Playbook: Teaching the Shovel Option in the Spread

By Dave Christensen

This play is called shovel option. We block it as an off-tackle power play.

We are blocking gaps in the offensive line and pulling the backside guard through the hole. It used to be that if you ran the shovel pass and the defender dropped to the inside, the quarterback was in trouble. This play gives the quarterback something to do with the ball.

When the shovel option is run to the left, the running back aligns to the right behind the outside hip of the guard, five yards off the line of scrimmage. The quarterback is in the shotgun set with hands at five yards, heels at five-and-a-half yards. The quarterback runs the speed option down the line of scrimmage toward the read key, attacking the outside number of the read key.

If the defender attacks the quarterback, he gives ground and shovels the ball back inside to the running back. The quarterback has to go hard toward the defensive end to make the defense commit one way or the other. If he is lazy, the defensive end can hang in the middle and play both the quarterback and the shovel back. The pulling guard leads up inside on the linebacker.

If the defender does not attack the quarterback and falls back inside on the running back, the quarterback continues to run the option and brings the ball to the pitch key. He is running the read option with the slot back as the pitch man. The slot back is reading the key defender so he knows whether to block or become the pitch back.

A key element of this play is the center snap. We found the most success when we had a center who was so good that he led the quarterback in the direction he was going. The snap is blind and dead with no spin on the ball. A bad snap will stop this play quicker than anything.

Working in trips and bringing motion by the inside slot toward the quarterback, it looks like the triple option toward the motion. We snap the ball and run the shovel option back to where the motion came from with the outside slot back as the pitch man.

If working an empty 2-by-3 set, we can still run this play using motion. The formation is a double set one way and a trip set the other. We can run any of these plays using motion and achieve the same results. Nothing gets changed for anyone in the offense. The backs in our sets are interchangeable in the running game. They know how to run the read option as the pitch man. By using multiple formations and motion, you can run the same plays with different looks for the defense.

I would like to reiterate what we teach the quarterback on this play. I really believe this is the key to the execution of the play. We want the quarterback to force the defensive end to move when he comes down the line. If the end just sits there, we are in trouble. A sitting end can take both the quarterback and pitch man on the play. We want to force the end to get a little wider and move one way or the other. If the defensive end comes upfield and outside, we want the quarterback to pitch the ball underneath.

If the defensive end comes upfield toward the quarterback, we want him to shovel the ball underneath to the tailback underneath. The quarterback takes the snap and gets width. He pitches off the end man on the line of scrimmage. If he takes the pitch to the tailback away, he keeps the ball. If he squeezes the play inside, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs the option in the alley.

You can make the play as complex as you want, and you can also make it simple.

Dave Christensen is a college football veteran of more than 30 seasons, including his last two stops at Texas A&M and Utah. Previously, Christensen was the head coach at Wyoming from 2009-13 and a longtime offensive assistant at Missouri and Toledo.