NCAA Rule Change Could Impact Use of “Pop Pass” in Offenses

Rick Bouch discuss the NCAA's rule change proposal which would make the "pop pass" almost impossible to run in college football

Rick Bouch discuss the NCAA’s rule change proposal which would make the “pop pass” almost impossible to run in college football

NCAA Football: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl-Michigan vs Kansas State

Dec 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters (15) throws a “pop pass” to fullback Glenn Gronkowski (48) as Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Quinton Washington (76) defends during the first half in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. (Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — The NCAA has proposed a rule change that may have an impact on college football’s spread offenses. The new rule will severely limit one of the game’s newest and unique offensive wrinkles – the pop pass.

The pop pass is actually nothing new to the game of football, but the method in which it has been run in today’s popular spread offenses is something innovative. It is gaining in popularity so much that it has even been copied in the NFL by teams such as the Seattle Seahawks.

The play involves the offensive linemen blocking what appears to be a run play; however, the quarterback will throw the ball to an eligible receiver who has run through or behind the defense. Kansas State runs a version of the play off of their QB zone play, a play that comes from the old single wing offense. The QB will fake as if he is running the ball and then find his receiver downfield as seen here: http://youtu.be/yQkwtM-GS2E

The current rule for offensive linemen is that they may be no more than 3 yards past the line of scrimmage on any pass play. If they are, they can be flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield. The new rule calls for offensive linemen being no more than 1 yard downfield.

Teams that run a version of the pop pass have their offensive line block as if it is a run. Oftentimes, as seen in this clip from Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offense, the offensive line does not necessarily know that the ball will be thrown.

Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) scores a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. (Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
Nov 30, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers wide receiver Sammie Coates (18) scores a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. (Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

http://youtu.be/L6lRZCvN520

Notice that Auburn ran the staple of the spread offense, the zone read, then continued the play with a third option. That option was executed on this play with Auburn QB Nick Marshall hitting WR Sammie Coates for a touchdown.

The play is very hard to defend from a defensive standpoint since the play looks like a run. Offensive linemen can block downfield on any running play and defenses–especially defensive backs and linebackers–often get duped when teams run the pop pass.

It will be interesting to see if the NCAA votes to pass the proposed rule change. If so, it will make the pop pass more difficult to run. The proposal will be voted on in March and if passed would go into effect for the 2015 college football season.

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