Jeff Monken's Offense Will Work Anywhere
You can just run the triple! It's allowed!
As we enter into yet another coaching silly season, it’s time again for athletic directors and media to break out the most consistently incorrect talking point in the sport: the true triple option just wouldn’t work at the P5 level.
You’ve likely already seen this in some shape or form as part of the discourse around the previously vacant Vanderbilt job, or the currently open positions at Illinois or Arizona, primarily because Army head coach Jeff Monken has been mentioned for all three.
It’s frustrating at its core, because the triple option works and will work anywhere, as Paul Johnson proved at Georgia Tech, but it’s also frustrating because of the way that it’s frequently couched. Monken is painted as a good coach who “could change his offense” or a strong recruiter that “isn’t wedded to the triple option” as a way to make him an easier option for athletic directors to sell to boosters. The consensus among that class of the sport is that running the triple is announcing that your ceiling as a program and accepting that you can’t win “the correct way.”
In some ways, I get it. You won’t be able to recruit top level players to an option system, so you are putting a cap on the kind of talent that you can churn through the program. Additionally, you’re banking hard on being able to run the triple well enough to stay in games, because an early deficit is essentially the end of the line for an option team. At the higher levels, there’s a greater risk of that happening.
However, the idea that running the option is limiting a program or announcing a ceiling is complete nonsense. These are limited programs! Arizona, Illinois, Vanderbilt, even jobs that aren’t open like Kansas or Rutgers are blatantly and objectively limited programs. They have no real winning history, no strong recruiting base, and no reason to think that hiring the right coach that runs the same thing as everyone else for the 15th straight time is going to yield a different result. You’re announcing a ceiling with the triple, but you’re also announcing that you’re not a complete moron, trapped in the exact same loop, trying to win normally at a school that absolutely cannot win normally.
That’s the whole appeal of these systems! Monken can and will level the playing field with his offense, which means that he can and will win in places that do not have the cache to recruit at the level needed to win consistently in the P5.
This is how you level that playing field. Slotback motion and a fullback fake to the field indicate a run to that side to the linebackers, who bite hard on the fake in hopes of setting the edge to prevent a pitch to that motion man. With the defense already flowing that way, the play side tackle and guard and the center are better able to chop away at the defensive line and create a seal, allowing for a clean pull from both of the back side linemen, who are set to serve as the lead blockers on a quarterback keeper to the boundary. With the defense so far off balance, those pullers only have to worry about the unblocked play side edge defender and the linebacker that managed to clear the wreckage up front, which means that Tyhier Tyler is going to have a cleared lane on the outside to gobble up easy yardage.
This translates to any level! Linebackers are going to fall for this at Ohio State or Michigan just as hard as they do at Georgia Southern, because this offense is designed to go against the cues that these guys learn from their coaches on how they’re supposed to fit run gaps. If every mainstream offense is now predicated around misdirection anyway, why not hire someone who knows the misdirection better than almost any coach in America? Why not Monken, who has been doing this exact thing for decades?
Same idea here, this time out of a more “palatable” formation, almost akin to what Jamey Chadwell is running at Coastal Carolina. You get two backs, one fullback and one halfback, along with a slotback lined up as an H-back off the line. He’s going to orbit the quarterback after the snap to serve as the pitch man on the second half of the triple option, while the QB is just reading that end and handing off to his halfback if the end stays put. The fullback is there to serve as a lead blocker for that handoff.
There’s nothing different here from what Chadwell is doing at Coastal, or what Urban Meyer was doing with Braxton Miller at Ohio State almost a decade ago. The formations aren’t quite traditional in most cases, but the core ideology of these triple option systems is the exact same as it is in basically every offense in America right now: create a numbers advantage with misdirection. That orbit man paired with the option of a quarterback keeper is enough to hold two defenders in place on the outside, which means that the offense suddenly has an advantage that it hardly had to work for.
Another neat two-back shotgun look here, with that same H-back setup. Orbit motion from the slotback to freeze that edge defender and the outermost linebacker on that side of the field, with a flash into the flats from the fullback after the snap to do the same to the edge and linebacker on the other side of the field. That’s four defenders taken out of the play with just two offensive players sacrificed for it.
From there, it’s just iso for the QB, with the running back and a pulling guard serving as lead blockers against a loaded box that now has just seven engaged defenders. Army does this about a dozen times a game and it works pretty much every time, regardless of the look that it throws out there. Monken has a billion plays exactly like this one in his playbook.
I say all of this for one specific reason, and because of one specific school. Monken would win at Vanderbilt, as he would at Arizona, or basically any other school currently or formerly looking for a head coach. He’s a damn good football coach and his scheme is as clever and well-designed as any in America.
He’s also an Illinois native. He grew up in Peoria, went to college in Decatur and coached high school ball at Morton and Concordia.
Illinois currently has this young man on its roster, who looks to be the future at quarterback and has as many as four more years of eligibility remaining, if he so chooses to take them. He’s one of the highest rated recruits in school history. Do the right thing here, Josh Whitman.