After the 16-13 loss to Arizona State, all Michigan State fans want to know is how. How could Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils outperform the Spartans? How could the Spartans only muster up 13 points with all of the offensive talent they possess?
But, most importantly, how can Offensive Coordinator and play-caller Dave Warner and the offense improve moving forward?
After studying the tape from the Sept. 8 loss, three words come to mind; run-pass option. While the Spartans use this type of play call in their offense already, albeit infrequently, there were many opportunities to exploit the Arizona State defense by utilizing the RPO.
For those who are not familiar with the run-pass option, it is a lot like the read-option run play. The quarterback reads where the linebacker will be and takes advantage by either handing the ball off to the running back or running the ball himself.
The glaring difference between read option and RPO is the ability to pass the ball after the read. During a read-option, receivers will run what is essentially a fake route or start to run-block.
With RPO, the receivers run quick routes (slants, out or in routes, curls) and, depending on the offensive line, vertical seam routes. The quarterback still reads the linebacker, but also reads the safety or cornerback depending on the intended receivers route on that play.
Read option looks like:
While an RPO would look more like:
I believe Michigan State’s skill players can take advantage of many defenses the Spartans will face this season with a more steady diet of RPO and glimpses were there in Tempe in success and failure.
In most situations, when Brian Lewerke has a running back directly next to him, he should be running a play involving some kind of RPO. The play that would be directly affected by the RPO being more involved is the second and goal in the second quarter against ASU.
With Connor Heyward to his left, Lewerke could have done the prototypical two-handed fake to Heyward, while Cody White takes a three step out route to the sideline. It is a rhythm throw for Lewerke, the pressure would be unable to affect the throw and White is either in the end zone or inches from it.
Instead, there is no fake, White tries to dance his way into slow out route, the play takes too long to develop and Lewerke throws a pick.
One of the few times the Spartans did run something similar to an RPO, Lewerke’s pass got deflected by the Sun Devils defensive line.
With a few adjustments to Michigan State’s playbook and some time in the film room for Lewerke to learn the right reads for different plays, the RPO could be a deadly weapon for the Spartans to go to this season.
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