The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (2023)

When the option run revolution took over the college football world in 2014, most route concepts were built around edge screens and the zone run game. Nearly a decade later, a new generation of RPOs is built around running wide zones like the outside zone with the intent of stretching and drilling defenders on the perimeter.


Not only did he help open up horizontal passing lanes, but he also generated explosive running back play. And the perfect storm of these manipulations is called "Slide RPO".

Let's dive into one of the biggest X's and O's trends to watch in college football this fall.

How it is constructed

The Slide RPO is a perfect blend between the concept of running out of the zone and the straight throw in the passing game. It's called a "slide" because the receiver is called across the formation to "slide" into the plane, where the QB is asked to make two potential reads:

1. First-level run/run read showing the outside zone at the line of scrimmage

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (1)

2. Second level run/pass read with flat perimeter control

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (2)

The quarterback is tasked with returning the ball on the outside or middle zone at the first level. If he keeps the ball, he reads the perimeter for a quick exit by reading the third defender from the sideline, usually the Mike linebacker (soslideruta).

Simply put, if the mike linebacker plays the run, the ball is out of bounds for the QB run/pass element.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (3)

But likeLSUoffensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will tell you the concept may never progress to that third element.

"We don't call it with the idea that the ball is going to go out on the perimeter to the receiver," Denbrock said. "We're really trying to hand the ball off or keep the QB."

That's where the explosive plays come in and that was the main reason why the Tigers QBJayden Danielsled the nation in quarterback rushing with 885 last season.

"We're just giving an easy exit for the QB if he feels like he's closing in on a five-yard steal," Denbrock added.

That's five yards that can quickly turn into explosive plays.

Why does it work?

Slide RPO works for two main reasons: it combines the quarterback's shortest throw (flat) with the ball carrier's longest potential run.


Programs that are major in these - includingUSC,Texasand LSU — generate more than a 90 percent completion rate with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt in those games, according to Pro Football Focus. For offensive coaches, it has become the cheapest way to generate yards and solid first and second plays. Moreover, it is considered a deadly "going" into the red zone.

The concept may have come from programs like FCS-level Southeastern Louisiana, where longtime offensive coordinator Greg Stevens relied on these horizontal stretches to emphasize third-level safeties forced to huddle in the flat. SELU was blessed with gifted quarterback Cole Kelley — who won the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman, in the spring of 2021 — and plenty of speed on the perimeter to complement it.

Like most good coaches, Stevens capitalized on his strength by building a cheap RPO that quickly got the ball out of the quarterback's hands and into one of those lightning-quick receivers in space. Over the past two seasons, SELU has relied on this concept to stay atop the FCS in passing offense.

He has now become a favorite of traditional powerhouses such as LSU, USC andTexas. At the same time, a group of 5 teams like Connecticut andwestern Kentuckythey used him as an equalizer against better personnel.UConncatapulted from 122nd to 33rd in rushing offense last season, producing nearly 100 yards per game including outfield, while the Hilltoppers relied heavily on these schemes to produce the nation's second-best rushing offense (352 yards per game) and the 15th highest scoring offense.

Here's why this concept is all the rage in college football today, and why you'll be seeing more of it this fall:

Reason 1: He messes with DEs on the side of the field

Ask any FBS offensive coordinator and they'll tell you the most imposing defensive end is on the field. These defenders are strong enough to dig into blocks at the line of scrimmage and quick enough to switch and make plays on the quarterback in retreat. So Slide RPO helps to provide as many images as possible to these players to slow them down.


The running element of the Slide RPO appears to resemble what coaches call a "split zone," where a blocker (known as a swiper) comes across the formation to shut down those defensive ends on the first level.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (4)

At the last minute, the swiper works around the defensive end and into the flat for an instant outlet for the quarterback.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (5)

At first glance, this concept may resemble the concept of a boot or golem, which is typical when the recipient encounters a formation in the flat. But the most important difference is that they are pure RPOs, making the running element a viable factor. Receivers do not run routes; they block to throw the slide, where these explosives appear.

"We used to run naked wearing that headset across the formation," Stevens said. "So we figured why not just do it with RPO?"

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (6)

Reason 2: The outer zone creates lateral displacement

The horizontal stretch produced by the outside zone scheme - rather than the inside zone scheme - produces more lateral movement at the line of scrimmage. So, defensive ends are not able to close down and play both the running back and the back like they could in zone read concepts. This puts an extreme amount of stress on that C-gap defender, who has a hard time closing down on the back, thus coming out of the gap.

"We picked up a good number of teams through the A gap on this concept because the defenders got too wide," UConn offensive line coach Gordon Sammis said.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (7)

In the clip below vsFlorida International, the C gap defender gets so stretched by the run action and the complementary slide route that he is nowhere close to being able to run the offense. A holding penalty in front nullified the 80-yard run.

And againstAlabamalast September, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian built a double-slide principle with two players coming across the formation. He kept second-level defenders looking, creating an 8-yard run for the runSesame Robinson.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (8)

Reason 3: It's a tempo offense's best friend

The slide concept was a mainstay in USC's system last season as one of the most effective tools in Lincoln Riley's offensive roster. It was by far his best game pace, according to a source within the program.


