Under Kliff Kingsbury, the Texas Tech running game has been taken to new heights. Not exactly what you expected to hear when talking about an Air Raid coach, huh? Well, we've had a thousand yard rusher for the past two years, and it's been successful because of the way Kliff uses what he has.
The Read Option has exploded in popularity across the college football landscape largely thanks to late 2000's Oregon. The Ducks used varying reads and a hurry-up tempo to force defenders to think instead of react, and in that split second that it takes to think, their elite speed is already up the field. The Red Raiders are similarly modeled after the speed-first dynamic, but don't adhere to Oregon's Inverted Veers, Triple Options, and Run/Pass Options. Texas Tech uses the bare bones of the Spread-Option attack known as the Read Option.
The Read Option can easily be confused for a traditional spread play. The "Zone" and the Read Option are incredibly similar, but differ in what they're attempting to do. Here's an example of the Zone blocking scheme:
This looks like the Read Option based on the fact that there's a colossal gaping hole on the backside. The only issue with this is that the backside end chose to go inside, and the TCU Linebacker fills that spot, despite missing the tackle. It appears that LeRaven Clark blocks no one, but he's actually just doing his job: blocking a zone (hence the term Zone).
In the Zone scheme, well, every man blocks a zone or an area. If the defender leaves that zone or that zone is empty, it doesn't matter, because the point is to block that space. The running back finds the area of the line that's undefended, and attacks. It happens to look like the Read Option because the backside lineman crashed so far inside.
The Read Option is similar in look, but different in style. On the Read Option, Clark would have likely ignored the end for the linebacker. Also, DeAndre Washington would've headed for the outside, and Patrick Mahomes would've pulled the ball and taken it to where DeAndre went. Essentially, drawn up, the play would look like this:
Now to the real question, how does this help Texas Tech do what it does? It all comes down to one thing: the keys of the linebackers.
Texas Tech is known for it's slant patterns and short throws that are crucial to the Air Raid offense. How do you defend the Read Option? With aggressive linebackers and blitzing. The beautiful thing about the Read Option is that it can be run from the exact same formations as you run your slants, sluggos, and skinny posts from. It creates a sense of uncertainty. It's not that the defense knows the play is coming, it's the threat of the play from any formation.
The Read Option can keep unskilled linebackers guessing. Like we talked about before, all we need in this offense is a split second of indecision, then we have a first down. Or a 30 yard gain. Or a touchdown. Read Option, Zone, and the Air Raid go hand-in-hand. There's a reason why our offense took off when dual-threat Patrick Mahomes took the helm. The threat of anything and everything on the board is there. This goes into practice time for the opposing defense, sometimes this threat makes them practice plays we won't run on Saturdays. Some of it is real-time, where the linebacker who just got chewed out for letting yet another slant pattern slip behind him cheats backwards a little. All you need is that little crease, and then, boom. First down.
These option style plays that keep defenses guessing and trying to play every facet of the game at once are a huge part of why we put up 48 points a game. When announcer say that we keep defenses "on their heels", this is what they're saying. Texas Tech is flat-out dangerous on offense, and every play is a threat.