Bobby Petrino's offense is built around running the football and using tight ends and fullbacks to block and gain easy yards in the running game. This Louisville team is no different, and when it has been unable to run the ball effectively, the offense bogs down.
The passing game is at its best when it uses play action from those same successful running sets. The running game is expanded when Lamar Jackson is playing because Petrino has several different versions of zone read and quarterback draws he can use. Even with these quarterback runs, there is a built-in throw which the quarterback can execute if the run defender fails to honor the pass. These are referred to as run-pass options, or RPO’s.
The first RPO Jackson and Petrino will run is built off the traditional zone read. This will present a modern-day triple option to the defense. At the snap, the quarterback will mesh with the running back and read the playside defensive end for a give or keep read. If the defensive end widens as if to take away the quarterback keep, the ball will be handed off and a normal zone run will occur. If the defensive end crashes down then the quarterback will keep and run for the edge.
In a traditional zone read the options would end here. The quarterback will get as much as he can get by out-flanking the linebacker/safety. (I will refer to this defender as the overhang defender). As defenses see this play, coordinators will scheme to have the quarterback get a keep read, yet have the overhang defender waiting for him on the edge. To defeat this, offenses have added the bubble RPO.
With the bubble RPO, one of the outside receivers will execute a bubble route or NOW screen route. This is the player the overhang would be responsible for if the ball was thrown directly to the outside. With the zone-read RPO, the quarterback will now read the overhang defender after he reads the end man for his give or keep read.
After he keeps, the quarterback will get his eyes to the overhang defender and begin to attack him. If the overhang is turning away to cover the bubble, the quarterback will keep and get upfield. If the overhang comes toward or hangs, the quarterback will throw to the outside perimeter screen. This is a newer version of the triple option.
The bubble RPO is not the only RPO Jackson and Petrino will run. They'll run a slant RPO to their best receiver #2, Jamari Staples. This is executed in the same fashion and eliminates the overhang defender from helping out on the inside slant route. Again, there will be the same give or keep read on the defensive end. If the quarterback keeps, he will attack the overhang. At the same time, the receiver is running a 5 step slant route to the spot the overhang defender vacated
The final RPO Louisville runs often with Jackson is the H-back RPO. Here the quarterback is going to fake to the running back as if it is an isolation play. (a staple of the UofL running game) The quarterback will again keep and now attack the flat defender. If he comes to make the tackle, the quarterback has the H-back slipping into the flat for an easy pitch and catch
Lamar Jackson is in the top 2% for speed and elusiveness, so what the defense can do to make sure he does not get into the open field is more limited. Assigning a slower lumbering linebacker to ‘spy’ him is simply not an option. The defense will need multiple ways to muddy the reads of the quarterback to slow and delay the decision making. Delay and disruption are the defense's best weapons against these RPO’s.