Oklahoma’s Variations of Counter Trey

Counter Trey is the perfect blend of deception and physicality.  The misdirection in the backfield freezes the defense just long enough to allow backside Guard and Tackle to kick out the Defensive End and pull for the play side Linebacker.  This play can be ran in a number of different ways depending on the personnel on the field and the style of the offense. Whether you run Counter Trey in 10 personnel, 21 personnel, 2×2 or even Empty sets, it can be dressed up in multiple ways to gain a numbers advantage in the run game.

Before we dive into Lincoln Riley’s variations of Counter Trey, we’ll first break down how it’s blocked up front to better understand this concept.

counter trey run game variations
Fig 1: Counter Trey Right

In Figure 1, Counter Trey is designed to go to the right.  The PST and PSG will deuce the 3 technique. While one takes control of the 3 tech, the other will come off and climb to the backside backer.  The Center will block down on the backside Defensive Tackle in a 2i. The Center must stay flat to the LOS to prevent the DT penetrating weak side A Gap.  The backside DT can kill this play if he penetrates backside A Gap and disrupts the backside Guard and Tackle pulling. The BSG will kick out the Defensive End followed by the BST on his track pulling for the play side Linebacker.

In this play, the QB will quick pump fake to “A” on a bubble route to hold down the backside defensive end and freeze him just long enough to come back to the RB for Counter Trey.  The RB’s footwork is to “step, replace”, meaning he will step with his left foot first towards 10 o’clock, and then his right foot will replace where his left foot was. The RB will track the near hip of the backside tackle to stay inside-out on the play.  The play should hit inside the BSG kicking out the DE as the back follows his Tackle to the second level.

With great timing, misdirection, and execution, Counter Trey is a difficult play to defend.

Variations of Counter Trey

RPO QB Counter Trey Swing

This concept was seen in the 2017 Sugar Bowl against Auburn when Riley was the Offensive Coordinator.  Riley has his offense in wing trips formation in 21 personnel.  Even with two Running Backs and one Tight End, The Sooners are still trying to spread out Auburn’s defense and put a defender in conflict.  The conflict player in this RPO QB Counter Trey Swing is the backside Defensive End. Sooner QB and Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is reading the backside Defensive End to decide what to do with the football.

If the backside DE widens with the back on the swing route, then Baker will keep it for himself and follow his track on QB Counter Trey.  However, if the DE Squeezes the LOS, or rushes upfield to the QB, then Baker will throw the ball out to the back on the swing route with three blockers leading the way. 

Below is OU’s RPO QB Counter Trey Swing concept:

RPO QB counter trey swing variation
Fig 2: QB Counter Trey Swing

This play is difficult to defend because it stretches the field horizontally and also delivers punishing blocks up front..  The goal of this play, like any RPO, is to put a defender in conflict. The offense is trying to gain a number advantage by making the defender be in two places at once. When executed correctly, this Counter Trey RPO is a nightmare for a defense.  Just ask Auburn.

Here’s a clip of OU running the Counter Trey RPO against Auburn in the 2017 Sugar Bowl.

Baker gets a quick read on the DE and sees that his initial move is inside, which is why he dumps it to the Running Back on the swing route.  This is an easy pass that gets Oklahoma five yards and keeps them on schedule.

In this next clip, OU lines up in the same formation and runs the same Counter Trey RPO.  The DE now sees the swing route and widens out with the back, so Mayfield keeps it for himself and runs QB Counter Trey back the other way.

Baker is able to pick up 15 yards on this QB Counter Trey. The backside LB took himself out of the play as he chased the flow of the swing route.  OU now has a number advantage as they kick out the DE and pull for the play side LB who is hesitant to fill because of the deception in the backfield.  This leaves a Safety coming up to make a tackle at 15 yards. Who doesn’t love moving the chains with 15 yard gains?

RPO(ish) – Double Counter Trey Bubble

Lincoln Riley has gotta love play calling with Jalen Hurts in the backfield.  It’s like organized backyard football the way he’s able to create plays and have his athletes execute them.  Riley has this Double Counter Trey Bubble against Houston in week 1 dressed up to the nines. Oklahoma is in 11 personnel with their Tight End attached on the left and a WR outside of him.  They bring the WR in “flash” motion and run a counter fake with the back offset to the right. It’s unclear if this is a designed RPO, or if Jalen is just that good at influencing the backside players to flow with the motion to set up QB Counter Trey. I’d lean more towards Jalen just being an elite athlete influencing the defense.

Below is the blocking scheme of this variation of Counter Trey

double counter trey variation
Fig 3: QB Counter Trey Swing

Houston has a soft edge with their Defense End in a 5 technique and no one outside of him to set the edge and help support run.  The corner comes into the picture because his WR is away with motion.  

The TE will block down on the DE and will stay on him all the way down the LOS.  The LT and LG will deuce the 3 technique and the LT will climb to the backside backer.  The Center is base on the shaded nose while BSG and BST are on their tracks for Counter Trey.  Since there is no one on the LOS outside the TE, the BSG will continue on his track and block the CB.  The BST will follow and pull for the play side LB. The RB will continue his fake and work towards the Safety.

Jalen Hurts would have walked into the end zone if 52 (BSG) could have initially covered up the corner and allowed the RB get to the Safety.  However, he misses the initial block and the RB has to take him, leaving the Safety uncovered and able to make the tackle. Either way, Hurts picks up 12 yards and takes the ball down to the 1 yard line to set up another touchdown.

Counter Trey (Veer)

Just like week 1 against Houston, there was a heavy dose of Counter Trey against South Dakota in week 2. Once again Riley showed multiple formations, motions, and deception in the backfield to run his favorite scheme. The Sooners were efficient running the ball with Counter Trey and gashed the Coyotes from South Dakota.

The play design is featured in Figure 4.

qb counter trey veer variation
Fig 4: Counter Trey

By alignment, South Dakota has soft edges on both sides of the ball as their two Defensive Ends are inside shade of the Tight Ends.  This makes Counter Trey that much easier to run when the play side TE (U) already has outside leverage on his down block. The PST and PSG deuce the 3 tech and will climb to the backside backer. Center will take the shaded nose and the BSG and BST are on their tracks for Counter Trey.  The TE on the backside will get his pad across the 5 tech to prevent him from penetrating the gap. This designed run for the back is simple, yet effective.

This can lead to a small twist in the way Riley may want to utilize his backfield with Counter Trey action.  Riley can also use this same formation and scheme but add a simple read to the backside Defensive End. If Riley were to add this wrinkle, the backside TE will arc outside to the corner and Jalen Hurts will read the DE.  If the DE chases the RB on Counter Trey, then Hurts will keep it for himself with his TE leading the way. If the DE sits on the LOS, then Hurts will give the ball to the back to run Counter Trey to the left.

counter trey veer option spread offense
Fig 5: Counter Trey Veer Option

I’m sure it won’t be long before Riley shows the same formation and comes up with another way for running Counter Trey. One thing’s for sure and it’s that Riley loves Counter Trey. He dresses up his tendencies better than most college football coaches you’ll see on TV.

Counter Trey is a big challenge for the defense, especially the linebackers at the second level.  Linebackers can easily get lost with action in the backfield with the right misdirection. This is a bonus as they eventually block themselves by taking themselves out of the play as shown in the previous clips.

If you want to start implementing Counter Trey in your spread offense run game, then self-scout your offense and look at what your tendencies are. For example, if your tendency is to run sweep with jet motion, then the counter to that (pun intended) would be to show jet motion and then Counter Trey back the other way. The appearance of sweep with jet motion will be just what you need to break tendency and hit the defense when and where they least expect it.

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