runs his corner route, it clears open the middle of the field for the #2 WR to attack open grass.
This is a great concept for defenses that play MOFO without any help from the backside safety.
Double Corner Switch
When I first saw Ohio State run this concept in 2019, I had to watch it at least a dozen times. Every time I played the clip back I just kept thinking how impossible it is for a defense to cover it correctly.
Below is how Ohio State ran their Double Corner Switch concept
The defense is also adding numbers to the trips formation with 4 defenders over the top of 3 WR’s. The QB has a MOFO look pre-snap with plenty of open grass for the taking on the switch vertical by the #1 WR in the trips formation.
Here’s a clip of Ohio State running Double Corner Switch
The Corner route by the #3 WR is a high angle corner whereas the #2 WR runs more of a low angle, or flat corner route.
Regardless of what coverage the defense is in, and how they move their safeties post-snap, the look of MOFO is still the same. The LB’s in the box have no chance of carrying this vertical coming from the wide side of the field by the #1 WR.
The QB initially gets his eyes to the left side of the field and quickly works back to the wide side of the field as he sees the boundary safety roll down after the ball is snapped.
The vertical is able to get on top of the LB’s with his man chasing him in a trail technique. It’s a great ball by the QB, but more importantly great patience to let the WR clear the inside linebackers and get vertical before throwing a strike for a touchdown.
Benefits of Trips Passing Concepts
You can clearly see how operating out of trips can be beneficial to an offense. It opens up a number of options in the run game or pass game. This article touched on just on a few drop back passes, but there are several quick game concepts and screens that can be highly effective out of trips formation.
The other added benefit to operating out of trips formation is how your WR’s will align in the set. Whether it’s bunch, stack, or compressed you can really manipulate a defense and the space you want to attack based on your alignment.
Ultimately, trips formation and trips passing concepts are extremely difficult to defend. Every offense should develop their package of trips passing concepts for a more successful pass game.