Not surprisingly, Riley got creative when he called the concept a receiverTahj Washingtonlaunch the slide element from the back field. That kept a group of 10 players (one receiver, no running back) on the field, but gave the defense a different picture, one that often got lost tracking Washington. One moment he was a receiver, and the next he would be in the backfield.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (9)

Reason 4: Explosive plays with athletic QBs

Using the slide concept with dual-threat running backs usually creates explosiveness. If the defense can take away the run and the straight throw, it forces the QB to hold the ball. And then bigger problems arise for the defense.

"It becomes a numbers game on the perimeter," Denbrock said. "And if you have an athletic kid, that's a problem."

And if your quarterback doesn't have to be named Daniels or Williams for this play to work. He just has to be athletic enough to beat the defensive end. Case in point, the Texas quarterbackQuinn Ewers— not exactly known for his wheels — is capable of getting around ULM's defensive end and throwing a touchdown in the red zone.

Exhibit Two: UConn VsBoston College. When BC's perimeter defenders spread out to play a sliding route, the quarterbackZion Turnerstuffed the ball for a 25-yard gain, generating the momentum needed for the Huskies' first win against Boston College in program history.

Ultimately, it forces defenses to change who the key is on a moment-to-moment basis.

Reason 5: Anyone can make a slide

This is where offenses got creative. The slide is a flat element that comes over the formation. But who that recipient is and where it aligns can make a big difference in its success.


Essentially, the offense has the choice of using a running back, tight end, receiver or running back as a sliding element. It's all about outplaying defenders on the perimeter - a typical football math option. And the further he is lined up from the flat area on the side of the field, the more likely the defense will lose sight of him.

Let's look at how some programs effectively use the slide to manipulate defenders.

Basic way: Wide receivers like sliders

This is the most common way to launch a concept. The reason: Most defensive linemen will "pull" or shake their safeties when the tight end runs into the formation because they have to respect the extra gap he can create as a blocker in the run game. Remember, defensively this looks like a split zone run concept. But when the receiver is in charge of the slide, that might not happen.

"That's where we've had the most success with the concept," Stevens said. “Most teams aren't going to shake up a catcher or a skill guy. I haven't seen anyone do that."

Running a receiver across the formation after the snap is difficult to match, especially against player coverage when the defender is asked to follow him. That gives him plenty of room to work.

In the clip below, Western Kentucky moves the receiver down the field back into a boundary tackle and then rushes him across the formation for a slide route. By the time the corner realizes what's going on, it's a 12-yard completion.

And againstUCLA, USC moves the receiverBrenden Ricepost-snap be a slide receiver. The high safety makes the catch — but only after a 12-yard gain and an important first down.

LSU Way: Using tight ends as sliders

Anytime you can get a tight end on the safety side, that's a clear offensive advantage. That's why Denbrock is picking tight ends to run to LSU.

"We have larger bodies on the perimeter and it's a clear mismatch with security," he said.

In the clip below, he brings the 6-foot-6Mason Tayloracross the formation to match up on the southern safety. The result: a 13-yard pickup.

In Texas, Steve Sarkisian used a 6-4 tight endI'm Tavion Sanderson these slide concepts to help generate 54 total catches, the most for a tight end in program history. Many times Sanders was a slide receiver coming across the formation to match up with the high safety.

In the clip below vsWest Virginia, Sanders beats the safety responsible for him for a 10-yard gain.

The USC way: Using the running backs as a slide

Leave it to Lincoln Riley to add some new innovations to the plan. Riley and his staff set up burners like Washington,Jordan Addison,Mario WilliamsiAustin Joneswork on the slider's backfield positioning. It was a quick and easy touch that got his fastest players the ball.

In the clip below vsStanford, running back Austin Jones makes a slide to the side with two receivers, creating a big gain on first down.

And when defenders went into the concept trying to run the nickel defender - the usual response - calls were made to single out the most dangerous defender. In typical football fashion, the receivers communicate who the biggest threat is on the perimeter and block him.

In the clip below vsUtah, tight endanother conversationblocks the defender, opening up space for Williams to skate.

And later in the season againstArizona, Riley incorporated the same concept for Washington, who outran linebacker Mike and the safety for a 13-yard gain.

Not to be outdone, Sarkisian later improved the scheme by incorporating a post/wheel element for the side receivers in the field from his double-slider concept. He disguised the concept by not sticking to stale (or vanillin) formation structures.

Here, Sarkisian tweaks the concept with some pre-snap moves so Ewers can hit a wheel route for a 35-yard touchdown againstTexas Tech.

And when the wheel route is covered, the next closest defender is already beat by the slider route.

The offensive concept is taking over college football at USC, LSU, Texas and beyond (10)

It's an easy throw and catch for a 20-yard gain, illustrating the essence of the concept.


One ACC defensive coordinator told me he spent the summer figuring out ways to stop the scheme.

"I went back to my roots of defending the pure iron bone option because you have to spend an equal amount of time defending all phases," he said.

And as the Slide RPO continues to solidify in most programs' offensive games, it will be exciting to see what the 2023 version looks like this fall. Whatever happens, we'll follow it.

(Top photo fromCaleb Williams: Jordon Kelly / Icon Sportswire preko Getty Images)


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