Running the Option in NCAA Football 14

EA SPORTS recently sat down with three NCAA Football 14 developers to get their insights on the improved option game:

Larry Richart began his career at Tiburon in 1999 following a college football career at the University of Florida, where he was a member of the 1996 National Champions. He's been a designer for Central Gameplay since 2004.

Michael Scantlebury is an eight-year veteran in the gaming industry. He began his career as a part-time QA Tester, and now works as Designer I on Core Football Gameplay. He specializes in the balancing and tuning of both NCAA Football and Madden NFL.

Clint Oldenburg is a former NFL offensive lineman that joined the team 18 months ago. A former fifth-round pick from Colorado State, Oldenburg played five years in the NFL before taking an internship with EA SPORTS. He’s been working on the American Football franchises ever since.

On the process of improving the option game

The first piece of the option game is making sure the pitch and read are assigned to the correct players. There was a good amount of film study. We watched a lot of Missouri, Oregon, Air Force, Georgia Tech and Auburn. Those reference points on the spread option and flexbone were big for us. For the different option types, we would then go and break down each read out of different formations.

On the major improvements from last year

One of the biggest improvements is that we’re displaying the correct read before the snap to show how it’s done in real life. Before this year, players really had no idea. Knowing which guys will be left unblocked helped develop those plays. Last year, there were none of those blocking matchups. There would be plays where multiple defenders were left unblocked. The most improved option play is probably the zone-read triple option, which Oregon runs.

Notice the all-new READ key and improved blocking in NCAA Football 14

In NCAA Football 13, some users were afraid to even run the option because it was very difficult to identify our reads. That’s been improved considerably this year. Each option type will have its own custom blocking schemes this year, so they will feel different. If it’s an outside zone type of play, linemen’s footwork will mimic that scheme. Double teams will also move laterally based on the play type, which helps out a lot on stretch plays.

Open-field blocking and wide receiver blocking both got lots of refinement. If you make a cut and alter the direction you’re running, your blockers will update their blocking path to give you a chance to break into the second and third levels. Last year, blockers would often pick the wrong guy in the open field and turn around.

Here is another example where you can see READ/PITCH keys and improved blocking.

Hard cutting has made the cutback an option this year. In NCAA Football 13 and other years, nobody ever used the cutback. But now if you’re running an inside zone read, you can footplant, cut on a dime and hit a hole on the backside. Hard cutting has made a world of difference there.

On the improved CPU decision-making

Quarterback decision-making has improved tremendously in terms of their reads and when to give up the ball. We trained the CPU to pitch at better times and situations, so that their plays were more effective. We wanted to get CPU plays outside and around the corner more, so players will try and get up field quicker this year. Players will recognize where defenders are, and cut at more appropriate times. It’s pretty deadly now, and the computer is more confident in the way they call the read option.

On modeling the option game after real-life NCAA teams

For something like the spread option, we watched a lot of offensive plays from 2010, 2011, and 2012 later in the process. When we watched those plays, we tried to focus on the defensive reaction and how teams were able to successfully gain yards. Once we modeled our reach blocks on what we saw in the film, the whole run game opened up. The flow of the offensive and defensive lines is represented a lot better than in previous years. 

On changes made to the defense

In previous years, the defensive player assigned to the pitch man would just run to the player that was diving in the option. But when we watched film, we noticed that the player would follow the pitch man more often. Without that improvement, it was tough to truly replicate the option game. The spread option is truly dynamic in real life and now, we think our game finally has that.

Ready to try out the improved option game? Download the NCAA Football 14 demo today!

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New Gameplay Engine

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NCAA Football 14 is available on Tuesday, July 9 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Fans can learn more at the NCAA Football website. Pre-order today to receive exclusive Conference Packs.

Keep up to date and visit the NCAA Football website, Facebook, and Twitter to find exclusive assets and unique insights into all of this year’s new features. College football enthusiasts can also get involved in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #PLAYTRUE.