The History Behind Clemson’s Game Winner—Sprint Rt Option
As Deshaun Watson rolled to the right and hit Hunter Renfrow for the game winning touchdown as time expired in the National Championship, most people thought they were witnessing one of the best game winning plays in national championship history. As I was watching it, I thought I was seeing Deja vu. In a world of football, where coaches are constantly trying to innovate and create new wrinkles, Clemson reached into the past with an old Bill Walsh play to bring a title back home to Clemson. A feat that hasn’t happened since 1981. Ironically, in that same year, the San Francisco 49er’s beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship with the exact same play that Clemson used to beat Alabama. That play against the Cowboys was notoriously known as “The Catch” as it led the 49er’s to their first of many Super Bowls. That play was a staple of Bill Walsh’s playbook and was known as Sprint Rt Option.
The play is designed to create a natural rub as the outside wide receivers runs a slant burst corner and the slot runs a flat route underneath. The Slant aspect of the route is meant to aim at the player over the slot receiver to create an obstruction and then the wide receiver will go vertical allowing the slot to outflank him and then will run a corner route as a secondary option. Even if the team plays zone, the outside receiver still can obstruct the flat defender or in the case of Cover 2 can create a high low read for the QB. The QB will sprint out to the right looking for the slot receiver on a flat route and try and hit him in stride. This is a great play down by the goal line or on 3rd and short. If the QB can’t hit the slot receiver in the flat then he will look for the outside receiver running a slant burst corner. If it’s in the red zone, the slot aims at the front pylon and outside receiver will aim to the back pylon. The last option would be for the Qb to run for the Td, the first down, or throw it out of bounds. Here is a diagram of the play, drawn with a doubles formation, but you can add another guy to the protection like Clemson and San Francisco did to solidify the front side edge:
The last play for Clemson still remains in most of our heads but let’s take a look at Bill Walsh’s version. I found some clips from that NFC Championship game vs the Cowboys. In the first quarter, the 49er’s start in a split back pro set and motion the wide receiver across the formation. You can see the outside receiver creates some traffic and the receiver in motion catches it in the flat for a touchdown.
The next time they run it, they were hoping to get the same result as Walsh and Montana explained in several interviews. This time however, the Cowboys jumped the flat so Montana had to buy time and finally threw it to the back of the end zone where it would only be their ball or out of bounds. At that point is when Dwight Clark goes up and makes “The Catch”. Here is a look at that clip:
That brings us to the Clemson-Alabama National Championship game. All year, Clemson had run this play in the Red Zone and on 3rd and medium to short situations. With all the chips on the table, Clemson brings back the “Sprint Right Option” into football folklore as you can see below:
One of the common sayings by football coaches is that they never invented anything instead they have borrowed everything. Bill Walsh called it Sprint Right Option and Clemson calls it Orange Crush, but regardless of the name, this is a great example of how a concept from 35 years ago can still be effective today. The play that won the Championship for the 49er’s in 1981 was still able to help Clemson win a Championship game in 2017.